Building a Video Universe, One User at a Time

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ADOTAS EXCLUSIVE — While innovation certainly makes things more efficient, quick, sleek and sexy, often the fundamentals remain the same. Entertainment is no exception.

Compare a play from the 1800s and a web video being watched on an iPhone– the delivery methods couldn’t be more different, but both mediums share the fundamental characteristic of telling a story that resonates with an audience and using its delivery method effectively.

We are compelled to tell stories, share information and with every new technology we adapted. The basic idea, the creative expression of information, remains the same. But with newer tools, the level of engagement with the recipients of that information is quickly evolving.

With the advent of radio and television, stories were brought into people’s homes, and in order to get market share and audience in a world with more options than ever before, networks had to deliver quality by hiring great writers, producers and directors.

With cable, audiences became more segmented and so came the opportunity for programs to be more specific and relevant to specific interests. So, in addition to originality and quality, there was a need for relevance in programming. MTV was the great example of how the new network understood their demographic and gave them relevant programming.

When the Internet became commercial and wide-spread, many thought we could just throw out the old rules (let users create their own programming); while others thought we don’t have to change any rules (just put TV shows online). What was missing was the understanding of the Internet as a vast computer network that changed communication from one way messaging to an active conversation.

An early success story that benefitted from audience interaction was the web series ‘The Spot,’ which premiered in the mid-90’s and featured audience interaction with characters via email, as well as suggestions for the direction the stories should take. The show had a two-year run; entirely admirable considering it was launched over ten years ago. Undoubtedly, a large component of the staying power of the show was due to its interactive components, which created an invested fan base. With the increasing number of tools available now, similar success stories have been gradually more forthcoming, and greater series longevity should be anticipated.

The web allows immediate response on a global scale. Coupled with the extremely democratic nature of online content delivery and the power of peer-to-peer sharing, the opportunity had changed dramatically. Instead of a studio dictating content in the closed environment of a theatre, the viewers are largely determinant to what is successful, popular, and what generates buzz and traffic.

This form of distribution demands that a conversation happen with the audience. To engage viewers, you not only allow them to connect with the stories, but you encourage them to talk, tell friends, and learn more about the programs. This is where creative ways of using YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, and many other interactive applications allow the audience to take part in these stories and the worlds around them created by a multifaceted platform of content.

By utilizing the multi-platform capabilities of social networking, widgets, et al. advertisers can increase the duration of exposure of viewers to a specific brand or message. This level of specificity and interactivity are the hallmarks of the coming revolution in digital storytelling.

Then by utilizing thoughtful, creative, and unobtrusive integration into content, publishers can offer brands a reach and staying power unavailable to them in the traditional commercial format.

Original online content has the potential to develop and retain audiences that was previously non-existent. Rather than moving pre-existing shows to a new medium, it is about creating compelling programs by partnering with experienced or at least original storytellers. By building these audiences, increasing the time they spend with the content through traditional mediums and on-line, you get better recall from information you present, and then you have something that is really compelling to your advertisers. It is the answer to the growing demand from the marketing industry that is looking to increase the level of conversation with their audience.

There are already signs of interest from the major media players, and sources of revenue are become more nimble, allowing for serious investment in quality content. The creators of ‘LonelyGirl15,’ originally an underground hit that grew, have been giving a production deal through CBS to develop more content for the web, and my own company Raw Digital has a partnership with Hearst Publications to increase their online presence through original content programming. The future of media is web-based, and the big names are catching on and doing all they can to get in on the ground floor. The secret of success in this new field, with such a variety of content, is keeping an audience engaged in your show.

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