Author Archives: lasr467

My Favorite Slide Explaining Apple, Google and Amazon’s Domination of Entertainment Companies like Disney

Market Caps of Content Companies vs Distributors via BTIG

I LOVE LOVE LOVE this slide from Rich Greenfield at BTIG. His whole presentation is definitely worth the watch but this one graph truly says it all. (And I’m always trying to pull it up online to share in meetings… so I’m also posting it here to make that much easier.)

In the presentation, Rich first shows market caps of the companies below the line — all of our beloved entertainment creators. We see them in print and on every screen and think of them as massive, powerful companies. Then, he layers on the market caps of the “platforms” and distribution companies that sit between those companies and their audiences… and it’s easy to see how those content co’s are dwarfed.

Rich is looking at this through almost exclusively through a lens of financial analysis and market value… which might not tell the WHOLE story, but it paints a pretty dim picture for content creators and brand owners: Content is not king.

Some things worth noticing (many of these points are made by Rich):

  • None of the entertainment companies below the line — even the juggernaut, Disney — has a meaningful direct-to-consumer platform… they all depend on the companies above the line to reach their audiences
  • Apple could buy Disney in cash
  • Google or Apple could buy the entire entertainment industry in cash, except Disney
  • Every one of the distribution companies above the line have meaningful plans to make their own content that they own completely and perpetually (in other words, they could start to make their own content without depending on the content companies and their brands)
  • Netflix isn’t even on here but its market cap around $70B, making it bigger than everyone but Disney
  • Neither is Snap… it’s much smaller than Netflix at $20B (as of this writing), but it still stacks up above Viacom, Discovery and others
  • The digital-oriented distributors like Facebook, Apple, Google and Amazon have incredible volumes of data and knowledge describing their audiences, which is a huge advantage in content creation
  • While some of the content companies have partnered with and invested in the FANGS companies, they’ve missed their chance to buy one of them or build their own; Hulu is the only example and they half-heartedly participate in it
  • Nobody has been able to successfully create a large “direct to consumer” platform with content or brands alone… Netflix had to use DVD rentals, Amazon is using ecommerce, Spotify is using music and UI. In other words, we haven’t seen someone earn lots of subscriptions and ad revenue by only saying “we have ESPN.” It’s always content paired with some other strategy.

What Rich calls the “punchline” is this great thesis: content companies — especially Disney — have to make an acquisition in order to complete their business. What should they buy? Well, all of their options SUCK. Netflix is too expensive. Snap and Twitter don’t come with subscriptions. Pandora or Spotify aren’t video platforms.

That punchline explains many of the plays we see being made around the industry: Twitter continuing to pursue video in an attempt to demonstrate its value as a video platform. Time Warner selling itself to AT&T. Netflix spending billions on original content. NBC investing heavily in Snap. The list goes on…

Development and Advertising Creative via Crowdsourcing and Committee

I’ve searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees.

– British writer, G.K. Chesterton

Boy this is a GREAT quote cited by copyranter Mark Duffy on Digiday. Duffy is focusing on creative agencies in the post, explaining why a new trend of “crowdsourcing” creative work is a horrible idea.

On the digital entertainment side of media, there are examples of the same trend (that are frequently also labelled as “innovation”). For instance, Amazon, for a long time, has used crowdsourcing to determine which movies and shows it would produce. And that’s a big, obvious example. On less consumer-facing level at digital platforms and in development, I’ve experienced many teams more or less “internally” crowdsourcing their development process by allowing too many people with disparate tastes, areas of expertise and business goals to give creative notes on a project. Inevitably, projects get watered-down, regress toward the mean and join the internet “sameness” crap-trap… And it’ll only get worse as digital content gets more closely controlled by distributors.

Duffy explains some of the cons of this approach in advertising, and internal crowdsourcing is a problem in digital entertainment for the same reasons. But that G.K. Chesterton quote says it all for me.

Here’s the awkward Publicis video explaining their new creative tool:

SnapChat’s Viewability Advantage Over Facebook

What’s one of today’s prime digital advertising concerns? Viewability.

In case you’re out of the loop: Viewability is more or less a measurement of whether or not a video ad is actually viewed by an audience. (Seems odd, right? A marketer can buy and pay for an ad that was never “viewed.”) A number of factors contribute to the dwindling of this number from fast-scrolling users to bots and videos played “under the fold” or hidden in banners or buggy units.

That is why it should be very concerning that Facebook was recently accused of a less than 30% viewability rate by agencies using third-party measurement firms. Viewability is never going to be perfect and that’s OK — viewability is really just a proxy for “how much is my ad dominating that consumer’s attention” and that’s why agencies are measuring it. Some products and platforms will always perform better in this way… we love TV because that’s a big-ass screen with sight, sound and motion and I get all of it for a 30-second spot.

SnapChat’s ad product, by comparison, is extremely viewable. This is one reason that Snap has a huge advantage (esp. in terms of shifting TV ad spend), even though Facebook and Instagram have potentially slowed their growth. Snap’s ad product takes up the whole screen. It can’t be minimized, ignored or “tuned out.” Further, its users are completely engaged in the content — they’re burning the screen, skipping anything they deem unworthy of their attention. They’re leaning forward, right into your ad. Earn their consideration and you get a never-before-seen level of “dominating the consumer’s attention” for 10 seconds. It’s probably BETTER than TV.

Here’s SnapChat continuing to master product design and UI — it’s all about the user first… and just so happens to whet the advertisers’ demand for viewability.

How Apple’s iOS Advantage is Like a Content-Distribution Merger

WWDC 2017 Apple vs Google Penetration statsThere’s a quick Recode note by Tess Townsend pointing out Apple’s huge advantage over Google: they can quickly deploy new features across all of their devices. So, even a mediocre augmented reality feature would catch fire among Apple users well before it could with Google’s Android. (Apple pointed out at WWDC: 86% of iOS users have the current software, iOS 10, while only 7% have Android 7.)

This reminded me of the entire content-distribution “debate” and the mergers we’re seeing lately between the two types of companies. This Google vs. Apple AR metaphor makes it much easier to see why it’s good for content businesses to join distribution pipes (aside from the obvious data and advertising synergies).

Theoretically, Verizon can use its pipes, retail stores and devices to quickly seed new content from HuffPo, TechCrunch and content arms of AOL/Yahoo. And a new combined AT&T + Warner could launch new shows and franchises the same way. They don’t have to wait for the right cable channel to say yes or for the right network slot to open up. Then, once the show or brand or character or channel has earned a following or gained momentum, they can force their competitors to carry it or license it. Just like Apple can quickly deploy new features, a content + distribution co can quickly deploy new IP. So, whether it’s an AR revolution or the next Game of Thrones, those that own distribution are still in the driver’s seat.

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!