Week after week, articles about how Big Tech companies are investing in content and consumers are cutting the cable cord are covered not just in digital media, but in mainstream publications as well. Check out just a few of these headlines over the last two years in The Wall Street Journal:
It’s not hard to see the growing trend that content is king and consumers are cutting the cable cord for digital content. Couple this with Google’s continued YouTube channel growth and Hummingbird algorithm focused on quality content and it’s easy to see that every company at some point is going to get into the content business to promote its products and services. But the concept of creating programming and content that ties to selling products is not exactly new.
The original soap operas started on radio in 1933 and on television in the 1950s, largely supported by soap company Procter & Gamble. These dramatic programs were created to capture the hearts of American housewives at home taking care of laundry, cleaning, cooking, and the like. Remember the phrase “Brought to you by Ivory“? That was the idea. Create content that appeals to your target audience to promote your product. These dramatic programs were sponsored by soap companies who wanted women to get hooked on shows and love the characters so much they would tune in day after day or week after week and buy the products as a result.
As time went on, daytime soap operas continued to capture viewership from teens and college students (a coveted market today) alongside stay-at-home-moms. New dramatic series emerged and continued for decades, from As the World Turns to All My Children. For die-hard GH (General Hospital) fans, who wouldn’t love tuning in to John Stamos or Rick Springfield day after day? But there’s more to this than just a little soap opera trivia. The very concept of creating content to sell products has been at the heart and soul of television and the entertainment industry for the last 60 years.
But now, everyone can produce content. Teenagers are generating six-figure incomes by creating their own YouTube channels and building millions of followers. Check out Bethany Mota, the teen sensation who has built a subscriber base in the millions for her down-to-Earth practical teenage beauty tips. From a six-figure income via YouTube Ads to endorsement deals, new celebrities and businesses are formed every day on YouTube. The cost of equipment needed to create content has become so low that with some talent, it doesn’t cost a lot to produce quality content.
So why are Big Tech companies pushing so hard on the content front? Should that be an indicator to other companies to do the same? Does it matter that many of the Big Tech companies building content will also soon launch their gTLD as a channel of the internet (i.e. Google, Amazon, Netflix, Microsoft)? The Big Tech companies recognize that eyeballs and wallets will follow the latest and greatest storyline and characters that appeal to them – the soap opera idea. They built empires on the “if you build it, they will come” approach to everything that works in the digital world. They get that content is the future. Put out great content and the people flock to your digital world to watch it. And, for Google, Amazon, and Netflix, they will soon have the gTLD platform as the backbone to their digital world, allowing for faster resolution and speed. So the more important question becomes, will they use the content to sell their products or will the content become the product?
Some of the best ads now air only on YouTube or online. Remember the Toyota Swaggerwagon? A few of the most memorable online only ads include Google’s “How It Feels Through the Glass,” Microsoft’s “Child of the ’90s,” Kmart’s “Ship My Pants,” and Dove’s “Real Beauty.” Content creation is shifting from traditional entertainment companies to Big Tech and just about anyone with a camera.
Consumer products companies may soon be in a conundrum of where to advertise. Will they reinvent the soap opera? Interestingly, the head of Procter & Gamble, one of the original investors in the soap opera concept, saw this shift coming back in 1994. Then chairman and chief executive Ed Artzt gave a famous speech at 4A’s annual meeting recognizing that “If we don’t influence [changing technology] and if we don’t harness them, loyalty to our brands could suffer in the long term.” He predicted that if advertising was no longer needed to pay most of the cost of home entertainment, then advertisers will have a hard time achieving the reach and frequency needed. He was right.
Big Tech companies have not just invested in content, they have also invested in the future distribution channels – new gTLDs. Google is launching not just .YouTube, which can be segmented into sub-channels like tennis.youtube or travel.youtube, but also the gTLD, .channel. So Bethany Mota may want Bethany.channel to build out her future enterprises tapping into the power of Google’s products and services as a package deal.
With half the world’s top brands launching their own gTLD or channel of the Internet, the concept of building out content in these new spaces will shift how we consume our entertainment and how consumer goods companies reach their target audiences. The idea of the soap opera may emerge in new segmented spaces on brand channels of the Internet. Ironically, Procter & Gamble did not apply for any gTLDs, despite their former CEO’s advice to the ad industry to recognize, influence, and participate in changing technology. Maybe next round.