Author Archives: lasr467

The Uber Strategy to Selling a Pilot or Screenplay

I don’t endorse this at all and I have no idea if it works…

…But I got a ride from an Uber driver from LAX the other day. He was very friendly and we started talking. I learned that he’s a screenwriter by trade and he told me that Ubering lead to an option on a script he’s been working on for years.

Here’s his strategy for leveraging Uber to sell his screenplay:

  1. Flip on Uber and idle near Sony, Paramount, WB — choose your favorite studio lot
  2. Pick up an unusually high frequency of executives you’d never otherwise have a chance to meet let alone host as a captive audience; be friendly and not weirdly pushy about your script or skills
  3. Profit

Again, I have NO idea if this would work at scale or if the guy was telling the truth. But I just love the hustle so I had to post it.

Secret Access to Netflix’s Algorithm to Help You Understand Your Audience

I talk a TON about how important knowing your target is. You don’t have to be a marketer — even if you’re just MAKING content. You need to know your audience.

Netflix does an incredible job of analyzing their audiences and serving them targeted, empathetic content. And there’s a secret way of leveraging their algorithm, data and analytics to help you understand your own audience.

Secret Codes and Shelves of Targeted Content

Rant standup comedy category on Netflix

Rant Stant-up Comedy, TV Dramas and Understated Comedies are some of the categories on my Netflix homepage.

Netflix has an algorithm that creates “shelves” of movies and shows that they believe please certain content niches. If you use the service, you’ve probably noticed some of them like “Dramas Based on Real Life,” “Rock & Pop Concerts” or “Asian Action Movies.” Some of them get eerily specific, including ones that target specific children within 2-year age ranges.

If you’re trying to target a specific content audience, chances are, Netflix has a very specific category that caters to that target. You can use these shelves to see they types of shows that Netflix believes are “stickiest” for people in that psychographic corner of entertainment. Watch a few of these shows and you’re suddenly inside the mind of that consumer (their wants and fears) or at least beginning to understand what types of content you’re competing with.

The trouble is, Netflix usually picks when to serve these up to you based on your watches, likes/dislikes and preferences. So, if you’re a fan of Thrillers, you usually can’t view the content Netflix recommends for fans of Tearjerkers. The hack, which you may have seen before, is to find the specific “deep link” URL that’s assigned to the category you’re interested in. They follow this pattern netflix.com/browse/genre/#### and some smart people have made them conveniently available in lists like this one and this one. Click on the category or guess the right genre number and you go right to the page of content that Netflix recommends.

Are you targeting kids 11-12? Here are “feel good comedies,” “coming of age” and and just plain movies that Netflix thinks they’ll like. Looking to expand your understanding of the Latin American market? Watch all 182 movie here or get even more specific with “Latin American Crime Movies“. There’s even a section for “deep sea horror” fans.

(The most comprehensive list I could find was split between two pages on What’s On Netflix: Page 1 and Page 2. According to them, new categories pop up almost daily. InstantWatcher also has a good index. )

Getting More Detailed and Selling to Netflix

If you want to get even more granular, you can use these categories with a site like InstantWatcher which will let you narrow your target even more by adding filters like runtime, publish year and Rotten Tomato score.

I believe you could use this info to enhance a pitch for Netflix to buy a series from you. Netflix has said to THR that it doesn’t want content similar to other content they already have:

There’s some overlap but surprisingly little… as a general rule, the audience who watches House of Cards does not watch Hemlock Grove — and yet again, is not the audience that watches Arrested Development. We hope to reach the entire subscriber base with at least one original series by the time we’re done.

This makes sense because they want to attract households with diverse content desires and become broadly popular through many content niches. As Matthew Ball puts it, they want “underlap.” Hence their emphasis on Kids.

This could be important to a content pitch because you want to show them that your content isn’t “too” similar to the content they already have. If you want to make or sell content that doesn’t overlap with their existing library, you could browse categories that are empty or dial in an area in InstantWatcher that they’re lacking.

Pretty soon you’ll be making “Angsty British Military Zombie Sitcoms for Kids 8-9 Years Old.” But with the help of Netflix’s genres algorithm, at least you’ll know what that audience likes.

Work at a Digital Media Company? Here’s How Much It’s Worth

We’re in a huge boom of VC-backed media start-ups with tons of investment in digital media brands that are growing because of the obvious shift of consumer attention from print and radio to mobile and internet. And if you work at one of these, you might be wondering how much your equity is worth or when/what the co’s exit prospects are.

There’s a pretty neat article on Medium called The Art and Science of Online Media Exit Valuations. It’s a simple 101 about how media companies are being valued these days based on interviews with real media investors and detailed research on these types of companies.

If you’re just looking for the so-called “multiple valuation” punchline, here it is:

Digital media companies tend to sell for between 2.5 and 5 times (2.5–5x) revenues from the previous, or “trailing,” 12 months.

