Digital Change the Focus of DEW Conference

Speakers discussed changes in digital entertainment content, stars, business models and more during the Digital Entertainment World conference Feb. 4 in Marina del Rey, Calif.

Digital Media Wire founder Ned Sherman noted that in the past year the industry produced nearly 500 original scripted programs, the majority of which for the first time came from streaming services.

“There’s almost sort of an arm’s race going on in this space,” he said, noting the billions being spent on programming by Netflix and other streaming services.

Speakers discussed the advantages and disadvantages of subscription streaming models (SVOD), ad-supported free streaming models (AVOD) and graduated spending models, such as Hulu’s, which has both ad-supported and ad-free services.

(L-R) Forbes’ Dawn Chmielewski, Pluto TV’s Tom Ryan, Tasty’s Ashley McCollum and Vertical Networks’ Jesus Chavez.

Tom Ryan, co-founder and CEO of Pluto TV, extolled the virtues of free AVOD and his company’s pending acquisition by Viacom, announced last month.

“They have world class brands, well-known programming. They’ve got advanced advertising capabilities, and they are a global company,” he said, noting Viacom will help Pluto TV expand internationally.

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The acquisition will “accelerate what we’ve already built,” he said. Pluto TV is “the leading free streaming television service in America,” with 12 million monthly users and 100 channels, he said.

Free AVOD fills an important need as “there has been a certain amount of subscription fatigue,” he said.

“The problem comes down to payment,” he said. “There’s only so many services that people will pay for.”

He mentioned a survey by Ampere that found the average SVOD home subscribes to 2.8 streaming services.

“You have Netflix and Amazon Prime, and everybody else fighting for that 0.8,” he said.

He said that, rather than creating channels that match those on traditional cable,

“we will create new channels that include content from Viacom.”

“I think AVOD content has been a big theme to start out this year,” said Ellation’s Eric Berman in “The Future of the Television Business” panel.

“There’s a big conundrum in the AVOD model,” said Popsugar Studios’ David Grant on the same panel. “Somehow the content has to be created.”

Viacom is buying Pluto TV, but the AVOD service is “not funding that content,” he noted.

“When is the AVOD system going to be able to fund the creation of television-sized content?” he asked.

The very nature of content is undergoing a transformation, speakers noted. Digital content isn’t constrained by the need to fill a half-hour sitcom slot or hour-long drama. It also can explore niche subjects.

As opposed to globalization, “for me the greatest power of digital is actually localization,” noted keynote speaker Gerrit Meier of the Red Bull Media Network, which creates programming around sports such as surfing and mountain biking, among other subjects. Through the internet, local communities around the world can find a voice, exposing sports “that I have never heard of before,” he said.

“Those are all stories that should be told,” he said.

Content, too, can morph to suit a mobile audience, noted Jesus Chavez, CEO of Vertical Networks.

In designing mobile content, “I’m competing with everything that’s on a person’s phone,” he said. It must be engrossing in the mobile space, he noted.

Digital stars, too, have a new style. They exude authenticity and communicate more closely with their audiences.

“We are always looking to populate our projects with people who have relevance in the social media space,” said Shelley Zimmerman, co-head of digital media company Awesomeness (owned by Viacom).

Studio71’s Dan Weinstein noted that the new digital stars are more relatable, as opposed to the “untouchable” movie stars.

Speakers also discussed augmented and virtual reality.

Hilary Hoffman, EVP, global marketing, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, detailed a Jurassic World campaign that used augmented reality to allow Facebook users to view dinosaurs that jumped out at them at retail and at home. She said the campaign was much more successful than anticipated, but that monetizing AR will require more ease of use.

“Right now, it’s more promotional,” she said, but it “has so much great potential.”

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