|Davie Brown's Adam Smith on AT&T's Blue Room: 'It's not just about being a telecom company. It's about being a distributor of great content.'
Why you need to know him: As the battle to own the "three screens" -- mobile, TV and web -- heats up, Mr. Smith has been on the ground floor of a content-creation experiment with AT&T that aims to position the telecom as a "distributor of great content" and to give the brand a place to control the message about its products. Two years ago, AT&T set out to prove it was hip enough to bring exclusive content around music to a passionate audience with a website dubbed the Blue Room (attblueroom.com). It's the kind of site you'd expect from MTV, not a telecom. But the site offers a peek inside what very well may be the next generation of initiatives from an industry in the throes of change.
Credentials: Mr. Smith, 38, has spent almost 15 years in the entertainment business in sports and music. He's the former VP-marketing at the Firm, a music-management company in Los Angeles, former VP-marketing of the National Basketball Association's Los Angeles Clippers and the former managing director at Marketing Arm.
How does Blue Room help AT&T? "It was really created to offer consumers another way to experience AT&T products and services but in an environment that is completely relevant to them, which was music. The Blue Room ... was created and is owned by AT&T, rather than just being a sponsor of an event, a tour or an advertiser on a music website. [Blue Room is] an environment that is created by AT&T, and they can control to a enormous extent the content that is in it and can help better define the messaging that is in it and can also add layers to it like music festivals."
How has AT&T linked up with music festivals? "Two years ago, the Blue Room held the first webcast of Lollapalooza, it was a live webcast and saw a huge jump in traffic and settled well above where previous traffic levels had been, because visitors experience the Blue Room and returned after the event. This was a great way to drive traffic. Now we are going to be the official webcast partners of these kind of events like the Vegoose Halloween festival in Las Vegas, the Austin City Limits music festival, the Coachella, the Bonnaroo and the New Orleans Jazz Fest. The only way to see those events live is if you aren't there is in the Blue Room."
Why is AT&T focusing on music festivals? "We see these as appointment-based viewing sessions; we tell consumers to see Bonnaroo or Coachella on these days or these times. We use media, both online and radio and a limited amount of print, to drive traffic to these webcasts, and they go online and they watch these things all day long from 12 noon until the headliner leaves the stage. And what we've found is that, in addition to watching these streams, they check out other content on the site. We also have promotions in there, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for shows to meet the band or things like that. It's a whole musical experience beyond just seeing archived clips."
But how does this help a telecom brand? "It's not just about being a telecom company. It's about being a distributor of great content, so right now this is a big broadband play. We are delivering exclusive content, and because AT&T is giving them content exclusively and delivering content into the home and soon to mobile devices and to the television with [AT&T's] new television platform U-verse. Exclusive content is where the whole telecommunication industry is going into. Content is hot right now, and everyone is trying to utilize content to connect with consumers. It's no longer about a message, but a message tied to content."
Has being a content provider helped it stand out apart from Verizon Wireless and its V-cast service? "That I don't know. I wouldn't want to comment on that. What we are doing is one of AT&T's many content plays and content-distribution concepts, and it's been successful. I wouldn't want to say more or less because that's all relative."
What is the demographic AT&T is after? "It's a very broad demographic, and that's why we have alternative rock, country, contemporary, hit radio, pop. We focus on all the music genres, and that's why we're expanding to gaming and sports and Hollywood. We are trying to touch on those passion points for things consumers are passionate about in their spare time and let AT&T deliver that to them so we are speaking to them about something relevant to them."
How is that different from the more traditional kind of demographic categories, like men age 18 to 34? "[Blue Room] is going after a target of people who are passionate about something. It's about speaking to them while they are viewing an artist or a video game or a sporting event, and when it's an interest or passion of a consumer, they are going to want to get it. A fan of a specific music will search out that content and will look for it anywhere they can get it because they can never get enough information about their favorite band. If we can aggregate that on an exclusive basis, we have a better chance of drawing them, and then we can surround them with an AT&T message."
Are there other distribution channels planned? "Eventually, the idea is for content on the three-screen play, mobile, broadband and TV."
How does Davie Brown go about putting something like this together? "We tried to leverage existing deals that AT&T had to potentially get content and try and identify areas that have been 'unowned' opportunities, like music festivals, where there is a passionate audience and it's a kind of a tent-pole concept."
But is Blue Room really getting enough traffic? According to ComScore Media Metrix, the site isn't even drawing enough traffic for them to report numbers. Is AT&T's ROI for this effort based on some other criteria? "We don't talk about numbers, unfortunately. I don't know what they measure besides traffic. We always aspire to have more traffic, and we continue to grow and get more traffic. I wouldn't want to say we aren't getting the traffic we want, it's just something we continue to deliver and hope the traffic numbers continue to grow."
What does putting something together like this cost? "Honestly, we just don't release those numbers."
Do you think brands creating their own entertainment platforms, like AT&T has with Blue Room, is the next evolution in branded entertainment? "Absolutely. More than ever, brands don't want to do one-offs, and as marketing budgets shrink, brands are looking to get the most out of their marketing dollars. It's critical for them to do less one-offs and larger programs. If they can create something that is ownable and scalable ... it has more value ultimately for the brand."
But does it cost a lot more? "Yes, but you get more. But if you want to catch lightning in a bottle, it will cost you too. The first few 'Apprentice' deals were free, and now they are more expensive but not worth as much as they were in the beginning. With a one-off program, they could pay for that opportunity vs. trying to create something that is sustainable. The Blue Room is creating something every week, which makes it scaleable and provides value to the consumer because it is always new.
But does this kind of content creation make sense for every brand? "No, but for AT&T, yes. They are in the delivery business. ... They are a part of the business of content delivery. They are not just about connecting two voices anymore but providing communications and content delivery to consumers. It's no longer about just local and long distance. It's about broadband mobile and TV, because people are going to start to expect that from them."