Also:

Most digital media companies sell for about 8–12x EBITDA.

I find it interesting how investors prioritize different types of revenue. Digital media is generally very TBD in the business model department and part of the excitement to me is how much experimentation we see in this space: loyalty programs, tip jars, paywalls, merch, licensing… but according to Dorian Benkoil and Rafat Ali’s research, four areas add big value. These could kind of be used as a playbook for CEOs and strategists trying to bump their valuations:

  1. Subscriptions services — because these are much more predictable than advertising
  2. Paid research
  3. IRL events/conferences/parties, and…
  4. Databases of user info (very lacking for co’s in the distributed media world)

YouTube TV — UGC and Vlogging Next to Premium Television

Bloomberg has an awesome breakdown of YouTube’s really cool announcement today. They’re launching their own “skinny bundle” of network and cable traditional TV access which will fuse with a high-tech cloud DVR and their own recommendations for YouTube videos.

A conversation will commence online about the viability of these low-priced “skinny bundles” and I tend to think they’re not a great model and won’t last. I don’t think Google thinks they’ll last either — I think their intention is to blur the lines between content on YT and TV. Because that’s the battle they’ve been fighting for years… Google is dominating digital ad spend but barely chipping away at television ad spend.

If they can change media buyer perceptions — prove that their content is just as premium as TV — then maybe they can get some of that dough. I don’t think it’s nearly that easy. Literally, this is the example, cited in the Bloomberg piece:

A query for cooking shows, for example, might turn up recommendations for Hell’s Kitchen, the TV staple from Fox, alongside Epic Meal Time, a web-only show produced by Studio71 GmbH.

Now THERE’S a stretch: Competition reality fans seamlessly transitioning into a handheld brofest about binge-eating. Is surfacing vloggers next to This Is Us going to accelerate cord cutting? Or shift ad spend from TV to digital? There’s no way.

This is a really cool service and it’s extremely thoughtfully designed. I’m thrilled to use it. But the idea that just putting these two types of content next to each other will somehow “merge” them in the eyes of audiences and advertisers is flawed. Until YouTube makes content like Empire, it’s not going to command revenue or ratings like Empire.

YouTube Bets It Can Convince Cordcutters to Pay for TV via Bloomberg

Annoying, Unskippable Ads Get a Really Bad Rap — And Might Be Better for Us


Jason Hirshhorn piqued my interest quickly (maybe accidentally?) in the mix of his rantnrave on Redef today [bolding from me]:

All advertising is content, some more enjoyable than others. Sometimes the less enjoyable ads sell product better, using less of a viewer’s time.

That’s a great trade off for a viewer! The advertiser gets to sell HARD in exchange for not much of your time. I’d take that any day.

And yet, most advertising “quality scores” (a fundamental component of bidding algorithms aka getting a low CPM) would penalize an ad for local-car-dealership-style of hammering jingles, prices, locations and calls to action. And skippable ads obviously disincentivize consumers from watching brisk but sales-ey ads… they get annoyed and hit skip. It’s all in the name of “the user.”

I’m afraid that the ad networks, ad tech and technologists are favoring more insidious, “engaging” branded-content type ad creative because it supposedly puts the user first. We know that branded content is sometimes just manipulative… hiding the fact that it’s advertising in favor of engagement. So we need to be open to unskippable, “less enjoyable” ads and heavy calls to action — because sometimes they can be annoying, but they use less of our attention… and attention is way more valuable to the user and the platform.

Farewell Defy!

Sadly, it’s time to part ways with Defy! I’m making a slight career realignment to find a big next move that embraces everything I love about creative storytelling and digital strategy.

I wish the best to Defy Media and Clevver as they continue to challenge traditional entertainment. It’s a thrilling battle! I’m going to miss the team a ton. I’ll never forget the energy in those cluttered halls — it springs from every individual’s culture, attitude and passion. It’s completely infectious and it’s changed how I look at creativity.

Over the coming weeks, I plan to put a lot more time into my class at LMU, a cool new side project, a new launch for Deck Around and even the blog you’re reading right now. Most of all, I’m thrilled for what’s next and ready for the adventure ahead. Onward!

The Most Important Thing About Creating Content Or: The Secret to Great Content Strategy

Have you ever watched a show and thought this show is perfect for me? Maybe a movie?

Screenshot of Matthew McConaughey in True Detective observing the opening crime sceneThe last time this happened to me was True Detective on HBO. It had a cast I love, a plot that intrigued me and cinematography I admired. That seems like a lot of expensive reasons to like a show: world class writing, acting and filmmaking!

