By Stuart Elliott
Published: October 2, 2013
TWO companies that are mainstays in legacy media are expanding their presence in online video, producing more original Web series as they follow consumer eyeballs and advertiser dollars.
One media company, Meredith, plans to add five online video series in 2014 to the one such show it now creates, which is being renewed for another round of episodes. The other company, Scripps Networks Interactive, is introducing scores of Web series as well as a Web site on which to watch them, Ulive. The “live” in “Ulive” is pronounced to rhyme with “give,” to underscore that the online videos are in the lifestyle realm, devoted to subjects like food, health and home.Meredith is beginning to seek sponsors for its six Web series: the renewed “Lords of the Playground” along with the newcomers like “Baby Sleep 911,” “How We Broke the News” and “Rosie to the Rescue.” Scripps Networks Interactive, which is also looking for marketers to buy commercial time during its shows, has signed the Ford Motor Company as what it calls the “launch sponsor” for Ulive; the deal includes branded content in the form of a series, “One Tank Adventure,” featuring products like the Ford Escape integrated into videos.
“What we’ve been trying to do is to connect with our customers on relevant topics that are personalized,” said Erica Bigley, digital marketing manager at the Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Mich.
That kind of “contextually relevant content” can produce “a higher opinion of our brand” among consumers, Ms. Bigley said, than “marketer-forced messaging” — i.e., traditional pitches. “We don’t want to force them to visit ford.com to watch content about decorating,” she added.
The sponsorship of Ulive is among numerous forays into online video by Ford Motor. Another example is an online reality competition series, “The Rider Challenge,” sponsored by the 2014 Ford Fiesta and produced by Live Nation Entertainment.
The goal of Ulive is “optimizing the video experience, especially life style video,” said Jeff Meyer, a longtime Scripps Networks Interactive executive who is president of Ulive, based in San Francisco.
“The sites that aggregate video tend to have higher engagement levels,” he added, than sites that “have a lot of masters to serve by offering a lot of reasons for consumers to go there” in addition to video like recipes and articles.
The expansion into original online video at Scripps Networks Interactive echoes an increase in the amount of original programming on its cable channels. For the 2013-14 season, executives said in April, the channels will add 52 new shows. Plans call for Ulive to present “around 70 original series,” Mr. Meyer said. The first will be “Bonkers Awesome!,” featuring a food blogger, Joy Wilson, known as Joy the Baker, and “What Will the Maid Think,” featuring Bert Kreischer, who hosts a series on Travel Channel, “Trip Flip.”
The Web series coming from Scripps Networks Interactive will be available for viewing on about 40 other sites in addition to ulive.com, Mr. Meyer said, through RealGravity, an online video syndicator and publisher that Scripps Networks Interactive acquired last year.
Executives from Meredith are to discuss their ambitions for original online video — to be introduced under the umbrella title of Meredith Originals — at the 2013 annual conference of the Association of National Advertisers, which is to begin in Phoenix on Thursday and continue through Sunday.
Each Web series will run for 12 or 24 episodes, based on sponsorship levels, and will be distributed through the Meredith Digital Network of sites.
Advertisers will be guaranteed 2.5 million video streams, said Nancy Weber, chief marketing officer at the Meredith National Media Group, over the 12 or 24 weeks.
A cornerstone of Meredith Originals was the arrival in April of Laura Rowley as vice president for video production and product at the Meredith National Media Group, based in New York; she had been executive producer for original video and partnerships at The Huffington Post.
“Meredith has more than 1,000 helpful videos in the informative-solution space” with contentlike recipes and parenting tips, Ms. Rowley said, which can be watched on the Web sites of its magazines like Better Homes and Gardens, Family Circle and Ladies’ Home Journal.
“We really wanted to move into a new area,” she added, producing “storytelling videos” in the Web series format “to offer a great experience.”
For instance, “instead of a baby-sleep expert telling you what to do,” Ms. Rowley said, the online video series “Baby Sleep 911” will “follow a baby-sleep consultant into parents’ homes.” The series was developed based on data from “our audience development team,” she added, which analyzed “what women are searching for, where they’re going on our sites.”
Like Scripps Networks Interactive, Meredith will give advertisers an opportunity to integrate products into episodes of Web series, Ms. Rowley said, in what she called a “tasteful, subtle” fashion. As an example, she suggested, a package of Pampers diapers “would be on the changing table in the background” of a scene.
Richard Porter, president for media sales at the Meredith National Media Group, estimated that digital advertising as a percentage of revenue for Meredith “has tripled in three years,” to about 17 percent.
“Video has become an important part of the digital ecosystem,” he said, as advertisers seek to replicate online the “sight, sound and motion” of television commercials.
The episodic nature of the Web series plays to Meredith’s strengths, Mr. Porter said he believed, because “when you think about it, the magazine business is kind of episodic.”
Ulive will also archive two decades’ worth of video clips from Scripps Networks Interactive cable channels like the Food Network, HGTV and Travel Channel.
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