Q&A: Magnet Media's Megan Cunningham On Video Trends

Megan Cunningham is founder/CEO of Magnet Media, Inc., known for its pioneering approach to reaching audiences through compelling storytelling on emerging platforms.  She is respected for crafting innovative business models and producing compelling digital content for a number of leading media companies, technology companies and brands. Following are highlights of an interview in which she shared her thoughts on how video will evolve in 2014.

ELLEN OPPENHEIM:  What are the top five trends you think will affect video in 2014?

MEGAN CUNNINGHAM:  First, we will see more holistic strategies, i.e., companies will develop marketing and digital strategies together, not separately, and they will view marketing and business strategies as one.  Leading-edge marketers are already employing this, but it will become more mainstream.

OPPENHEIM: How will this play out?

CUNNINGHAM:   Today we have a linear process where products are developed, then sales and marketing are consulted and expected to drive awareness and revenue, as the product goes live.  We will see marketing increasingly brought into the product development process, because of the business insights that emerge from the data that digital media provide.

There will be greater speed in the process.  No strategic plan is relevant if it takes six months to develop. Marketing has to have a seat at the table from the start.  When CMOs come in too late, they have to push something that might not be relevant, for example, something as basic as the wrong color of a can.

OPPENHEIM:  What’s the second trend?

CUNNINGHAM:  Content marketing and native ads will increasingly replace traditional digital ads. Traditional digital ads have been around since the birth of digital, but now marketers can tell their story directly to audiences without having to use media companies.

The change began in 2003, when Wordpress allowed brands to blog, to be publishers.  In 2005 with the launch of YouTube brands could be producers. Then in 2006 Twitter and Facebook made brands newsrooms. 

Brands have to figure out how to manage this opportunity.  They have to move from the idea of first developing a story and then figuring out where to place it.  You have to think about where a story will be viewed before you turn on the camera.  You have to focus on content discovery and sharing with minimal friction.

OPPENHEIM: What’s the third trend you anticipate?

CUNNINGHAM:  The growth of big data will be a cultural force.

Storytellers have access to insights that were once only available to networks with big research departments.  Now, everyone has power from seeing what your audience is looking for and how they respond to your content. Data shouldn’t dictate content, but it can increase the odds for success.

Data lets you be more strategic, to develop with more planning and purpose. For example, in greenlighting projects, you can be more analytical in thinking about what types of programs will resonate with audiences, about what fits with your brand, about your purpose.

OPPENHEIM: How is the power of data affecting your work?

CUNNINGHAM:  We worked with PBS on their YouTube Channel [content]. The head of PBS Digital Studios, Matt Graham, and Lauren Saks, director of programming, immersed themselves in YouTube to find video creators who were qualified to create PBS brand content and also understood YouTube.

Then, we worked with their YouTube data to analyze best practices around their content, to understand what drove success. We trained their teams to leverage this to be more successful. 

Data showed gaps in the market – where PBS was not providing what people wanted.  We saw that food shows had the highest revenue per view, but were the least watched, so we looked at how to make bigger food shows. We also found a need for history and education programs presented in a fun way. It has led to two new shows to fill the gap: “Food Buzz” around food, and “Bongo Bongo” about the history of words. Data also encouraged us to find ways to integrate consumer responses into the shows.

OPPENHEIM:  What’s trend number four for video?

CUNNINGHAM: Data will allow more shows and franchises to be born on platforms outside of the traditional broadcast/cable system.  We will see the emergence of new players in the programming space.

Hollywood and production companies still spend tens of millions of dollars on pilots. It’s inefficient.  Meanwhile Netflix, Amazon, Yahoo , AOL, YouTube and Xbox are making massive investments in original content using data. Take “Blue” with Julia Stiles, which is on YouTube exclusively. It didn’t have the dollars of “House of Cards” or “Orange Is the New Black,” but it is an example of a strong show being supported by the new digital ecosystem. 

OPPENHEIM:  What’s the last of the five trends?

CUNNINGHAM: Connected TV will become more important.  With Xbox, Playstation, Roku, Chromecast, etc., you can get high quality HDTV shows that you can’t get from cable companies.

The obstacle to growth today is that there’s a lack of understanding of the charges and how to set them up.  Developments in connected TV will make it simpler. Samsung and other players will be followed by Apple, and I think Apple TV may come in 2014.  Apple will likely change the game again, much as they did by disrupting established players like BlackBerry and Palm with the iPhone.

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