Even Rupert Murdoch, the world’s foremost champion of old-school print, can no longer deny that media has moved to a digitally-enabled world. A world where audiences are just as likely, if not even more, to watch their favorite TV shows on their computer, Xbox, or mobile device as they are on their TV. Unlike before, the television and digital worlds are colliding in a battle for ad dollars, eyeballs and original content that can effectively break through in this new paradigm of user-controlled content.
Not only are audiences in the driver's seat, they are also no longer passive. They share, comment, and interact with content and their favorite celebrities directly via a range of social media outlets. And now, the tremendous task of creating the next generation of content, and ever more meaningful ways for audiences and brands to engage this new world order is giving rise to a range of new entertainment pioneers. Among these pioneers are Dan Goodman and William (Bill) H. Masterson III, co-founders of the New York-based digital entertainment company, Believe Entertainment Group.
"We don’t look at this business as making shows for the web," Goodman explained. "It’s programming the next generation of mainstream entertainment. It’s not digital entertainment; it’s just simply entertainment to today’s tech savvy viewers."
Masterson says the secret behind the success isn’t new; great talent and content is still the driving force behind it all. "It’s always been the case that fans and audiences rally around their favorite artists and celebrities, and most importantly, great programming they actually want to watch… the only difference is today it’s much harder to push it to them, and you have to rebuild the model around the way they integrate this programming into their jam-packed lifestyle."
The audience today controls when and where they’ll consume content. Audience viewership has moved from "primetime" to "my time" using the power of the web, mobile devices, tablets and digital TV platforms like Hulu, Vudu, and YouTube. The traditional "push" model of broadcasting messages to consumers is losing its relevance in a world where time shifted viewing has drastically increased, making advertisers hungrier than ever to attach themselves to more effective ways to grab the attention of their consumers and increase engagement with their brands.
But knowing how, where, and when to launch shows and incorporate new advertising models is anything but a clear-cut path. Nick Pahade, CEO of the North America division for the media ad agency Initiative, an Interpublic Group company whose client roster includes MillerCoors, Hyundai/Kia and Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group, says content strategies are evolving and advertisers are seeking more credible and meaningful ways to spend their growing video ad dollars.
Both Goodman and Masterson, individually and through Believe Entertainment Group, have been at the forefront of the digital entertainment industry. These gentlemen have generated over five hundred million views with their highly successful integrated content properties merging Fortune 500 companies like HP, Nike, Sprite and more with high profile talent, like LeBron James, Tiësto, Seth MacFarlane, and Jennifer Lopez. This innovation-producing duo have a large footprint in the original digital content arena with an extensive track record of successfully developing, launching and monetizing talent-driven, original content across numerous digital platforms such as AOL, Hulu, YouTube, Xbox and at a fraction of the cost of traditional "studio" productions. By leveraging the digital distribution landscape, they are able to minimize production costs, and maximize quality and audience viewership, while building and connecting their audiences through social media platforms.
Masterson explains, "When you’re trying to break the mold, and create a business and an industry at the same time, you have to have your hand in every piece of the process." Goodman continues, "It’s about having the ability to implement your vision at every step and being able to offer real resources, value and support to your talent, advertising and distribution partners all the time."
Partnering with name brand talent to create original content has enabled Believe Entertainment Group to forge valuable partnerships with some of the industry’s most coveted advertisers, like Intel, Coca-Cola, and P&G, where they successfully use the content to help shape an attitudinal response with brand favorability and purchase intent. They are also able to measure their success by looking at both qualitative and quantitative metrics on channel viewership, views from syndication, social media activity, press impressions and overall marketplace buzz.
An example of where the dynamic duo leveraged the power of its partners was, "The LeBrons," where together with LeBron’s production entity Spring Hill Productions, they developed the hit original digital series from LeBron James that ran on YouTube, generating over 50 million views across the web and is now entering its second season. For advertising partners including HP and Intel, they developed custom 15- and 30-second spots that ran online in front of the content to draw audiences into the marketing message. They quickly saw response rates that were multiples of traditional marketing efforts. They also utilized LeBron’s massive social media platform on Facebook, with over 11 million "likes," to engage audiences to respond to his posts to drive HP and Intel brand engagement and showcase product benefits.
"LeBron understands the value of the direct relationships he forms with his fans in social media. This is where his audience lives and where they take action on his behalf," said Maverick Carter, CEO of LRMR Marketing and Spring Hill Productions, LeBron James’ marketing and production companies. "The LeBrons is a unique platform in that it’s specifically designed to build on the fan relationships online, create innovative and break-through opportunities for our brand partners to expand their partnerships with us and provide a long-term business platform for us to continue to give back to fans and our communities."
Phil Venuti, Integrated Marketing Manager at Hewlett-Packard explained "We're constantly looking at breakthrough but quantifiable ways to drive engagement with our consumers. Through the entertainment initiatives we've built with Believe including 'The LeBrons' and Tiësto's 'In the Booth' we've been able to deliver unique and innovative brand and product experiences that move the needle on key customer engagement metrics."
Believe sees digital entertainment at the center of the future of all content and programming. In their vision, as more channels are enabled by digital distribution, the venues to deliver premium entertainment expands and offers new opportunities for creators, audiences and brands.
What the future ultimately holds will be the subject of endless debate, as media and entertainment incumbents continue to dig in and take root for the digital winter. But one thing is certain, no long-term model will exist without developing meaningful and legitimate avenues for talent and creators of all shapes and sizes to derive true value for their creations. While those examples may yet remain obvious, perhaps companies like Believe Entertainment Group, and other early movers in this space, are offering the first glimpse of a model that embraces the user-controlled digital evolution, while still preserving the value of the content creators that make people want to switch on their iPads in the first place.