Jerry Seinfeld rolls across the 59th Street Bridge heading for Queens and Silvercup Studios. The car he is driving, a signal red 1970 Mercedes 280SL convertible, is a prop, as are the Rolls Royce, Porsche, and VW microbus Seinfeld uses in later episodes of his recent online series of self-produced videos titled Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee. In the series, Seinfeld muses over caffeine, eggs, ham, corned beef, pancakes, and potato salad, with comic sophists like Mel Brooks, Alec Baldwin, Ricky Gervais, Seinfeldco-star Michael Richards, and of course Larry David, among others.
deos, each one about a dozen minutes in length, meet expectations in the sense that they are not really about anything. Basic themes include, “I thought your house would be bigger”, “Is that my sandwich?”, Jerry’s uber success, car safety, and other forms of observational humor, comic insecurity, and penis envy. If you like Seinfeld, you’ll watch them all.
What is significant about Seinfeld’s episodic adventures (other than their existence) is that they are not being aired on HBO, Comedy Central, CBS or any major network. They are not even on the public access leviathan YouTube. Rather, the series is available on its own site.
Why does that matter? The very important news is that it doesn’t matter at all.
Splintered channels are become even more splintered. Seinfeld has his own production, even as Hollywood stars Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, and director D.W. Griffith had their own studio. And they called it United Artists. No meddling producers, no agents, no network executives, no schmucks.
People from Seinfeld to Julie Klausner to Felix Baumgartner to Red Bull to Kenmore can provide social video content today and be confident of having access to millions of viewers outside of (and within) HBO, Netflix, ABC, NBC and other distribution and production channels. Done.
“2013 will be the year we see brands so far into YouTube they will tip over,” says Suzie Reider, head of industry development at YouTube. “You have to engage people where they are—and they’re just not in the places where they have been traditionally.”
Certainly, this tipping is something that YouTube has been pushing for, for a very long time. Over 800 million people watch over 4 billion hours of YouTube each month. Over 72 hours of video content are uploaded every minute (that number has been doubling yearly). And Korean pop music sensation Gangnam Style has hit over 1 billion views, making it the first video ever to do so.
Two weeks ago, YouTube announced its Most Popular Ads for 2012. The numbers are significant. Whereas the audience for prime time CBS television’s “NCIS” series tops Nielsen ratings with over 19 million viewers, nearly 21 million viewers have uploaded Nike Football’s “My Time Is Now” spot on YouTube. Three minutes 10 seconds of commercial content totally uninterrupted by irritating programming.
Whether this is a tipping point, or the result of a slow build in consumer demand is a matter of perspective. It certainly seems to be a point of no return.
“It’s really the year of people finding the content they want when they want it.,” says John Boiler, founder of agency 72 and Sunny, whose ‘The Next Big Thing Is Already Here’ spot for Samsung’s Galaxy S III smartphone placed fourth in YouTube’s most popular ad rankings with nearly 17 million views.
“There’s an opportunity for brands to engage with customers, clients, prospects, with utility or entertaining—or both—that isn’t restricted to the 30-second format,” declares Greg Stern, ceo of agency BSSP. “There’s a yawning hole needing content.”
BSSP did this originally for Converse in 2005 when they did the first user-generated content that was used as advertising. “We got 3000 submissions for commercials,” says Stern. “[But] we lacked a platform—so we ran 40 of them on television.” Today, that content would go straight to YouTube, client Facebook, and other paid, owned, earned, and shared social media outlets.
So how do you jolt 17 million people into watching an ad that they might fast forward through on Tivo? Then get them to click on Facebook, the client website, blog about it, tweet, and other social media bullhorns? What’s the secret sauce?
“It conforms to the same criteria that forms great entertainment,” says 72 and Sunny’s John Boiler, whose single post for Activision COD Black Ops 3 snatched 36,000,000 views, and their post with Lebron James for Samsung grabbed 40 million views. “For a brand to do that, it has to start in a place of truth” advises Boiler, and uses Samsung as an example. “It is true that Samsung makes a truly awesome phone—it has features competitors don’t have. If that’s true, why are people hanging around [for the new Apple iPhone]? Fitting a cultural truth with a product truth is a great setting for cultural entertainment. The alchemy is getting the tone just perfect. That’s different than the old advertising model of just telling stuff.”
An overarching perspective is that this new video swarm is a space energized with bursts of transition and transformation on what seems to be a daily basis.
“While I wouldn’t say 2013 will be the tipping point for video, we will surely see the rise of ‘second screen experiences’ and interesting Video mashups that give new ways for users to interact,” says Peter Sena, co-founder at Digital Surgeons, a digital marketing agency (they worked on Gaga’s Workshop for Barney’s last year).
One new source of energy is shopability, says Digital Surgeons’ Sena. “When products and branded content are introduced into the video, users can see and experience the products, click to buy, or locate a store where they can purchase it online. We can tap into layers of interaction never before possible with a standard TV ad. Users want information at their fingertips and from experiences that give them the reach to do this.”
(Modern-day product placement is one thing. But 21st century technology bumps it up to science fiction. For example, Facebook has image recognition software so if your friends are holding a Corona beer bottle on your Facebook photo, a Corona ad shows up in the sidebar.)
A hurdle is that traditional TV (ie. the cable box) does not have this layer of interactivity. Yet. “When and if that happens,” says Sena. “You’re going to see a whole new layer of interaction.”
“Video is a much more engaging way than what we’ve been using for social media in the recent past,” adds Jaunique Sealey, former social media strategist for Lady Gaga. “Blog posts and text-based communication is nice, but it has limits. Video is now a very engaging tool, but there were bandwidth and technology constraints. Now computers can handle video, tablets can handle video, phones can handle video, so it makes sense. The production resources have also decreased in costs—camera and editing tools are more accessible, so it’s a perfect storm.”
