Ancillary content can lure viewers to traditional platforms -- if it stands out

When Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “the medium is the message” in 1964, home entertainment meant a handful of broadcast stations or a game of scrabble.

Nearly half a century later, media has exploded into a kaleidoscope of platforms: international, DVD, second screen, VOD and SVOD, online, electronic sell-through, Netflix, in-flight, Facebook, mobile. How does today’s content creator take best advantage of the multiplicity of platforms?

“In many cases, for certain deals we’ve made, whole categories — electronic sell-through on iTunes for example — weren’t even considered in the original agreement because they didn’t exist,” says Lionsgate Television president Kevin Beggs. “When we began Weeds, Netflix wasn’t on anyone’s radar and SVOD wasn’t even a consideration.”

At Virgin Produced, CEO Jason Felts sees the burgeoning number of platforms as an opportunity to create ancillary content — or what he calls ‘enticers’ — to market traditional media. For Limitless, the company produced campaigns for online, in-flight and mobile using social networking, games, contests and other original content. “It gave subscribers to Virgin Mobile an experience and loyalty members of Virgin America an experience,” he says. “With different media to tap into, you can choose your target audience. Everyone thinks I’m crazy to put just as much effort into the enticers as to the content, but if we’re going to do something at Virgin, it has to make noise, be irreverent, stand out.”

More platforms also translate to more opportunities to gain traction. Beggs notes that, although cable TV shows can stay on the air without mega-ratings, the flipside is that these same shows struggle to find a lucrative second home. “Voila…here comes home entertainment and subscription video that flourish on provocative basic cable dramas that don’t have much of a second cycle TV life,” he says.

Evaluating whether or not to greenlight a project hasn’t changed much, says Beggs. “But a new checklist exists that we have to evaluate against,” he says. “Before we say yes to a project, we have to have enough boxes checked that we feel confident moving forward from a business perspective.”

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