TV networks inherently value a viewer watching a clip on YouTube far less than one watching a clip on the network's website, where a network can control all the surrounding advertising, messaging, promotions and experience. A network can encourage visitors to register for its newsletters, blogs, sweepstakes or SMS alerts. With YouTube, even the most involved promotions won't reap anywhere near the same return per visitor. This makes YouTube a marketing channel, leaving marketers to determine the return on this investment vs. the potential cannibalization of their core product.
At the same time, it's quite possible that distributing clips through YouTube contributes to higher ratings for certain shows. CBS found as much in November, when it announced that ratings for its late night lineup got a bump after airing and promoting clips through YouTube. That's a promising indicator but it's also a small sample size. Putting in place robust test and control groups to measure the true "YouTube" impact is a strategy any sophisticated marketer can appreciate.
But where are the viewers looking to find these videos, on a community site like YouTube or a TV network? Search engines have become the de facto TV Guide, and they're increasingly improving how video content ranks in its main index. Therefore, content owners need a dual-pronged strategy. First, they must level the playing field by dominating the search shelf space for their digital assets. Second, they need to test and measure a variety of community distribution strategies to determine the optimal push-pull combination for each of their brands to maximize the impact on tune-in and digital revenues from website usage.
TV networks can use their resources wisely. By publishing a wealth of exclusive, accessible and easily sharable content on their websites, they have the perfect ingredients to encourage other sites to link to them, and the inbound links will raise the networks' search visibility. Reaching out to the right sites -- including blogs and online communities -- will raise their profiles even further. Concurrently the networks must optimize their video content to make sure the search engines can readily find it.
Jet-setting moguls don't make for sympathetic figures but consumers have a strong vested interest in making sure that media companies have viable business models. Otherwise, we're looking at a future where our 80-inch HDTV's are tuned to stupid human tricks during prime time.
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Bryan Wiener is president of 360i, a search-marketing agency of record for large brand marketers such as NBC Universal, Scripps Networks Interactive, Office Depot and more.