Audiences these days face a daunting problem: figuring out what online video they want to watch amidst the overflowing ocean of modestly differentiated material washing over their eyeballs. But if audiences face a challenge, it’s surely far less problematic than the one facing creators and distributors, namely, getting audiences to watch their online video instead of everyone else’s.
Overcoming that challenge is anything but simple. To really be successful requires a thoughtful, well-developed and multi-pronged approach to building an over-the-top channel or subscription video-on-demand service. Success requires attention to a string of potential problem areas along the path between creator and audience. Just as importantly, you have to focus on a specific audience, and deliver content in smart ways that serve their needs.
Below I outline the challenges you’ll have to solve. As a case study, I talk about how OWNZONES worked with the 15-year-old film distributor, Magnolia Pictures to make its library of films available online in a smart way.
Magnolia is owned by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban and has built an admirable library that includes documentaries “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” “Freakonomics,” “Food Inc.,” “Life Itself” and “Blackfish,” Thai action film “Ong Bak,” the first iPhone-shot film, “Tangerine,” Swedish horror film “Let the Right One In,” Terence Malick’s “To the Wonder,” and multiple projects from Danish auteur Lars Von Trier. As that brief list suggests, Magnolia has an array of high-value content drawn from many genres in the United States and beyond.
How to make that content available to and monetizable with the right audiences was our challenge. Here’s how we approached it:
- Development. This includes Hollywood’s classic approach to development, which is finding promising concepts and scripts, and fleshing them out into a short- or long-form piece or episodic series that’s ready to be recorded. Finding good ideas and improving them into great ones is the first challenge of all. In Magnolia’s case, we already had great content to work with. Now we needed to figure out how to get it in front of the right audiences online.
- Programming Strategy. Hand in hand with development of individual shows is development of an overarching strategy focused on the specific programming that makes sense for your service. You have to create a coherent voice and niche for an online channel, so you have the best chance to connect with a specific, marketable audience. The “problem” with Magnolia’s great content is its diversity. On digital, niche and focus are key. Accordingly, we built not one Magnolia digital channel but four: DOX Channel (for documentaries); Warriors & Gangsters (Action); Monsters & Nightmares (Horror) and LOL Flicks (comedies).
- Incubation. Once you’ve begun to create programming, you may want to test your approach, with the digital-media version of a tech company’s soft launch, incubating content in a setting that lets you test your shows and your marketing with a smaller audience and more limited sandbox before going wide. With Magnolia, we incubated the range of content and found that a channel approach was the way to go, to reach niche audiences that would pay for focused content offerings.
- Marketing. For many traditional Hollywood media companies, marketing wasn’t part of their skill set. A production company might develop a project, then sell it to a network or studio, which might do further development but more importantly, would have to figure out how to market the result. But in the new world of digital media, show development, programming strategy and marketing are integrally connected. You find or create projects that fit a focused programming strategy, and market the result in ways that amplify your offerings so your core audience knows what it’s buying. In Magnolia’s case, we created a unique marketing strategy for each channel. We also created a promotion that gave away Google Chromecast streaming devices (an inexpensive way to get the content from the web onto someone’s living-room TV). Thousands of those subscribers are still paying customers.
- A multi-platform strategy. While a content creator could build a sustainable business on a single distribution platform, that’s not usually the case these days. The flipside, however, is that not every platform may be a good fit for every SVOD channel. So which ones are best for your channel? How are you configuring your offerings for viewers on mobile devices as opposed to video players such as Roku or Apple TV? How are you constructing your business models? Will they be ad-supported, subscription-based, sponsored/branded/native content or some blend or other approach? For Magnolia, we created standalone websites such as doxchannel.com and warriorsandgangsters.com, but our technology platform also created apps for each channel to bring them to even more distribution platforms.
- Global distribution. Having developed programming, wrapped marketing around it and tested your approaches with a trial audience, now it’s time go wider. The incubation process may make it easier to find partners, and to make them enthusiastic about your offerings. But you’ll need some reach, by getting on significant platforms, perhaps in multiple countries, to increase chances of finding the paying audiences you need. With Magnolia, we tapped partnerships with major distribution outlets such as Amazon, Verizon’s go90 service and Comcast to reach the broadest possible audiences.
- Flexible, scalable tools. What technologies are you using to process, transcode and output your finished programming to various platforms? Do those tools provide the flexibility you need to fit your multi-platform strategy? Can those tools scale easily to handle all your programming as you develop it through your production pipeline, and then efficiently move it where it needs to go on your chosen distribution platforms? When taking high-quality content such as Magnolia’s, we tapped technology and systems that allow us to quickly and inexpensively transcode each property for each platform’s particular requirements.
- Partners. At the bottom of all this are your partners. Who are you working with to provide the advice, the tools, the strategy and the connections you need to help build your channel? OWNZONES continues to distribute Magnolia’s content on digital outlets around the world. It’s been a great partnership.
Follow these steps and you too can maximize opportunities and audiences for the content you own or create. The key is focusing on your audience, providing the content and distribution strategy that works for that audience, and delivering it everywhere that audience is online.
About the author
CEO Dan Goman founded OWNZONES in 2011 to solve a series of challenges facing the digital media business. He has built the company into an integrated solution for content creators and owners to develop, program, market, incubate and distribute their programming on a variety of online outlets and economic models, including SVOD, TVOD and AVOD.