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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Distribution without a Network? Be your OWN Network! Here’s the Secret.

Content.  Easy Access.  Promotion.  No burying the lede here. 
I wrote about “channels” before.  It’s a word that’s outlived its time, unless you’re trying to talk to your great, great grandmother.  Now let’s discuss “networks.”  It’s funny.  Everyone wants to be one.  No one wants to be part of one.  That sort of makes sense…what they’re really saying is that they want to control the distribution of their content and don’t want to relinquish control of it to others.
It’s consistent with the evolution of media distribution from bicycling 16mm film around to local stations to “ordering” of content directly from the producer over the web.  That early method worked but there really was no control over the airing except the trust built into the contract.  Even so, a show could get multiple runs, be copied, or get lost in the rotation.  Today anyone with uncensored Internet can watch just about anything when they want.  It’s truly “what you want when you want it” (WYWWYWI or WhyWhyWhy.)
Which begs the question, “Why?”  Why a network?  Well, the agencies and the existing networks will argue,
  • Networks are the largest aggregator of eyeballs
  • They are efficient
  • They are easily measured (accurately? Well, that’s another story)
  • They are cheap - goes with efficient
  • People are used to networks (whatever that means)
  • They’re easy to buy (they’ll never tell you that but think about it – about buying time in a few networks rather than tens of thousands of individual pieces of content.  What else would you expect from an agency!  Ask me how I know.  As an early proponent of cable, I got thrown out of my share of offices for suggesting taking positions in cable programming.)
I would counter that with
  • People feel their own time is valuable.  Patience went west when the remote control came on the scene.
  • It’s become a world of instant gratification.  The WYWWYWI mindset applies to entertainment as well as everything else.  People want it now.
  • Viewers are fickle.  The era of someone tuning a specific network and spending their entire night there is gone.  If the show’s bad, they’re outta here.  (Remember hammocking?)  I see broadcast networks still having at it, hoping the lead-in will help sampling of a new show.  I usually see it in a promo as I’m on my way to the Roku.
  • Measured?  You want measured?  I can find out who, when, how long…with at least as much reliability as network numbers
  • Sure, largest aggregators…but really only on big, live events.  And (you heard it here) when the NFL gets a little more fortitude, they’ll put the Super Bowl on NFL Network as a $50 PPV.  BTW – that won’t be a network.  It’ll be a direct link to their servers.
  • Repeating myself from a statement made years ago, No one cares what kind of car brings the pizza.  It’s the pizza – the content – they want.  And just like that pizza, they want it now.
By now, you’re screaming back at the screen, “OK, so what’s the secret?” Well, I told you right off.  The secret is you don’t need to be a network. There it is. You surely don’t want to yield control to one but you don’t need to be one, either.  There are 3 simple steps to distribution
  1. Create content people want
  2. Make it easy to access it
  3. Tell people about it, including where it is
I’m wondering if you’re laughing, maybe shouting, “Duh!” or breaking your knuckles trying to stick your arm into the monitor to grab my neck (you can’t, I’m back about 3 feet from this thing) but, it’s that simple.
The devil is in the details, of course.  But he ain’t that mean.
First, as far as content people want, you don’t have to appeal to the whole world.  If you want to offer fishing videos, there are plenty of fisherpeople you can offer your wares to.  In fact there are plenty of folks in the “I just want to fish for bass” school (pun intended) to whom some of your content should appeal.
Second, make it easy to access.  Devil’s back and he/she thinks he/she’s tightening the screws.  Thing is he/she’s easily defeated here, too, though way too many locations make it so difficult that it isn’t worth it. It’s just that if you have the content, make sure that people can get to it.

  • Yeah, your marketing and advertising person said you can put the program 3 clicks, 2 prerolls and an overlay away and people will still come to it.  Is that your guy?  If so, pop him/her with a 2x4.  Wanna cut your views in half, quarter or even by 90 percent?  Put up those barriers.  Go ahead try it.  Or try it with a restaurant – put some “Police Line” barricades in front of the door or do a chalk outline of a body on the sidewalk in front.  Make the door really hard to open.  Lemme know how it works out with customer traffic.
  • Get the video playing in one click.  You can add overlays – heck, networks have pretty much abandoned the lower third of the screen anyway – or even some complete commercial interruptions but get viewers to the content NOW.
  • Don’t make anyone wade through a bad search engine to find their content.  If you have a few pieces, put them right there on the home page.  Yep.  Thumbnail, description and direct link.  If you have a lot, consider using subdomains to divide your content.  Your prospects go directly to the subdomain and then to the content.  Special bonus:  On the landing page of the subdomain, you can promote all sorts of other content you have.
  • Don’t choose some convoluted player.  HTML5 has its own and there are others which can be used easily without forcing the prospective visitor to download one.  A.) Given today’s malware, you’ll lose prospective viewers to the paranoia of a cryptolocker, and, B.) It’s that WYWWYWI thing.  If they have to go through the trouble of downloading a player, they’ll go on to another site.  And be careful with Flash.  How many times do you get angry because you get the, “You’re hosed.  Your version of FLASH cannot play this video.  Please click here for the nightmare of downloading and installing a new version, including having to close this very browser?”
So that’s the second point.  Now, number 3.  If you don’t tell the world where your great content is, nobody knows about it.  This is the only place where current networks have an edge.  They can cross promote including full promos and lower-third supers, the ones we love to hate.  But, today, even that isn’t enough.  Some of you may remember doing specials and getting a guarantee of 125 or 150 GRPs on air promotion for it.  But back then, that meant 10 to 20 promos (yeah some were voice over crawl but the promos were there).  Today, it would have to be, well, maybe a hundred or more.  And, as always with networks, you don’t know who you’re really getting.
But you can get around that with your own promotion.  Just stop and think how you can reach prospects.  This is Advertising 101, OK?

  • You can buy time/space elsewhere.  If you do and you don’t link that directly back to your promoted content, you’re wasting a lot of money.  By “directly,” I mean they click and the content starts playing.
    • “Buying” can be in the form of cross promotion.  You promote other content on your site and those folks promote content on yours.
    • “Buying” can also mean trading.  You can put ads/promos on your advertisers’ sites.  They help drive people to your content where they see ads for the advertiser.
  • Use public relations.  Get PR out there about your site, what you’re doing, what the content is, and, include the link.
  • Do interviews, make calls.  “Oh yeah? Where?”  You’d be surprised how many people will take your calls/emails and follow up with you.  Putting it kindly, there are plenty of lazy reporters out there who will schedule you for an interview or will take your talking points and build a story.  Saves them work.
  • Spend some money.  If you don’t have a promotion budget, set one up.  It’s all the rage.  If your content really is good, the expense will be small to get it found.  If you do it right, you can turn that promotional investment into a lot of visitors.  And if they return or tell others, well, you know that story.  I can’t go through determining where or how because it varies with content.  But if you don’t know who your target is, please, figure that out first.  From there, you can get to the right promotional places.
Finally, direct distribution means no intermediary.  Your viewer sees what you want them to see and when they want it.  It’s the ultimate cord cut.  No cable, no antenna needed.  A good web connection and viewers are off to the races – if that’s what they want to watch.  And if you have the content, make it easily accessible, and make sure to tell the world it’s there, you’re going to be part of their viewing mix.