It's good to be the King!

The official blog of King Toledo Entertainment

New Work Notice! Building the Future: a project from Mashable & Intel

Last month we wrapped production on a ten episode series for Mashable and Intel as a part of the latter’s broader #lookinside campaign. The series, entitled “Building the Future,” profiled ten young innovators and inventors all over the world – from Deva, Romania to Victoria, Canada to Houston, Texas.

As with most branded content, we were tasked to tell a great story, while weaving in specific messaging and working within a number creative perimeters. All in all, the content gets people excited about these amazing young people and effectively illustrates Intel’s role in fostering their innovations. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Episode: Raul Oaida, Lego Car inventor

Episode: Eesha Khara, Inventing a one minute phone charger

All ten episodes will be available for viewing at mashable.com/buildingthefuture

King Toledo in 2013: The Year in Review and What’s Next

2013 was a big year for King Toledo Entertainment. Judged strictly as a production company (which is a good way to judge us), we did pretty well. We produced A LOT of content – especially in the documentary space. It’s a niche we’ve enjoyed exploring and that we will continue working on in 2014. At the center of it all has been our work with Kickstarted, our feature length documentary film about crowdfunding that will be finished in Summer 2014.

Here’s the latest trailer for Kickstarted.

As we’ve made the film, we released a number of original videos related to crowdfunding’s big picture – much of which can be found here. We also produced original series and episodes for select partners, including these two docu-series for Mashable. Here’s one of our favorite episodes:

Beyond our productions, we’ve continued to work closely with digital content leaders and brands to cultivate the overall video landscape. This is part of our commitment to contributing to the quality programming boom we’re seeing in digital entertainment. It being the end of the year, we reflected on our work from 2013 to see if we could learn anything about what’s coming next year. Below are 3 things we think will play a bigger role in the digital entertainment world as the calendar turns.

1) Cable is doomed, and it’s going to happen a lot sooner than most people realize.

Yes, you already know this. There’s been a lot written about ‘cord-cutting.’ Despite that, most of Hollywood and the cable/satellite TV industry are doing a great job of pretending things are the same as before. One of the more stupefying claims came from Chase Carey, COO of 21st Century Fox. In a conference call with investors (this profit-focused audience may be why he said the things he said), he called the digital “threats” against big cable a “fantasy.” More specifically, he claimed that, “people will give up food and a roof over their head before they give up television.” In that regard, he might be right. People probably won’t give up TV, but they sure as hell will watch it through mediums other than traditional cable providers. In 2014, expect that to happen faster than anyone anticipates, especially since cheap / free / easy-to-use options are popping up everywhere.  For instance, HBO has already experimented with unbundled offerings of their content.  If other cable bellwethers, such as ESPN, AMC, etc., continue that trend, people won’t drop $80-$120 a month for cable (which, by the way, is only getting more expensive per DirecTV). Tools like ChromeCast, next-gen gaming consoles, wifi-connected TVs, Roku, and other digital-friendly set-top boxes are making digital content easy to access (not to mention the increasing proclivity of viewers to watch on mobile & tablets). Then, of course, is the greater quantity and quality of content options through digital sources. Digital isn’t just being led by video bloggers anymore. It’s not just Netflix either. The creative world is only beginning to exploit digital, direct-to-viewer mediums. That’s going to skyrocket in 2014, in part because…

2) Digital is FINALLY starting to become about quality and not just quantity.

The first thing the digital / internet age did was introduce us to the idea that almost anyone could reach a huge global audience. It’s now teaching us a second (probably more important idea): you can reach a small, targeted focused group of like-minded people very easily. Social media-driven curation and community building are helping the right content find the people who would likely want to see it most.  Content creators and advertisers are just beginning to realize this enormous power en masse. As a result, niche content can survive and thrive. The idea that reaching 50,000 of the ‘right’ viewers is better than reaching 500,000 random viewers is powerful and contrary to traditional thought.

This is important for a lot of reasons. If you are a content creator reaching a specific group and really only focus on that group – whatever it’s size – you create authenticity with them. You, the content creator, are likely a full-fledged member of that group. And brands that associate themselves with your content (assuming they are doing so authentically and above-board) will benefit from that authenticity with that same audience.  Suddenly, it might make sense for a brand to target smaller groups and get a better connection than spend their digital media dollars focused on getting a large number of broader audience ‘impressions’ (a manipulative, misunderstood media buying term that destroys many good ideas). For years, the bulk of the ad money being spent to support digital content has been done via metrics that reward creators for reaching huge numbers of people. That’s completely understandable – and there will always be a place for that type of media buy. However, brands (and creators) are realizing that you can do better by being focused and finding the niche. This is just starting (we’ve been lucky to work on a couple campaigns that worked like this in 2013). As it happens, the net result will be a better curated web where creators who make quality, targeted programming are being supported financially even if they don’t reach 15 million viewers a month. Quality (in terms of content and audience) will soon beat out quantity of viewers when it comes to earning ad support. That’s a great thing that will lead to a wider variety of “TV quality” programming online.

