04.21.16 Good morning. It’s Thursday April 21, 2016, and this is your first early morning digital briefing.
Content Obligations: Any outstanding costs that a distributor or service is contractually obligated to pay to producers or licensors for content.
The line between traditional TV and digital just blurred a little more. Comcast announced that, later in 2016, it will launch the Xfinity TV Partner app. Subscribers will be able to access their Xfinity TV service – everything, including live programming, VOD, and DVR – through select Roku streaming devices, Roku TVs, and 2016 Samsung smart TVs. No Comcast-issued set-top box will be required. (Time Warner Cable launched a similar app in 2013, but still required subscribers to rent a set-top box.) Comcast also announced the Xfinity TV Partner Program, an initiative to bring Xfinity TV to yet more devices.
AOL purchased RYOT, a production studio specializing in virtual reality and 360-degree video. AOL says it will use RYOT’s resources to boost The Huffington Post’s journalistic efforts. (RYOT and HuffPo have actually partnered before, on the Susan Sarandon-hosted reporting series The Crossing.) Interestingly enough, this is no anomaly. News outlets have been some of the earliest and most prolific adopters of VR and 360-degree video. It make sense: In an era in which the online news industry finds itself in dire straits, jumping onto emerging digital platforms may be the only way to keep up with the evolving demands of a more and more digitally savvy audience.
Programmers, TV marketers, and consumer-facing brands are always on the lookout for creative ways to engage with audiences beyond on-air promos. At the Cynopsis Out-of-Home Marketing webinar, you’ll learn how to craft cross-platform marketing campaigns that combine OOH and digital to drive awareness, tune-in, and social amplification. Register here.
Content is king. It’s also ridiculously expensive. But as far as Netflix is concerned, astronomical content obligations are a bullet that must be bitten. As of the end of Q1 2016, the streaming giant currently owes producers and licensors $12.3 billion. That’s up from $10.9 billion in the previous quarter. “As we’re adding more content now for the rest of the world… those markets [that] are growing in content spend more quickly than some of our more established markets,” said CFO David Wells on the company’s recent earnings call. Translation: You’ve gotta spend money to make money – especially if you decide to be active in 190 countries.
To coincide with Earth Day, the SVOD service Smithsonian Earth will offer seven free hours of content to non-subscribers from April 22-24. The service, which features an array of 4K Ultra HD content, will make the programming available via Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and www.smithsonianearthtv.com.
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Will Netflix relent on its off-line viewing obstinance? In a Q1 earnings call, CEO Reed Hastings seemed to suggest that the service may consider allowing users to download Netflix titles for offline playback. When asked about offline viewing, Hastings said that Netflix should “keep an open mind on this.” It marks a notable shift: While companies like Amazon have embraced offline viewing, Netflix has, in the past, vocally rejected the idea. Hastings pointed out that, unlike in the States, many countries have spotty wireless networks. In other words, the shift in tone may have little to do with U.S. demand, and everything to do with reaching more viewers in other countries as the service carries out its massive worldwide expansion.
Captiv8 has captivated some big donors. A data-driven influencer marketplace that helps major brands buy ads across the channels of digital content creators, Captiv8 just nabbed $2 million in a new funding round. Captiv8’s investors include Social Capital, Jason Calacanis’ LAUNCH Fund, and United Talent Agency.
As a preface, Google conducted this research itself, so it should be greeted with all the appropriate wariness. Still, it’s notable: A new study from the tech giant examined 56 brands and ultimately determined that, in 77% of instances, YouTube advertising delivered a higher ROI than TV advertising. Again, caveats abound, though it’s worth noting that four different firms, using multiple methodologies, carried out the research, according to Business Insider. The message that Google is hoping to impart seems rather clear: Advertise on YouTube. Just this week, UBS stock analyst Eric Sheridan predicted that YouTube will grow at 21% over the next four years, and would account for a major percentage of YouTube’s overall revenue by 2020. Google, it seems, is eager to help that process along.
MTV News announced that, this week, it will launch five new podcasts spanning political, music, film, and pop-culture-related subject matter. The podcasts will be available via iTunes, Spotify, and SoundCloud. Meanwhile, MTV has brought on BuzzFeed Video News Editor Rachel Zarrell to serve as a news and video editor, as well as singer and writer Meredith Graves, who will host MTV projects. MTV has also brought on four well-established podcast producers to help with the initiatives. It begs the question – why podcasts? In the age of 4K video and immersive virtual reality, it remains a curious fact that podcasts have surged in popularity over the last couple of years. Successful casts such as Serial and WTF with Marc Maron have played a role in elevating the format. Availability is a factor too: Podcasts are actively promoted on an increasing number of popular devices and platforms, including Spotify and, starting just this week, Google Play Music.
Nathan Brown has joined Discovery Digital Networks, the web-native division of Discovery Communications, as SVP of Development and Operations. Brown, who recently served as Senior Vice President and General Manager of Video at The Huffington Post, will guide DDN’s business strategy and audience growth. Brown joins Discovery Digital Network’s at a pivotal moment; Discovery Communications has been pouring resources into the division over the last year or so, banking big on initiatives such as Discovery VR and expanded SourceFed Studios content.
LiveRamp, an Acxiom-owned company specializing in data onboarding and connectivity, announced a new hire. Jeff Smith will serve as LiveRamp’s new Chief Marketing Officer. In his new role, Smith will “accelerate LiveRamp’s growth by broadening the industry’s understanding of the strategic importance of data connectivity and its ability to unlock better customer experiences on any channel or device,” according to LiveRamp. Smith most recently served as EVP & Chief Solutions Marketing Officer at Nielsen.
Crackle held its Upfront yesterday, and the powers that be at Sony’s ad-supported streaming service made clear that they intend to build on an ambitious 2015 that saw the service’s first major foray into original scripted programming. First, the programming front: Along with renewing The Art of More, SuperMansion, and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Crackle will be launching an original drama series based on Snatch, Guy Ritchie’s 2000 heist film.
But the day’s most intriguing announcements centered on Crackle’s newest advertising initiatives. The company will be making its streaming library – along with customizable ad solutions – available via virtual reality platforms. Crackle will also be launching a new initiative that it’s calling Break-Free Advertising. Unlike the VR initiative, Break-Free Advertising has nothing to do with exploiting new and emerging platforms; it’s just a very clever idea. Under the initiative, Crackle will make 100% of the ad inventory for an entire 10-episode series available to exactly five advertisers.
There are a couple of ideas at play here: First, the five advertisers will have only four competitors over the course of ten full episodes; more real estate means more attention, and more viewer impact. The format is also meant to give brands the chance to craft an evolving story or message designed to play out over the course of a ten episode series. The theme of the day, ultimately, was the value of grabbing viewers’ attention. “If you can provide experiences that are immersive, people won’t just give you their time – they’ll give you their attention,” said Eric Berger, GM of Crackle and EVP Digital, Sony Pictures Television.
Last month, an NBCU-owned cable network launched a new daily talk show, running only on the Facebook Live platform. Which network was it? You can find the answer here.
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It’s good to see a prominent linear TV show give a shout-out to the rich world of YouTube celebrities – even if it’s just to emphasize that they’re not actually celebrities and that, in fact, no one’s ever heard of them. That’s our Stewie. Check out a (brief) Family Guy clip here.
See you tomorrow,
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