NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX ... Facebook? [My Ad Age Article]

I had the following article published on Ad Age last week.  I'm publishing it here for the few people who read my blog only, and to have a record for the future [direct link].

NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX ... Facebook? 
The Real Opportunity For Content Is Web Series, Which Can Benefit From Facebook's Engagement

By: Kevin Skobac
Published: December 21, 2011

As Facebook continues to grow its user base worldwide, entertainment companies are increasingly trying to find ways to use the platform as a new form of TV channel with unprecedented reach. Both major TV networks and Hollywood film studios have previously allowed people to watch their content via their Facebook pages, including paid video trials such as Warner Brothers renting its "Dark Knight" film from its ultra-successful "Batman" franchise for Facebook credits.

Unfortunately, for WB and others, no early tests of traditional companies pushing their content on Facebook have registered any real success. Audiences simply don't seem interested in watching long-form, lean-back content wrapped in a Facebook environment (though augmenting traditional TV with a second-screen social context is another discussion).

But new Web-only entertainment creators can succeed where big media failed. Here's why: they're producing video content that differs significantly from the classic TV model. First, each "episode" is typically much shorter, commanding less of a singularly focused, lean-back experience. Second, outside of the normal broadcast schedule, users aren't trained to "tune in" or remember when the next episode will be ready for viewing. Facebook can help content creators meet these challenges in ways that would drive more interest, engagement and repeat viewership.

Push notification systems 
Typically, Web-only video series are discovered via recommendations through press or friends, but then suffer steep drop-off in eyeballs for the 2nd episode. This occurs typically via both standalone Web sites as well as YouTube. Hundreds of millions of people, on the other hand, return to Facebook every day. Video series can take advantage of news feed posts, event invites, and top-bar notifications to inform viewers every time a new episode or piece of content is released. In this manner, shows will be able to command much more repeat tune-in than typical Web fare. Shows can also easily fill in the time between episodes with goodies like extra footage and cast interviews in the same tuned delivery system that new episodes flow through to keep viewers interested during down time.

Personalization capabilities 
Facebook has an immense amount of user data accessible through its APIs that have been leveraged in interesting ways within content. Advertisers and musicians have already been pushing the boundaries of personalized experiences in exciting ways (see: "The Wilderness Downtown" or "Take This Lollipop"), but original content producers have, for the most part, not taken advantage of the opportunity until recently. AOL's new Facebook-only show "AIM High" launched with a unique feature that allows viewers to login with Facebook Connect to view a more personalized version of each episode. After connecting, viewers may notice their own faces on posters in the school setting, or even find themselves running for high school class president directly within the plot of the show. While these personalized elements are superficial so far, it's easy to imagine future shows with much deeper integration. For example, a show could find a way to turn the viewer's friends into the suspects of a mystery, driving much more engagement and viewer loyalty.

Parallel conversation streams 
Newer short-form content series like "AIM High" also seem to benefit more from integrated comments than long-form content can. With episodes no longer than 5-10 minutes, the plot of "AIM High" is always in flux, leaving room for speculation and discussion. The comment box isn't just a place to voice love or hate for the show, rather it becomes a real-time discussion of what's taking place and what could happen next. Facebook's commenting system also allows discussion to take place both on the show page and within people's news feeds, providing more seamless conversation both when viewers are watching the show and afterwards. 3rd party apps like GetGlue and IntoNow are starting to provide this parallel conversation stream via a second screen, but no companies in this space have yet been able to tie the discussion as close to the content as a Facebook-viewing platform can.

As all content consumption becomes hyper-connected and on-demand, even the major TV networks are quickly noticing the need to evolve in order to meet consumer wants. It may not be as easy for them as it is for digital pure-plays like YouTube, Hulu and Yahoo! (all of which announced a full slate of Web-only shows during this year's television up-front), but they have to be as vigilant in breaking through. Everyone is experimenting with the most effective way to attract and keep audiences for this new form of content. Facebook, with its unmatched notification system, personalization capabilities and conversation tools, could be just the solution everyone is looking for.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kevin Skobac is senior digital strategist at SS+K, an integrated marketing and communications agency specializing in creative social engagement.


Continuing Education

One of my goals for 2011 was to put more effort into continuing my education.  After graduating and transitioning to the work force it gets a lot harder to feel like you're learning and getting to grow mentally in directions beyond what your job dictates.  However, living in New York City, I am lucky that there are a lot of ways to take classes and attend lectures for relatively minimal money.  Here are 5 local ways I "get back in the classroom" (and one bonus on-line resource):

Ignite Sessions
Ignite is a unique event where you learn a little bit about a lot of things through a rapid-fire series of short lectures.  Speakers can apply to present on anything, and typically the collection of chosen lectures varies widely from technology, to the arts to society.  Each speaker is given 5 minutes to present a coordinated talk along with 20 slides that turn on their own every 15 seconds.  The structured nature of the event keeps the audience entertained whether the topic is NASA research, samurai swords, or anything else.  Events are usually around $10.  You can view all of the past Ignite NYC talks here: http://www.youtube.com/user/IgniteNYC#g/u

Creative Mornings
Creative Mornings are "a monthly breakfast lecture series for creative types".  Each monthly event is usually about :30 minute breakfast, :30 minute lecture and :30 minute Q+A discussion session.  Past speakers have been writers, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and more.  They take place on Friday mornings from 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m. and have been sponsored, so attendance is free (and sign-up fills up fast).  You can view all of the past Creative Mornings lectures here:

General Assembly
By day, General Assembly is a co-working space where teams of people can rent desk space and share collective office resources.   By night, General Assembly is a an educational campus that hosts classes to help teach new technology, business and marketing skills.  Classes usually cost around $25 per hour and are taught by employees from small start-up companies to Google employees.  This year I took classes on Gamification, API Programming and Website Wireframing.  Unfortunately, the classes have been a bit hit or miss because they're sometimes taught by smart people who aren't good teachers.  However, I'm optimistic and will continue to try more.

TEDx is an offshoot of the popular global TED conference, though on a local level.  The organizers of TEDxBrooklyn put together an annual all-day event mixing talks from local business leaders and artists with curated videos of the global TED conference.  This year's event was held at Brooklyn Bowl, and the topic was "redefining better".  Highlights included motivational speaker Jullien Gordon, Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson, Gotham Greens founder Viraj Puri and several music & art performances.  The event cost $100 for the full day, including lunch.  The event wasn't perfect, but I expect that the quality will improve each year as the founders gain more experience.

140 Characters Conference
140 is actually a series of conferences throughout the year that covers a number of topics.  This year I attended the tentpole #140conf ,  a 2-day event discussing how social media effects business and people, and #140edu , a 1-day event discussing how social media can improve education.  The first event was a series of short :10 - :15 minute presentations and panel discussions, and was very interesting in the same way that Ignite typically is.  The edu event was a more classic format, with fewer + longer presentations, and wasn't nearly as interesting.  I would make my decisions to attend future events based on the format and the costs- which varied from $1.40 to $140 per event (discounts to frequent attendees).

Next year, in addition to attending conferences and classes, I'm also committing to taking some online courses.  One site I'm really excited about is Codecademy.  The site is basically a collection of "gamified" courses on web programming.  Courses are broken down into small incremental assignments, and motivation is driven by badges and level completions.  Codecademy seems like an powerful, free, way to learn new subjects, one I'm very excited to spend more time with.  I'll update everyone soon on how it goes.

So what are the ways you learn?  And what are your other 2012 goals?