3) Crowdfunding is disruptive changes we’ve been waiting for

We’re making a film about crowdfunding and learned a few things about it over the last year. Plain and simple, the direct producer-to-consumer model that crowdfunding allows is going to do so many great things for the digital entertainment industry. Of course, it’s bringing in funding for series and films that would have never otherwise been made (this is also a result of the niche / focus on quality we referenced above). More importantly, it’s teaching consumers something that digital entertainment does better than TV content: it makes the viewer a part of the decision making process. You get to decide what gets made and what doesn’t. Amazon played with that concept this year in piloting a dozen or so series and then selecting the best rated and most viewed ones for full season orders. The audience knew they were playing a role, and that also drives the long term engagement in those series. It also means that you can probably go back to this same audience later on to convince an advertiser to help with funding or to fund additional content.

There are so many ancillary benefits to the crowdfunded entertainment model that, once people see the long term goals and not just the money raised, it will end up being the preferred way to create digital content. That means more creative content is made, and made with a budget that increases quality. This cycle will take off in 2014 and we can’t wait for it to happen.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Team King Toledo.

Recent News! Or at least news we’ve neglected to post earlier!

It’s been a while since we last posted…and well, we’ve been really busy. Between running a successful Kickstarter campaign for an original documentary and our regular run of digital content, we have neglected this blog. There is plenty to write about, but for now, we’re just wanted to share our most recent projects.

Mashable and Chase Ink brought us on-board to produce a series of videos called Scaling Smarter – featurettes on small businesses about to break it big. Here are first two episodes:

And here is a video we made for the aforementioned documentary, “Kickstarted.” Subscribe to our Chill Insider Access page for frequent updates on that exciting project.

 

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The 2013 NewFronts

“The Internet needs to be programmed.”

-AOL’s Tim Armstrong at today’s AOL NewFront presentation.

This year’s NewFront, when the big digital media (AOL, Hulu, Youtube/Google, Yahoo, etc) companies tout their new series and advertising opportunities, is wrapping up in NYC.

Throughout the week, we’ve seen a variety of different approaches to digital content and once again it’s been a mixed bag. Per usual, a lot of the major platforms trot out a celebrity after celebrity (with a few ‘web’lebrities sprinkled in) to show off how much they are moving quality of web content forward. And of course, every platform proudly announces how well they truly understand / reach their ‘key’ audience. At the core of each presentation are a variety of new show announcements – some of which were really interesting, bold and fresh, but mostly it’s a lot of the same old dribble. And rather than go through each outlet and critique their offerings, I want to look at two platforms on opposite ends of ‘getting it.’ First, AOL.

Let me say this: AOL will get views on their video content, but not because their new shows any good. They will get views because they have a platform for it – they can simply program their home page and video page to strategic place their ad sponsored, big name content. In that sense, I guess they are making a strategically safe, smart decision. I really can’t argue with that.  However, I would argue it’s a short term solution. Are they really driving “viewership” by creating a long term, self-sustaining community – the most valuable part of creating web content? I say no, and here’s why.

The 15 uninspired, bland formulaic batch of new shows that AOL announced – mostly notable because people like Sarah Jessica Parker Gweneth Paltrow and Nicole Ritchie are involved – are only premium in name. Celebrities on the web are only valuable if they are engaging with their audiences. They don’t truly demand eyeballs, for the most part. That’s not really the reason the shows won’t work. They could, but on the right platforms. CEO Tim Armstrong was partly right when he said that the ‘internet needs to be programmed.’ It does, but the problem for AOL is that they aren’t really part of programming it. The web is already programmed. People are programming it themselves, 1) through social media (personalized programmed) and 2) through the micro communities that they seek out proactively. For instance, if someone is passionate or interested in home design, they likely already have 2 or 3 sites they visit regularly for that content. Just because AOL does a Jonathan Adler series about design doesn’t mean that audience will seek it out. They already have a source for those passions – that show should go to where those users already are! It’s push not pull when finding web audiences.

For me, it all comes down to this: AOL shouldn’t be playing on this level. If they want to “program” things, keep doing what they’ve been doing, which is pulling in content that bubbles up to the mainstream. They shouldn’t be after niche audiences (who already have established, authentic communities developed online) that don’t need AOL to find the content the want. On the other hand, they could make truly bold programming decisions. They should be using their big dollars to create the type of high quality (note – this does not necessarily mean celebrity hosted or produced) content that is must see. That means programming as if they were are TV broadcast network – capitalize on the their bigness and broadness. This is the strategy that Netflix is taking (with success) that Hulu is trying and that, Crackle announced on Thursday.

