ABC Revamps YouTube Marketing to Better Reach Digital Viewers

How TV Networks Should Promote Their Shows on YouTube, According to Google

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ABC revamped its fall marketing strategy this year to better attract frequent YouTube viewers, working closely with YouTube parent Google to create ads for a new generation of TV watchers.

Ahead of the fall season that's just begun, Google hosted workshops for ABC to formulate a digital strategy to reach YouTube viewers who are younger, often have a shorter attention span and are constantly on mobile devices.

The result was a more aggressive approach to customize content specifically for YouTube.

"Our overall digital strategy was to make things from scratch, not reuse promos," said Ben Blatt, exec director-digital strategy, ABC Entertainment. "It requires more money and more time, but we did this for every show. Every piece of content was custom."

The ability for YouTube users to skip ads after five seconds makes it hard to keep consumers any longer than they're interested. So ABC had to find ways to grab viewers' attention early and make them want to stay on the ad.

"Just putting a TV spot on YouTube won't work," said Rebecca Mall, head of industry at Google, whose team is solely focused on consulting Walt Disney's entertainment division. "The way TV networks typically market shows on traditional platforms doesn't necessarily work on YouTube." Cinematic wide shots and trailers that take time to build, for example, work better on TV than in digital, Ms. Wall said. Online, networks need to get to the point immediately.

ABC reformatted some teasers meant for linear TV along those lines, moving tune-in information to the beginning, so if people did decide to hit the skip button they would still know when the show airs, Mr. Blatt said.

But ultimately, the goal was to engage viewers in those first five seconds so they would want to stick with the ad. ABC did this by tapping talent who broke the "fourth wall" between the scene and viewers.

For its new comedy, "Black-ish," ABC ran ads on YouTube where star Anthony Anderson speaks directly to viewers. "You should not skip this video, because if you do you will be missing out on greatness," he says, before describing what's to come and finally breaking to clips from the series.

To promote its Thursday night drama, "How to Get Away With Murder," ABC created a grabby custom opening with a voiceover that says, "In five seconds meet doucheface, overachiever, idealist, the puppy and the player."

ABC partnered with six high-profile YouTube stars to promote the new series "Selfie." The broadcaster made a "Selfie Tag" video, which featured the show's characters, Eliza Dooley and Henry Higgs, answering questions and prompting viewers to post videos of themselves responding to the same questions.

Then ABC partnered with Maker Studios along with YouTube stars like CutiePieMarzia, who spread the word by creating videos with their own answers to the questions.

"The content that is being made for YouTube is not mean to be seen in a theater or on a 60-inch screen," Ms. Mall said.

While there isn't a direct correlation, ABC is ultimately measuring the success of these campaigns on how they translate to ratings, Mr. Blatt said. "Black-ish" had one of the strongest comedy premieres, bowing to 11 million viewers and pulling a 3.3 rating in the all-important 18-to-49 demographic. (A ratings point represents 1% of TV households.) "How to Get Away With Murder" also had a big debut, attracting 14 million viewers and 3.8 rating in the demographic. But "Selfie" premiered to just 4.9 million viewers and pulled a 1.6 rating.

Google's metrics show that the "Black-ish" had a 200% lift in search from the campaign, while the intent to tune in had a 61% lift. "How to Get Away with Murder" had a 170% lift in ad recall. Both campaigns performed in the top 5% of all TV and movie campaigns on YouTube, according to Google.

Of course, creating custom content requires additional time and money on the part of the networks. But in order for them to break through the clutter on YouTube they have to do something different, Ms. Mall said.

The strategy came out of a long meeting at Google's offices back in May. ABC's entire digital team spent a day brainstorming creative for all of its new and returning shows, Mr. Blatt said. Google also led a session with 50 of ABC's video creative team -- those who actually produce the promos -- on the nuances of creating content for the digital space.

Mr. Blatt said in prior years these meetings were much smaller and focused predominantly on the media strategy, with the creative taking a back seat. "This is the first time we included all of our creative teams," he said.

While Ms. Mall said Google works with all of its TV clients to understand how to use the platform to drive tune-in -- with several innovating their targeting strategy -- ABC was the first it partnered with on trailer development. "I expect we will see at least three out of the five broadcasters do similar approaches next season based on what ABC did this year," she said.