Video advertising is a familiar medium to consumers and advertisers alike. That feeling of comfort is cemented with online video players that look alike and act alike, providing a consistent experience for viewers, advertisers and agencies.
While newfangled content distribution technologies such as podcasting, RSS feeds and blogs have captured the attention of b-to-b media companies trying to keep up with the latest Internet trends, broadband-delivered video has unique appeal: Advertisers have already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars producing video commercials for TV, and their agencies know how to place and evaluate them.
To become broadband broadcasters, b-to-b media companies must build a library of video content and an audience that will watch it regularly. At the same time, they must be able to produce quality video-defined as programming people want rather than TV-quality production values-without spending too much money.
And, they need to do all that quickly to take advantage of an exceedingly rare window of opportunity.
"There isn't a ton of broadband video content, yet, so we think there's a big opportunity," said Bob Carrigan, president of IDG Communications. "More advertisers are taking money from print and broadcast TV so that they can advertise online. Video is an emerging area, no question, but the key is not to get too far ahead of the marketplace-while also making sure you're not behind it."
IDG uses video in most of its Web seminars, and video content is dispersed among many of its titles, including PC World, which has a program called "The Digital Duo." "We're being careful, but we think we're making the necessary investments," Carrigan said. "We try to leverage content we already have without adding incremental costs."
"The supply of online video that advertisers can put advertising against is pretty scarce," agreed Jason Young, president of Ziff Davis Internet. "Everybody needs to be looking at people, infrastructure and programming." He cautions b-to-b media companies against trying to duplicate television. "It's not about trying to match studio quality. It's about having the right talent and the right content."
But what is the right video content for any particular b-to-b audience? At this point, b-to-b media companies are trying to find the answer on a trial-and-error basis, one site at a time.
It's a stretch for many b-to-b sites to offer any video content at all, aside from Web seminars and continuing professional education programs, which have an established business model. But on the leading edge, a small number of b-to-b sites are creating distinctive programming, not just one-off video clips.
CMP Media, for instance, has embarked on one of the industry's most ambitious b-to-b broadband broadcasting efforts with its "The News Show," a program of six to eight minutes that is streamed live at noon each weekday to four different Internet addresses: the home pages of InformationWeek, Network Computing and TechWeb, as well as a dedicated page, www.thenewsshow.tv. (See sidebar, page 12.)
"The News Show," with a staff of 20 and a full-time anchor/managing editor, is powered by CMP's proprietary Web video-delivery platform, which will be used across multiple brands. Earlier this year, CMP launched "CRN TV," a weekly news program, and "Inside InformationWeek," "which was put on hiatus while we retooled it," said Paul Way, associate publisher-Webcasting. "It will relaunch on Nov. 1."
CMP has also invested in a broadcast studio in its Manhasset, N.Y., offices. And four or five months ago, reporters at InformationWeek began carrying Webcams "so they can report live from where they are," said InformationWeek Publisher Scott Vaughn.
At CNET, where Chairman-CEO Shelby Bonnie has said broadband video will become a core part of all CNET brands and services, another innovative video product was introduced this year. Called "The Whiteboard Video," so named because each segment features an executive in a natural setting using a whiteboard to explain a business concept or demonstrate a technique.
Forbes.com also airs news briefs on a daily basis. The site hired Albert Bozzo, most recently deputy managing editor at thestreet.com, as director of video programming this past spring. Bozzo is responsible for overseeing existing and new programming efforts at Forbes.com and making the best use of two new in-house studios.
Ziff Davis got out of the TV business several years ago after launching the ZD TV cable network in 1998 under different ownership and circumstances. Jim Louderback, who was named senior VP-editorial director of Ziff Davis Internet in July, was VP-editorial director of ZD TV when it was launched-so his new position marks Ziff Davis' return to video in a personal way.
In its latest venture in video programming, Ziff Davis Internet unveiled a weekly show called "Digital Life TV" this past summer. Aimed at techie consumers rather than a business audience, "Digital Life TV" stands out because of its long form: 30 to 40 minutes of original programming in a live streaming video. "Everybody talks about how videos should be short, but we were surprised by people's willingness to listen to podcasts that can be quite long," Louderback said. "So, we decided to try a longer video program."