People love all sorts of content. What do they all have in common? Some of my colleagues would say story, many would say character. But then how would you explain that some people hate a certain book… even though it’s a great story? How would you explain BuzzFeed or ESPN? How would you explain a stand-up comedian? Story and character don’t really explain those things… especially not why people love those things.

That’s because the most important part of creating content people will love is… understanding what people love. It’s the “understanding” part that’s important. It’s understanding them deeply — what they want and need. How they spend their spare time. Their fantasies and fears. In one word, it’s empathy.

Most people don’t think of it this way, but great content that you love is engineered to be that way. It’s not an accident that you like the shows you do. It’s usually not just some guy making something that he alone thinks is perfect for himself — at least not if it’s a show you love.

Great creators get inside your head, take out your thoughts and wants… then give it right back to you.

Kevin Spacey in House of Cards being turned down for Secretary of StateThe process of doing this kind of research and thinking is the essence of what some people call “content strategy.” Here’s a clear and perhaps simplified version I can think of and you may have heard of it before. It’s how House of Cards was allegedly developed. Have you seen that? If you have, you probably liked that it starred Kevin Spacey, thrilled you like a thriller and had a creepy tensions that’s probably hard to describe. Well, none of this was a mistake. Netflix found in its data that:

  • Netflix users like Kevin Spacey
  • Same with their computer-generated genre “political thrillers”
  • It also showed that films by David Fincher are popular — he produced House of Cards and his involvement leaves you with that hard-to-pin-down creepy feeling… you’ll sense this pacing and style in other movies like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or The Social Network
  • (Bonus: The DVDs of the original House of Cards mini-series were also popular among Netflix’s by-mail customers)

In fact, Netflix was so certain of their content strategy here that they didn’t ask the producers to do a pilot of it.

This actually makes a ton of sense! What does a pilot really do? It’s engineered to get into a different kind of head: a development executive’s head! A great pilot empathizes with a development exec by introducing the characters and showing them the direction of the show. It’s not really for the audience. You don’t have to sell a show to the viewer in the very first episode if you already know they love Kevin Spacey, David Fincher and political thrillers. You’re reading their mind already. The pilot doesn’t matter — it’s a homerun for that audience.

And a homerun for an audience entertains them. And the key to entertaining them is understanding what they want. And truly understanding someone — truly getting them — that’s empathy. I have a literally religious obsession with that word, empathy. And that’s why I think it’s the most important part of creating content.

Next time you create something, think less about what you like. Consider what people like you like. And you’ll know you’re creating something they’ll love.

Eye Tracking Reveals New YouTube Thumbnail Tricks

Mashable and EyeTrackShop did a study of several social media sites and buried in the data are two eye tracking studies on the YouTube homepage.

There’s little debate that thumbnails are critical to a video’s performance and this study punctuates that (especially in terms of subscribers, who get your videos through their homepage). But the study also reveals a little wisdom about what kinds of thumbnails specifically perform the best in a competitive environment. Here’s what you’ll notice:

  • All of the top thumbnails contained faces and humans. The most effective ones were close-ups.
  • The 3 most effective thumbnails featured women.
  • The most effective thumbnail, by far, featured a close up on a woman and what appears to be a bright red heart.
  • Most of the top 6 thumbnails had a high-contrast background in either black or white. Two of the top 3 thumbnails were actually completely in high-contrast black-and-white. Black-and-white thumbnails aren’t widely used so this is a really interesting discovery.
  • The least effective thumbnails appeared to be pulled from “bootlegged” footage from TV or a movie.
  • Thumbnail effectiveness trumps upload order and probably even title in terms of fixation.
  • It appears that after a user sees a thumbnail, they read the title of the video.

Another interesting note — people are quite likely to fixate on their own profile icon and the adjacent functions there near the top of the page — comments and inbox. So, don’t count those out as effective ways to reach an audience.

YouTube’s Secret New Related Videos Design

YouTube is occasionally showing users a new, re-designed related videos grid. You won’t see it at the end of every video (YT is probably just testing it), so here’s a peek.

I’ve seen lots of eye-tracking studies on video sites and users BURN the frame where the video is, so end cards like this get a really high click-through-rate. This is valuable real estate. Notice that share functions are much more hidden than before. YouTube is trying to encourage users to engage in longer viewing sessions — focusing them on watching another video rather than sharing, replaying or embedding. But sometimes giving users too many choices like this results in a poorer aggregate CTR, so we’ll see where this goes.

YouTube recently acquired Next New Networks and folded them into a “lab” part of the company focused on improving the platform for creators. This new design looks EERILY similar to the end cards that Next New puts at the end of each of their videos. Something tells me they had a part in this…

The main difference is that Next New’s end card is animated; the videos are playing versus the still thumbnails in YouTube’s design. This might up the CTR. But still — given the new redesign, is it worth creating end cards any more?

Update: Looks like this “end-screen” is here to stay. YouTube just announced it.