/// In Online Video, Street Cred vs. Quality
AS online video becomes increasingly appealing to Madison Avenue as an advertising medium, a lively debate is under way that has all the intensity of those “Tastes great!” “Less filling!” arguments over Miller Lite beer in commercials made for a more traditional video medium, television.
On one side are companies like Google, whose YouTube Web site now reports more than a billion unique visitors each month. At an elaborate Brandcast presentation on Wednesday evening, during the annual Digital Content NewFronts in New York, executives of Google and YouTube asserted that their approach of encouraging the creation by consumers of “authentic” video clips — known as user-generated content — is the best way to reach the audiences sought by advertisers.
“Video,” Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, said at the beginning of the event, which was attended by about 1,500 people, “is becoming a global, shared experience.” That was underscored by the theme of the evening, “Generation C,” referring to the multitudes of members of the millennial generation who consume, create and curate copious amounts of digital content on a regular basis.
Rather than bringing movie and television stars on stage, as was done at the Brandcast during the Digital Content NewFronts last year, the focus was instead on YouTube’s homegrown stars.
One, Lindsey Stirling, is a dubstep violinist with a channel on youtube.com featuring a video that has been played 57.9 million times. Another, Felicia Day, is an actress whose YouTube channel focuses on gaming and culture.
Many of those YouTube celebrities — including the rapper Ben Haggerty, known as Macklemore from the duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — told stories of how unpopular or different they were when they were younger and how YouTube allowed them a creative outlet they may not have found elsewhere.
“I don’t have to wait for somebody to tell me I’m not good enough,” said Ms. Stirling, who was eliminated from the quarterfinal round of the NBC competition reality series “America’s Got Talent” in 2010.
Ms. Day declared, “Technology can help you find people who are like you.”
Robert Kyncl, global head of content at YouTube, invited advertisers to create content on YouTube, saying that big media companies “are pouring dollars into YouTube, as well as countless venture-capital firms.” He offered examples of brands already using YouTube successfully, among them McDonald’s Canada, with a video explaining how its food is prepared for ads, and Fox Broadcasting, which created a video inspired by the Harlem Shake craze using characters from “The Simpsons.”
“Brands must create engaged fan communities,” Mr. Kyncl said.
On the other side of the debate are professional producers of content, many of which also create television series, movies and other intellectual property for mainstream media. During those presentations, senior managers of companies like Walt Disney and Sony played up the, well, professional nature of their content, calling it a superior environment for marketers’ messages.
“Quality content has never been more important,” Jimmy Pitaro, co-president of the Disney Interactive division of the Walt Disney Company, said at a Digital Content NewFronts event on Thursday morning, because “consumers are inundated with low-quality experiences, unfulfilling for them and for brands trying to reach them.”
That need for high-quality content extends beyond online video, Mr. Pitaro asserted, into realms like apps, blogs, video blogs and games played on video consoles or online.
He described new offerings from Disney Interactive in that vein like Story, which is to be introduced next week in the Apple App Store. Story is meant to help iPhone owners edit photographs and video clips into narratives that can be shared. A commercial will promote Story — which brands will be able to sponsor, Mr. Pitaro said — with this theme: “There’s a story on your phone waiting to be told.”
Also planned, with an introduction date of Aug. 18, is Infinity, which Mr. Pitaro described as “the biggest, most ambitious gaming initiative ever undertaken by Disney Interactive.” Plans call for Infinity to begin as a console game and then be offered online, where sponsorships will be available; Infinity will invite players to create original stories using familiar characters from both the Disney and Pixar archives.
At a time when “anybody with a camera can make a show,” there is “a flight to high-quality content,” said Eric Berger, executive vice president for digital networks at the Sony Pictures Television unit of the Sony Corporation of America and general manager of Crackle, its online entertainment network.
“There’s no silver bullet, but a lot of big, blue-chip brands are going to be more comfortable associating with quality brands they can trust” like Sony, Mr. Berger said in an interview before a Digital Content NewFronts presentation that he is to make on Friday morning.
Another problem advertisers may encounter with user-generated content, Mr. Berger said, is that a commercial may appear during “a decent piece of content, but what auto-plays or comes after is a not-so-decent piece of content.”
“Just like we make ‘The Shield,’ ‘Justified’ and ‘Rescue Me,’ ” he added, citing drama series produced by Sony Pictures Television, “we’re creating shows like that” for Crackle.
Crackle will announce second-season renewals for three original online video series, Mr. Berger said, including “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” hosted by Jerry Seinfeld. Among the new Web series is “Cleaners,” an action-crime show with stars including David Arquette, Emmanuelle Chriqui and Gina Gershon, and a music documentary with a working title of “Playing It Forward,” whose producers include Robert Downey Jr.
Crackle is also to announce what is being billed as its first major feature, “Extraction,” a 90-minute show in the action-thriller genre with a cast that includes Sean Astin and Danny Glover.