Crackle is an earnest “major” video site. They aren’t often listed in the short list of  go-to video destinations. Still, they have been working hard to become the place for premium, male skewing content. It’s a tough market to stand out in, and I have generally negative thoughts on Crackle’s destination site approach. However, they should be applauded for making a truly bold foray this year with a variety of solid shows and unique content formats. They are going with a go big or go home attitude and released a slate of really big, expensive seemingly must-watch series / digital movies. And they are doing it smartly too – there is no doubt that the flexible format approach is opening up a pipeline of international sales opportunities that will help cover the cost of these expensive new shows.

It would be easy for Crackle to play it safe and throw a bunch of cheap- but celebrity riddled – crap series at the wall. However, they are taking some real big bets – which is what these cash-laden portals should be doing. They’ve actually been doing it for years and learning some lessons about what works and what doesn’t – remember Gemini Division and Bannen Way. This year they really stepped it up. I’m not super sure how good a Danny Glover action series will be or whether or not a sequel to Joe Dirt will matter – but it’s noteworthy, high value programming for a platform that wants to compete. They stand out for that alone.

The takeaway for me is that Crackle doesn’t really care about the short term. They want to take the risks that will help them become more and more viable in the long term. If big platforms want premium ad money (or subscription fees), they need truly premium content.  Netflix gets that and they aren’t worried about short term maximization either. This is a marathon. Kudos to Crackle for understanding that and ‘training’ the way they should be.

Finally, a quick mea culpa. I criticized Conde Nast for announcing an even-lamer-than-AOL slate of programming back in March. During the upfront they sort of doubled back and previewed a few genuinely interesting shows (still a lot of garbage mixed in) that live up the potential of their platforms. I really hope they are as good as they look- especially this cool Wired series, The Window.

Microcable is Finally Here…Kinda

Today, Amazon released a batch of 14 pilots, all of which are available for the public to view, rate, and comment on. Amazon executives will have – for the first time in the history of “television” – the distinct advantage of knowing which shows the audience actually wants to see! About friggin’ time.

This isn’t exactly microcable (I still believe finding and developing niche audiences through exclusive, limited distribution is more effective), but it’s a major step in the right direction. Television/’web series’ development should be done like this. The audience – the most important shareholder in the entire value chain -  needs to be the decider, ultimately, of what goes and stays on air. In a way they always have been; Nielsen ratings generally dictate what shows get canceled and which are renewed. Still, that’s too far down the line and too removed considering the tools media companies have at their fingertips. Amazon’s approach dramatically shifts forward the audience’s role. This is a great thing.

As a content creator and a believer in (intelligently implemented) video distribution disruption, this is a great sign of things to come. Combine it with the changing release strategies (ex. House of Cards), flexible ‘platform agnostic’ content formats,  increasingly fractal audiences, and the breakdown of non-consumer friendly bundling (ex. HBO’s inevitable direct to audience approach), and it’s clear that the conventions of big media are finally being crushed. The results, for better or worse, will be a more empowered audience, a much more fickle market for shows, but also a more democratic approach to entertainment.

This sounds like a wasted opportunity

Conde Nast Entertainment announced today that they are launching a new digital video network (probably a good idea) starting with programming from their GQ and Glamour brands (also sounds like a solid move – if not 2 years too late). Big advertisers have stepped up to the plate (P&G, Microsoft) to sponsor the programming out of the gate. This all sounds great – and I love that more media companies are making serious plays into digital….oh, wait. I just read the slate of shows they are starting with. I take that all back. This is a wasted opportunity for both the brand sponsors and Conde Nast. Allow me to explain…

An elevator makeover show? A talk show hosted by a guy training for a marathon? This is exactly the low value video content that already exists (in spades) and is done pretty well by other, established digital players. Conde Nast, with its reputation as a premium purveyor of lifestyle content, should be coming to the plate with original and creatively ambitious programming. What they announced today sounds like a poo poo platter of safe and sorry. I really do hope they have success, but I don’t think their brand name alone will allow for them to make a real impact with viewers. Still, I’m guessing ‘success’  from the advertisers perspective is guaranteed. Being a big media conglomerate, they can probably guarantee views and impressions to a certain extent (through bought and owned media)…even if real viewership on these shows is underwhelming. Hopefully the media buyers at MediaVest will be on top of this.  Either way, it’s a shame to see that Conde Nast is pulling away digital ad dollars to fund lackluster, below-their-capabilities style shows when those advertisers could be spending money against more interesting digital content. At the very least, Conde Nast should have come out with one or two more adventurous bets. Big players need to make big moves to stay relevant in digital. Conde Nast may figure that out the hard way.