By Cathy Applefeld Olson
In a time of heightened issues-driven discourse across social media, ATTN: quickly has risen as hub for relevant, engaging, content aimed at millennial and younger audiences. Founded in 2014, the company amasses 2 billion monthly impressions for its original short-form programming – its two most viral pieces are “What if Earth treated us the way humans treat the earth” (111 million views) and a segment that breaks down parental leave policies (103 million views) – and recently partnered with ABC News. Co-founder Matthew Segal tells Cynopsis how ATTN: is growing distribution and monetization strategies, and explains why television is the ultimate frontier.
Cynopsis: How would you describe the company’s POV, and how has that helped you connect with your target audience?
Matthew Segal: ATTN: covers issues and topics that we a) believe are worth people’s attention (hence our brand name) and b) we strive to give people context on these issues in culturally relevant, digestible and engaging formats that meet the audience where they live on social media outlets so we can get them to care.
Cynopsis: You’ve mentioned you’re fascinated with populism. Why is that, and what current trends are most notably resonating with the core ATTN: audience?
Segal: As a company, we try to cover topics as “people’s issues” as opposed to “political or partisan issues.” Most people don’t live and breathe DC politics and they don’t view the world through the lens of Democrats vs. Republicans, contrary to how cable news outlets often set up debates and conversations. We know almost every citizen, regardless of party, cares about the environment. We know most people care about affordable medicine. As a result, we cover these topics from the vantage point of “how can we protect the environment” and “how can we prevent pharmaceutical companies from ripping you off.” Once you omit the partisan lens, you build more consensus. That’s what we mean by populism.
Cynopsis: ATTN: content reaches more than 400 million monthly users, primarily on Facebook. Why did you choose Facebook as your primary distribution outlet, and why do you think you’ve had so much success on the social platform.
Segal: People 18-35 spend more time on Facebook than any other social platform… by a landslide. ATTN: programs to almost every other social network, too, but Facebook is paramount in terms of where people discover information, news, and storytelling that informs their worldview. We’ve had success on the platform because we’ve been an early adopter of it, and we obsess over how to take complex topics and distill them in conversational, concise language, with strong visuals that appeal to the mobile viewer.
Cynopsis: What’s the next distribution play for ATTN: – television?
Segal: We’ve experimented with YouTube, which is certainly a robust publishing platform with respect to longer videos (meaning videos that exceed 5 minutes in length), but yes: ATTN: is definitely most excited about television. We currently have a deal with ABC News in which we’ve produced some pieces for their air, and stay tuned in 2018: you’ll be seeing more of ATTN’s content on cable networks. We’ve also been really thrilled with our success on Instagram content. In November, we crossed over 11 million views organically on Instagram, and according to third party analytics we’re over-performing relative to other most other publishers our size.
Cynopsis: How are you monetizing your content? What are the challenges to monetization, and where are you finding opportunities?
Segal: We sell sponsorships, branded content, original series and even consulting, which has amounted to a strong revenue year—bucking the trend that digital media companies are struggling this year. Our clients include Samsung, Ford, REI, Microsoft, HBO and many others. The biggest opportunity for monetization moving forward is television, original series (we’ve sold three shows to Facebook Watch—one with Jessica Alba, one with Zooey Deschanel, and one with Nev Schulman and Laura Perlongo—a series to Spotify, and series to Apple Music) as well as licensing and syndication.
Cynopsis: Can you share an update on ATTN:’s deal with ABC News? Why do they make a good partner for ATTN:?
Segal: We believe that there’s a great opportunity to learn from and partner with legacy media companies such as ABC in terms of how to tell great stories on linear TV and how to take their TV stories and cull them down for a mobile-first audience, which is what we excel at. It’s a win-win—they help us scale on linear. We help them scale digitally.
Cynopsis: As part of the deal, you’re now an ABC News contributor. What does that mean for you personally, and for ATTN:?
Segal: ABC News is a great institution with iconic shows such as GMA, Nightline, and 20/20. I’m excited to take some of ATTN’s ideas and formats and do my best to incorporate them into TV segments on these programs. It’s a challenge; my first segment was a piece for Nightline in which I interviewed Bernie Sanders about why millennials are particularly big fans of his medicare-for-all legislation. (http://abcnews.go.com/Nightline/video/sen-bernie-sanders-millennials-discuss-health-care-solutions-50120545)
Cynopsis: What’s something ATTN: hasn’t yet achieved that you’re currently aspiring to?
Segal: A big series on television. Let’s hope you can watch it in 2018! I think we’ll pull it off.
The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at Lynn@Cynopsis.com.