Do Storytelling Skills Give TV Vets an Edge Online?

In today’s world of user-created content, some people argue that traditional media companies, and traditional marketers, are obsolete. Not so, say the old-timers, citing strengths in content creation, especially video production, and core storytelling skills.

“There’s no doubt major media companies are still going to be a major source of content,” Jeff Karish, head of strategy for Yahoo Media Group, said at this week’s OMMA conference in New York. “TV and movie guys can tell great stories, and now they’re going to be doing that online.”

Even user-created content can benefit from a filter, which is what media companies have been doing in TV, cinema, radio and print media for years, said Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital. The vetting process TV networks undertake with new show ideas, where only five of more than fifty shows each year end up getting produced, will change, but not be replaced entirely, he said.

“Fundamentally, the content will be the same; it’s the process that’s different,” Kramer said. While most networks are repurposing TV content online, that will change as more media companies begin producing content exclusively for the Web. That process will also include a new structure to filter the content, he said.

But big media companies cannot simply move their TV assets online and expect to succeed, warned Beth Comstock, president of digital media and marketing at NBC Universal. To product quality content online, TV content producers need to adapt to the new medium in some ways.

First, they need to engage in active storytelling, incorporating experiential and participatory aspects from the start of the creation process. Storytellers also need to give up, or at least be willing to share, control over the content. Storytellers also need to tap into the community they are creating for, which becomes easier when they first give up control, she said. Finally, content creators need to understand human behavior, and communicate with people in ways that fit with their interactions with multiple media.

“If you give users an experience that’s unique and sustainable, they will respond, and even pay for the privilege,” Comstock said.

Those same storytelling skills are held by big marketers, as well, and they can port those skills to the online world by moving from one-way monologues to consumers on TV toward starting dialogs with consumers online, according to Tim Kopp, VP of worldwide interactive marketing at Coca-Cola.

“The dialog is going to happen with or without us. Our challenge is to make that happen with us, and become a part of the dialog,” Kopp said.

For Coke, that goal started with a global relaunch of the site as a brand portal with user-created content front and center. So far on the site, Coke has issued five “challenges,” or user-created media contests. Kopp describes these as “creative briefs for consumers,” which allow Coke’s customers to talk about the brand in ways that are most relevant to them, he said.

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