Online syndication brings content to eyeballs

Kate Hanley, B.A., LL.B., is president of Digital Theory Media Consulting, which specializes in assisting traditional players exploit opportunities in digital media. She can be contacted at

In theory, there has never been an easier time for producers to reach an audience. In the Internet entertainment democracy, anyone with a video camera and a computer has access to millions of viewers. But the reality is less exhilarating.

Today, a few web portals dominate the lion’s share of web traffic. In July, comScore reported that 44% of all web videos were viewed on a Google site. The remaining audiences are fragmenting over an increasing supply of niche destinations. With millions of websites on the Internet, even the largest broadcasters can’t accumulate the mass audiences needed to generate TV-style advertising dollars.

Enter online syndication. Rather than rely on their own portals to attract viewers, major media players are sending video to thousands of websites across the Internet. Media companies like CBS, MTV and Reuters are fueling a growing syndication economy empowered by new technology platforms that simplify video hosting and distribution.

‘Content owners recognize that to build brand loyalty and improve discovery they must syndicate their content to a growing number of sites,’ says Marty Roberts, VP of marketing for thePlatform, a leading white-label video management and publishing company.

Here in Canada, the CBC embraced online syndication early, working with nearly 1,600 syndication partners, including Google and an array of wireless, broadband and place-based services.

According to Steve Billinger, executive director of digital programming and business development, ‘In the fragmented media marketplace, we’ve got to push content out through multiple partners and platforms – making it easily available to audiences wherever and whenever they choose to view.’

Online syndication could signal a breakthrough in monetizing online media. By offering videos through multiple destinations, content creators accumulate the mass audiences advertisers covet. Videos are embedded with advertising clips that travel with the content. Advertisers pay based on how many times a video is seen – regardless of where viewers find it. Widely distributed videos can rack up huge viewing numbers far more easily than on just one website.

According to thePlatform’s Roberts, ‘Major media companies are making money online today, and content syndication is playing a large role.’

Perhaps the most innovative examples of the online syndication advertising model is Seth Macfarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy, the Internet-only comedy series from the creator of Family Guy. Launched in September, each video in this series – made with a multimillion-dollar production budget – is embedded with advertising and set to run on thousands of websites through Google’s AdSense network. The show’s producers actually bought the Google advertising space and then sold it sponsors including Burger King to finance the production’s hefty price tag.

Across the U.S., smaller content creators are doing the same – buying or bartering online advertising and converting the spots to sponsor-backed programming.

Smaller players can also exploit the trend through a host of end-to-end syndication services. The Voxant Newsroom matches general-interest or news clips with advertising and makes it available to millions of publishers looking to pump up their websites with video. Voxant clients include large and small content creators including the CBC and the NHL.

Other services include ClipSyndicate, and The NewsMarket.

Despite the help of new technologies, launching a full syndication strategy is no small task. The absence of technical standards for online video translates into having to convert content to multiple formats, and maintaining syndication partnerships is time-consuming.

Regardless, many predict the trend will explode as online viewing choices multiply. In the web 2.0 entertainment world, the ‘new normal’ is to take content to the viewer – wherever his or her eyeballs might be – or risk being overlooked in a crowded marketplace.