The new rules for media giants

Photo: Thinkstock/IconicBestiary
Photo: Thinkstock/IconicBestiary

A host of new and well-financed players are moving in and complicating the picture for content producers, says Possible's Rebekah Smith.

If you’re a consumer today, you live in a golden age of content. You have great shows and movies at your fingertips whenever you want them, on pretty much any device. The only stress you have is keeping up with it all.

If you’re a content producer, however, the picture is far less rosy. While traditional studios are still in operation, a host of new and well-financed players are moving in and complicating the picture. A few points demonstrate just how much more challenging it has become to get an audience:

  • Apple plans to spend $1 billion on content in 2018. That’s right, you’re competing with Apple.
  • Amazon invested more than $6.5 billion on original content in 2017. Yes, and Amazon too.
  • Facebook is launching new shows that will debut on its platform.
  • Hulu won an Emmy for outstanding drama this year.
  • AT&T is sponsoring movies at the Tribeca Film Festival and trying to acquire media giant Time Warner.

In other words, the church-and-state relationship between distributors and content producers has been upended. Traditionally, content producers stood apart from distributors, and advertisers did not often mingle with studios. Today, Amazon doesn’t merely produce shows and movies, it has its own ad network. AT&T will not merely deliver content but may own a vast store of it as well. And Facebook is merging its platforms for commenting on entertainment with the entertainment itself.

How can these hybrid distributors and content producers compete in such an environment? The obvious starting point is that with great content comes great responsibility. The temptation to use well-loved shows or stars to push products or hastily create spinoffs will be substantial, but likely not in the best interests of both. Instead, these new entities should move with care and consideration. Here are a few ways to get more out of your content:

Tell new stories with old favorites. There’s a rich opportunity to use legacy content in new ways or for product promotion. People love to see old favorites in new places. Pokémon, for instance, scored a smash hit by reinventing a new game with old characters. Hollywood routinely recycles its superheroes as well as cult classic movies (not always with great results). Rather than confuse messages by using ongoing content, mine the oldies for gold.

Extend your content. Today, content producers are creating shows that people devour, but they can get more from them. "The Walking Dead" has "The Talking Dead" series, while many of Bravo’s shows have after-shows. New owners can extend these properties in different types of video, or through digital and social media. Think about Q&As with actors, behind the scenes Instagram Stories, in-depth interviews and 10-minute vignettes available only online.  

Use content according to convention. While expectations of content companies are changing, some consumer tastes will likely endure. For example, when a show is in its heyday, people like its stars to stay in character—not become brand spokespeople. It’s important to let the product and content sides of their business stay true to their roots as much as possible.

Let the data be your guide. People talk about entertainment much more than they do about brands. Content producers can look at social conversations and viewership data to help determine where to extend ideas, what areas to focus on and where to reach out to fans. Netflix famously used its data to decide whether to invest in "House of Cards," but anyone can get a great idea of what’s working or not, and where to make bets for the future. You can also use data to drive discoverability. With so much content facing users today, a little automated curation can go a long way to improving the customer experience.

Find synergies between content and brand. If you have a vast library of content, you will have properties that are great for your brand, and other terrific content, which will seem discordant and out of place. It’s important to spend your wishes wisely, only using a fraction of what’s available, but making sure it’s the right fraction.

Remember, you’re a partner, not an owner. All sides of any business must respect each other if all are to thrive. The entertainment producer may have excellent reasons for not wanting characters or content to be used in certain ways. After all, they are no different from brands in that they have restraints and require protection as well. You don’t want to destroy Bugs Bunny only to sell a cable subscription.

The final point is to have fun. No one should ever complain that they have too much great content. The opportunity vastly outweighs the risk, and even if you get it a little wrong, fans quickly forget missteps when their favorite shows and movies are involved.

Rebekah Smith is VP Account at POSSIBLE.