Transparency, watch time key to multi-screen branded content: panel

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The Branded Entertainment Forum is a one-day event produced by Playback sister publication realscreen, and designed to deliver strategies and best practices for the development and production of unscripted/factual brand funded entertainment. This year’s event took place on Oct. 23, 2012 in Manhattan, New York City. Here, digital content execs discuss the multi-screen and online opportunities for branded content.

Engagement was the keyword in a panel at Tuesday’s Branded Entertainment Forum featuring a group of execs from Twitter, Yahoo!, FremantleMedia Enterprises and Awesomeness TV.

The “Branded Content Beyond TV” panel, moderated by Participant Television president Evan Shapiro, examined the opportunities for branded entertainment in a multi-screen age, and offered tips from those working in multi-platform media on how to best connect with content.

Olivier Delfosse, VP of interactive, mobile and digital content at FremantleMedia Enterprises, North America, stated that he tells content creators to consider how important watch time is to YouTube. “The greater the watch time, the higher it pops up on a search,” he added.

When it comes to the idea of “appointment viewing” making the transition from TV to online, Varsity Pictures’ Brian Robbins, founder of YouTube tween and teen channel Awesomeness TV, said that his demographic surprisingly cares very much about consistent scheduling. The four-month-old channel already boasts 200,000 subscribers and 40 million views, according to Robbins.

These engaged viewers come to expect their programs at regularly scheduled times perhaps due to “FOMO,” a social media-era acronym meaning “fear of missing out.” Turning to Glenn Brown, director of promoted content and sponsorships for Twitter, Shapiro surmised, “Your social network punishes us if we’re not there.”

“That’s not our policy,” joked Brown, adding that Twitter is most concerned with facilitating conversation. “People are realizing that it’s not just about numbers, but engagement,” he said, adding that when working with brands, Twitter’s role is to make it very clear that there’s a brand sponsoring a tweet.

One in three promoted tweets are clicked on, while any tweet with video, photo or a link will have five to 10 times the engagement, Brown said. He added that an average Twitter user follows five to six brands.

For Erin McPherson, VP and head of originals and video programming for Yahoo!, engagement happens when a brand and Yahoo! can work in partnership.

“It feels like we’re all learning. If a brand is standing on ceremony, you’ll see a drop off [in engaged users],” she stated.

Many of Yahoo!’s shows are produced in-house, but they still work with a dozen or more outside companies, according to McPherson. She said she’s always looking for content in the unscripted and scripted spaces, and added that Yahoo!’s sweet spot is short-form news and lifestyle content. The Yahoo! team also ensures that its content doesn’t become a “hidden ad” because the company employs a strong editorial policy, ensuring that whatever makes it onto the home page is editorially sound and relevant to Yahoo! users.

In the audience Q&A for the session, a delegate asked what could be the most important question regarding branded content – how can a producer know when he or she has crossed the line from engaging, entertaining content to blatant commercial?  With agreement from the panelists that audiences are more savvy about branded content and actually appreciate transparency, Shapiro wrapped the session up with a motto for takeaway: “Be obvious, just be good.”

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