While it may seem clear why brands like Nike, Red Bull, Lady Gaga, and other spotlights work to push eye gobs through the video tube, it may be less clear why others should do the same.
“It’s all about how you connect with consumers in an engaging way,” declares Ryan Ostrom, dvp of digital for Kenmore/Craftsman/Diehard, part of the Sears Holdings Corporation. Ostrom, who is also chief marketing officer for Craftsman tools, directs a group that produces videos for those brands. “Which is actually very important for us,” says Ostrom. “We’ve seen conversions from [consumers] seeing videos. And by owning our own content, we can adapt to where the consumer is shopping.”
Objectives? “We always have a goal metric of driving core members. We always want to grow that number,” says Ostrom. (Craftsman currently has over 18 million Craftsman Club members.) The online video engagement for Ostrom’s brands is rich and diverse and has a multiplier effect. The brands experience increased conversion rates, increased consumer engagement, and the ability to interact with consumers in real time. “By putting all those together you really drive ROI,” says Ostrom.
One thing to note is that Ostrom’s brands did not increase budgets to accomplish these efforts. “We’re actually doing this with less money,” declares Ostrom. “It pays off tenfold in the engagements and views and loyalty of core members.”
At its core, the call to action has shifted from consumer to marketer. In the past, the responsible advertiser decided upon and drove some call to action for the consumer. Today’s consumers respond to (if not downright demand) content, so the call to action is for marketers to fill the content void—creating content or experiences that glue eyeballs and plant people in front of the videowall.
Now that the heavy lid of technology has been lifted so we (finally) have ample bandwidth, a multitude of screens (computers, tablets, phones, ultra-thin LED screens), and a cheering audience, it all boils down to a single element that has been with us since troubadours sat down to play madrigals: Great Content.
“We are simply growing into the technology,” says social media analyst Jason Falls. “It’s important for brands to consider video and social TV as a viable way to humanize your efforts, engage your audience and create ‘holy smokes’ moments where your audience stops and shares your content. If your videos are good—informative, entertaining, etc.—they’ll get shared,” says Falls.
But to be appreciated, content must be seen. Methods of distribution are various. Sam Ford, co-author with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green of a new book coming out January 21 called Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, looks at self-distribution from known creators (example, the Seinfeld episodes) as one of many new experiments being sown across the Internet. “They [personalities like Seinfeld, Nike, et al.] are a trusted commodity,” says Ford. “And their audience is enthusiastic and perhaps willing to enter uncharted waters in pursuit of their content. But these experiments are laying the groundwork for business models to come.”
An entire chapter of Spreadable Media looks at independent creators building new models around online circulation. “From animator Nina Paley to science fiction author Cory Doctorow to videogame makers to indy bands,” says Ford, “producers are creating content that couldn’t have been made in a traditional business world and creating new models to make profit from it. From indy bands allowing content to circulate freely and then building tour dates and marketing plans based on where the content becomes popular to relying on word-of-mouth practices and donations from enthusiasts to circulate media content to new audiences, these groundbreaking creators have been—for the past several years—experimenting with new models that will likely be picked up and incorporated by bigger media companies over time, as they try to work out what they will do in the online space.”
One of those experiments will be launching at New Media Expo in Las Vegas tomorrow January 8 at 4:15PM PST (you can watch it unveil here), when LiveLab network launches Inventing The Future with digital innovator Robert Tercek. The new programming, says LiveLab ceo Barry Krause, will highlight “what’s happening next after what’s happening next.”
What’s breakthrough and makes this totally new television, is that the show audience is crowdsourced online and invited to invent the future in real time. Live. This is the ultimate reach-out in audience participation to happen yet. And the concept is not that far-fetched.
“92% of the world’s data has been created in the last two years,” says LiveLab’s Krause, citing an IBM report from last year. The implication is that the future is now, which gives people the opportunity to imagine what’s possible—and create the future in “live” real-time—showcasing topics ranging from energy, stem cells, open geo-boundaries, and digital life, to the robot car.
“People have the remarkable facility to make active engagements in real time, and create real world solutions. That’s what Inventing The Future is all about.”
This bears repeating. The guts of the notion is that if 92% of our information has been delivered within the last 24 months, what we need are more people to analyze that information and weave the content strands together to make sense of things. No single company can hire the minds necessary to accomplish this. Hence crowd sourcing. By mixing together digital age concepts of “real-time” and “crowd sourcing”, Inventing The Future is inventing its own future as breakthrough television.
“It’s a show that is designed, from the ground up, to incorporate social media, gaming and live interactive features that will give the audience a meaningful way to participate,” adds Inventing The Future host Robert Tercek in the show’s promo. “A little futuristic, maybe? Perfect. That’s what this show is all about.”
Over 120 years ago Thomas Edison, founder of GE, created a way to string still photographs together in a way that made those images move in lifelike ways. He demonstrated this verisimilitude much the way that we watch kitty videos on YouTube today: by showing visual exclamations of everyday things. These moving images—later called “movies”—were a technological feat that did not become storylines and Oscar® winning performances until decades later.
Today, we find ourselves immersed in a constant cascade of things blindsidingly new and demanding attention in a manner as shrill as a newborn’s first startled cry. But in reality, this is still in vitro, waiting for new forms to be born around your consumer’s collective desire. The new reality—the what’s next after what’s next—is still crawling from evolutionary mud and may take years to emerge.
One thing that’s certain is that, when it arrives, we will all be watching.