Audience numbers key in showing digital ROI success, developers say

The so-called freemium model, which provide free trials of content with online properties, is showing great promise as a marketing and sales tool.

What are the “breadcrumbs” on the path to monetizing screen projects for new media and digital platforms?

Know your revenue cornerstones and that business innovation can be even small tweaks on a successful product.

Those were some of the key messages from last week’s Digital ROI panel at the Playback Summit, in which indie digital/interactive and game producers discussed the sometimes murky waters of generating revenue for TV-linked digital projects.

The panel, comprised of Secret Location’s James Milward, Smokebomb Entertainment’s Jarrett Sherman and Phantom Compass’ Tony Walsh, and moderated by Teletoon Canada’s Gavin Friesen, talked about some of the cornerstones in models that have been successful for their companies.

Secret Location’s Milward told the audience that for entertainment properties, his company takes a producer role, working hand-in-hand with TV prodcos to conceive the digital execution for a project, the rights for which Secret Location would own or co-own.

And, by putting on a producer’s thinking cap, they also think about a sales strategy that could extend beyond creating that particular project.

“When we’re building interactive or digital properties, we’re thinking about how we sell it either in further territories, just like when people think about distributing a television show for licensing in further territories,” Milward said.

On the other end of the spectrum Walsh, of Phantom Compass, said that his company’s business model is different from that of creating in the convergent space, in that indie game developers take a lot of financial risk and have to spend a lot of dollars to get visibility.

As a small developer that both supports TV producers on convergent initiatives and creates original intellectual properties, Walsh said that one cornerstone is building a brand. 

“We want people to seek out our products because it’s our plan to [have them] show up on more and more consumer devices. And if they’re looking for us by name, we want that company brand [recognition].”

Smokebomb’s Sherman said that in the era of multimedia convergence broadcaster’s want their transmedia projects to play a key role in building and engaging audiences.

Milward agreed that high audience numbers are a top priority.

“If we had to put a hierarchy on what we’re focused on, first and foremost, we want big numbers. That’s specifically going to validate a couple of things. The first thing is that we’re doing something marketing-driven–big numbers mean eyeballs. That is in and of itself ROI for certain partners,” he said.

“Then, no matter what, if you have great numbers, those numbers validate the business case of shipping that property to other territories. Other broadcasters in other territories are going to want things that have been validated with big numbers in your territory. And that allows us to charge a higher price for those things. It also allows us to determine that a property is leveragable in a number of ways,” he added.

Sherman says Smokebomb has shifted their strategy for selling properties internationally towards building content that foreign broadcasters are willing to pay for.

And that means filmed entertainment – spin-off digital series and web series that use the show’s main characters in a new way or in a different world, “to deliver to the same audience more of what they love.”

In the gaming and apps space, Walsh said the “freemium” – free to play, with in-app or in-game purchase upgrades – model for games is becoming increasingly popular as a mode to generate revenue.

“Everybody does want something for free, and you can get it for free. But the premium experience, you’re going to pay for. Some of these [established] online games switched from a subscription model to free-to-play and saw a huge uptake in audience. It’s a lower barrier to entry. You still have the game experience, get to evaluate the product and get people to talk about it,” he explained.

Milward noted that the freemium model is “a very adult opportunity,” adding that for kids’ properties, upfront spending is better from a parents’ perspective – being that the parent is doing the purchasing for his or her child.

“We’re looking at the freemium model in a different way, which is to build a lite version of the app so they can try it, then build a paid version that they can pay for once. And hopefully the free version of the app leads to the paid version.”

Milward and Sherman agreed that innovating on pre-existing success – like an aspect of a TV show or a game for a previous season of a show – as opposed to innovating for the sake of technology, is more likely to bring results.

“We’re not trying to recycle jokes. We’re trying to take what works, do a post-mortem to see what was good about it and what people responded to, and see how we can put a different twist and spin on it,” said Sherman.

“It’s a really important definition to know the difference between novelty and innovation. And that’s a big disconnect for most people making technology. They get excited to make something interesting. It’s really just novel but it’s not innovative in any way,” added Milward.

Photo: L-R Gavin Friesen, James Milward, Jarrett Sherman, Tony Walsh / Sean Torrington