Digital Short Form Is a Key Growth Area for Content Creators

From 'This Is Us' to Funny
Conde Nast Entertainment

The expansion of the short form Emmy category to include five awards is a sign of the fast-paced times as content creators grow their offerings and established networks and broadcasters see the value in digital shorts as a way to build brands and keep audiences engaged.

Take, for example, NBC’s digital team, which recently submitted offshoot short-form content for three shows, “This Is Us,” “The Voice” and “Saturday Night Live” for Emmy consideration in short-form awards. NBC Digital executive vice president Rob Hayes says the goal of that content was to keep fans returning to the shows and build a bigger audience on social media.

“On ‘This Is Us,’ we basically had to build it from scratch and lean into what we thought would be elements of storytelling that would resonate with the audiences on these platforms,” Hayes says.

He points to “The Voice” as a show that has benefited from its bite-sized social media content. Last season, the show held its own micro-show on Snapchat, which allowed its audience members to record themselves singing and then submit the video to NBC. The finalists were judged by the public on Snapchat, with the winner taking home $1,750, a trip to meet one of the show’s coaches and snag a spot on next season’s blind auditions.

“There was an opportunity there to identify an audience that we thought would love ‘The Voice’ that maybe wasn’t watching it,” Hayes says. “The hope is that they’d watch the linear version [on television], but if not, then it’s still a win because they’re hopefully becoming fans of that show.”

Hayes says the format also doubles as marketing and fan engagement, which he said is crucial in maintaining a regular audience in today’s popular media consumption.

“Just getting that content on as many platforms as possible really helps keep those shows relevant, and it’s really hard these days. There’s so much content out there and there’s so much for people to watch,” Hayes says. “It’s great if they watch live, but what we want is for people to watch over time.”

For Condé Nast Entertainment, which is submitting “73 Questions,” “Secret Talent Theatre” and “You Sang My Song” for Emmy consideration, it’s an excellent way to engage and expand their Vogue, Vanity Fair and Glamour magazine readers through digital platforms, with celebrity-driven online content.

CNE senior vice president of video programming Croi McNamara says they focus their content for YouTube audiences, and that the celebrity content, is what trends on the platform. She says content like “You Sang My Song” succeeds because it takes a tried and true YouTube show format (in this case, the react format) and targets the audiences with celebrities.

“We really see YouTube as the place we want to be,” McNamara said. “I think the special sauce for us is that we take it to the next level.”

Funny or Die president Chris Bruss says pop culture and celebrities are at the heart of popular content on the internet, and the core of Funny or Die’s content, which includes “Zack Morris Is Trash,” “Transparent: The Lost Sessions” and “Gay of Thrones” exists at a cross section between popular content and their brand.

“Our goal is always to create high-quality, premium comedy content, and that can be accomplished in a lot of different ways,” Bruss says. “I think that is the case with a lot of content we make with both one off, short-form content as well as serieses. We incorporate talent we have a relationship either through shows that we’ve produced, or show’s that we’re fans of, like “Transparent.”

Lyle Underkoffler, senior VP of new digital business for AMC, says supplementing longform programming, like “The Walking Dead” or “Better Call Saul,” with short-from content is all about catering to the series’ fan bases.

“Our commitment is to our fans, and we want to be creating engaging content — both long and short — that meets fans where they are across platforms,” Underkoffler says. “Core to our strategy is creating content that is true to the story of its origination — typically the longform — but that fits the platform on consumers’ needs.”

AMC has been nominated previously in the short form comedy or drama category for its installments of “Fear the Walking Dead” and “Los Pollos Hermanos Employee Training,” a spinoff of “Better Call Saul” that won in 2017. Its submission this year is “The Walking Dead: Red Machete.”

Indeed, shingles such as First Look Media (“Spotlight,” “Leave No Trace”) have added brands to foster new talent on digital platforms and give established talent an outlet. This Emmy season, FLM and Topic Studios have a deep bench of contenders, including “AKA Wyatt Cenac” (comedy or drama), “She’s the Ticket” (nonfiction or reality) and short doc “Captured in Sudan,” which is among eight in that category alone.

Topic’s head of content, Adam Pincus, says the burgeoning streaming site experiments with the lack of boundaries imposed by the internet as a platform. Much of Topic’s content like “She’s the Ticket,” which follows real women running for political office, tackles salient issues in American society.

“Social media and digital media in general is a place where people gravitate to things and share things that they think speak to their values,” Pincus says. “Political content is really working right now because people are hungry for stuff that talks about it in a tone and in a manner and with a perspective that they share.”

Bruss says that adding these Emmy categories has been excellent for promoting this format.

“This whole ecosystem of really high-quality short-form content is growing and getting better and better certainly deserves the recognition the Emmys are giving it,” Bruss says. “I can only imagine this will continue to get more sophisticated and grow even more categories.”