What started out as an online community for aspiring and up-and-coming filmmakers to gain exposure and network with each other by creating videos on topical issues has evolved into a broader, user-generated approach to current events for tech savvy 18- to 34-year-olds.
Robin Sloan, Current's online-product strategist, attributed the site's new identity to a larger gap that still can be filled in news reaching the young/college demo. "If you look at CNN on TV, the median age is 50 or 60," she said. "There are plenty of places where young people don't feel the content is interesting or relevant to them."
The new Current.com also could help the network make some waves in traffic, which has been spotty in the past year. Current.TV averaged 151,000 unique visits a month from September 2006 to September 2007, according to ComScore, obviously a far cry from the 26 million who regularly visit CNN.com but a number that could be expanded significantly through a content channel on Facebook, which will launch later this month.
Not that the TV channel is being marginalized in the wake of the new web remodel. "Seventy percent of our TV viewers have their laptops open while they're watching, so we can present them with much more information so they don't have to go to Google," said Joanne Dale Earl, president-new media at Current. "More than 30% of our viewers purchased something they saw on Current, so we saw that as a way to build a brand extension online."
Enter Current's unique ad model. Since its inception, Current has been accepting VCAMs, or viewer-created ad messages, in which major brands ranging from Mountain Dew to Toyota to Sony hold viewer contests to see who can craft the best commercials around their products. Although 30% of all VCAMs make it on-air, Mr. Sloan said they've become even larger traffic generators online.
"We know people think of and enjoy them as content, but VCAMs are also what get us traction online," Mr. Sloan said. "Now we can program them into the home-page stream to give them greater exposure. Everything you do here is fair game for TV."
No banner ads
As a result, the site does not accept banner ads, nor does it follow the traditional news-pyramid model on its home page. For example, a Nokia contest for the best user-generated images can reside next to a story on the latest developments in Burma or stem-cell research.
"It's not that young people dislike ads and advertising," Ms. Earl said. "On Current, it just might take the form of a VCAM or different kinds of ad units, like a personalized network or a topic page. We can work with sponsors on creating a tent pole with sponsorship opportunities against our core applications."
L'Oreal recently partnered with Current.TV to sponsor its own page of male-themed videos to promote a line of men's hair-treatment products. Not only did the marketer reach a targeted, coveted audience of young men, Ms. Earl said, the goal was to help L'Oreal learn about the consumer base for future campaigns through the feedback the user-generated ads drew online.
As the new Current.com unspools, Ms. Earl and Mr. Sloan are already thinking about the next places to take the user-generated model that's already evolved in its short two-year history.
"It's perfect for mobile, especially since we own all the content," Ms. Earl said. "It's a very specific community, so a lot of the traffic will come from organic marketing. Wherever the demo is, we want to be there."