"Digital Life TV" is hosted by Patrick Norton, a personality known by some of the audience from his appearances on "The Screen Savers," a ZD TV program. The program breaks for advertising-"to pay the bills," as Norton states-every five to six minutes. There is time for one minute of commercials and a 30-second promo. "In a live program, we really need the break," Louderback said.
Ziff Davis bought a brand-new, top-shelf video editing system for the program. "It's a video control room in a box," Louderback said. Along with the technology investment, the company now has a dedicated producer for "Digital Life TV" and other video assignments. Louderback added, "We're building a video streaming studio, which will allow us to do live shows."
"We're really at an early stage in this medium," Louderback said. We have eight or nine different things we're going to try." Some of that content will be targeted toward a strictly b-to-b audience. Ziff Davis is also developing its own media player so that it can deliver the popular five-minute segments with the pre-roll commercial.
B-to-b magazines serve niches of different sizes, with widely varying needs and technological capabilities, and online video offerings reflect that diversity.
At BusinessWeek.com, for example, a page titled BW Video is a virtual video table of contents. When a visitor launches any one of the videos, a page powered by the FeedRoom pops up within its own separate browser. On the video page, a TV-like screen in the center plays the selected video, but that central screen is flanked by additional video offerings, which are represented by static pictures from the videos with headline slugs as captions.
"People consume video online in two different ways," said Bart Feder, president-CEO of the FeedRoom. Viewers will watch a video clip that's brought to their attention, by placement on a home page or insertion in an e-mail, for example. "But, there are also cases where a person will come to watch videos, and they'll keep clicking and consuming as you give them more video to view."
At Reed Business Information's Variety.com, which launched its "Variety Vision" videos a year ago, the set-up is similar, with a central video screen surrounded by images of other videos that can be viewed. While the BusinessWeek.com video library is updated at least once a week when the nationally syndicated "Weekend" show airs, "Variety Vision" is updated in waves as video clips come in from specific events, said Alex Romanelli, editor of Variety.com.
A year after launching "Variety Vision," Paulo Lemgruber, general manager, Variety Online Group, noted, "We haven't been able to make it profitable." Like many other b-to-b publishers, he found that fixed production costs created a high expense hurdle. "With production costs and a set, a very simple show can cost $3,000 per shoot." He is now working with his team to find ways to produce video content less expensively.
Lemgruber also found that most advertisers "weren't ready to jump on this. It was just unfamiliar." So, rather than a CPM-based advertising model, the Variety sales team is exploring a sponsorship model.
On the packworld.com site, companion to Summit Publishing's Packaging World, video content has been available for three to four years, according to David Newcorn, VP-new media. Manufacturers paid a sponsorship fee to have video clips of their machinery available on the site. "The click-through rate on the videos outpulled traditional product ads two to one," Newcorn said. "The problem is that advertisers now only want lead generation. Video is a great medium, and readers love it, but we just can't monetize it."
Advertising Age (published by Crain Communications Inc., which also publishes Media Business) has long featured TV commercials on its Web site and audio broadcasts, said Editor Scott Donaton. Late last month it introduced its first original video content: interviews with key speakers at its Madison & Vine conference in New York. "We will post video interviews from the Association of National Advertisers conference," Donaton said, adding there are plans to deliver regular video and audio content before yearend.
"We run a screening series every fall and summer," Variety.com's Romanelli said. "It was a no-brainer to offer this as online video content because the live event is only seen by a small, exclusive audience."
An exclusive live event presented American Business Media with the content to use in its first broadband videocast this summer, an edited version of one of the presentations made at an ABM seminar on "RSS, Blogs, etc."
Even with a small staff, ABM was able to produce its first broadband videocast because "the price of the technology has gone down while the quality has gone up," said Steve Ennen, director of communications for the not-for-profit industry group. But Ennen has ambitious plans to develop original broadband video programs and to use the medium in new ways.
"We want to be an experiential guide to our members by embracing these new technologies," he said. "We want them to be able to benefit from our hands-on learning."