The madness of metrics, the ins and outs of engagement, the explosion of new media platforms and the evolution of talent deals in the digital arena — all of these topics and more were dissected Thursday by a wide range of participants in Variety’s Entertainment and Technology Summit.
The daylong gathering at Manhattan’s Intercontinental Barclay Hotel drew an eclectic mix of speakers ranging from music producer Timbaland to YouTube star Tyler Oakley to leaders of Discovery Communications, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim, Showtime, Conde Nast Entertainment, Spike TV, Vox Media, CBS Interactive and AwesomenessTV.
Here are 10 intriguing insights from speakers at the summit:
- For Generation Z, the world revolves around their smartphones. AwesomenessTV president Brett Bouttier said understanding how that demographic interacts with media — something they expect to carry around in their pockets — is crucial for any media company. “They’re very different and evolved from millennials,” Bouttier said.
- Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” the album and film released late last month, has raised the bar for musicians in conceiving new music with multimedia components. Timbaland is planning a musical TV project based on his album “Opera Noir.” “We have to do content-visual music,” Timbaland said. “I really think it can change a lot of things for the music industry.”
- TV is not the end-all and be-all for YouTube stars. Oakley said he’s focused on making sure his 8 million-plus subscribers feel a part of whatever new projects he takes on, given the close connection that his followers feel with his life. “TV is great but it’s not necessarily necessary for any digital star. His newly established partnership with Ellen DeGeneres is important because it offers a sympathetic collaborator “especially going into an industry that is confused as to why you are even a thing.”
- There’s a reason why content companies feel constantly overwhelmed. There is no downtime in the 24/7 multiplatform media environment. “You cannot go dark,” said Cartoon Network/Adult Swim president Christina Miller. “You need to have a constant stream of content, and you need to make sure you have content and context — does it fit the platform you’re on?”
- WWE has been building up a new brand, NXT, almost exclusively through social media. It has been able to sell out live shows across the country strictly through postings on the Facebook page of NXT’s founder. “Our fans feel a connection to him and his vision,” said Stephanie McMahon, chief marketing officer of WWE Entertainment.
- The maze of metrics is daunting even for those who are knee-deep in digital media. Nick Shore, chief creative strategist for Judy McGrath’s Astronauts Wanted banner, said it’s still a challenge to get a sense of how wide (or not) the audience is for any given piece of content. Astronauts Wanted has had great success with content produced with Lilly Singh for her IISuperwomanII channel. “We got 3 billion impressions and I have no idea what that means,” Shore said.
- The promise of a jolt of competition in the channel-bundling business from Hulu, YouTube and other digital heavyweights eyeing OTT packages is manna from heaven for programmers, particularly premium channels. “One fo the largest constraints has been the cost of that buy-through. You have people coughing up $70 to $80 bucks before you even got the chance to buy Showtime,” said Showtime chief operating officer Tom Christie. “Homes want the content, it’s been an issue of what is the disposable income in the household. … Now there’s going to be a real market (for pay TV).”
- Conde Nast Entertainment president Dawn Ostroff said the need to understand the depth of the behavioral changes among millennials when it comes to consuming content cannot be overstated. Advertisers need to understand how to reach younger people in new ways. “The ad community has to change its messaging,” she said. “You cannot reach someone if you’re not going to play along. You have to have engaging six-second commercials if you are on SnapChat.”
- Programmers have to adjust their production and development priorities to fit what Machinima CEO Chad Gustein called “the age of referral.” In this world, forget traditional promotion, the most vital marketing engines will be social chatter and sharing driven by Facebook, Google, YouTube. “You have to learn how to build a business on the back of them,” he said.
(Pictured: “Watch What Happens Live” exec producer Dierdre Connolly, Leftfield Entertainment’s David George, Jingle Punks’ Jared Gustad, Tyler Oakley and Timbaland)