Making the Leap from TV to Online

For my series of columns about new digital networks and studios, I got the chance to meet Fred Seibert, cofounder of Next New Networks, creator of Channel Frederator, and overall innovator and visionary across both tradition and emerging digital media.

Christine Beardsell: You were one of the founding fathers of MTV. Is creating an online company like Next New Networks a comparable experience? Is it the Wild West?

Fred Seibert: Yes. Both. Then and now there is the bedrock understanding that new mediums demand new brands. Merely porting over successful traditional media products to new platforms is ultimately unsatisfying for audiences, marketers, and businesses.

The founding of MTV Networks was the Wild West of its time. There was no conventional wisdom around content or business models, distribution of the channel was slow, consumers were confused but hungry, and advertisers were reluctant to participate.

But there are other key parallels, too. There were new technologies providing expansive vistas and opportunities. A young talent pool that was frustrated by traditional media’s disinclinations to use their abilities, visions, and ambitions. And there was an almost unfathomable excitement as to the possibilities and explosions of audience acceptance and community building.”

When I first started working with Internet media, I was a little perplexed by the excitement that “community” was the brave new frontier. At MTV and Nickelodeon we built our companies and brands around the very notion of shared communities of interest (“I want my MTV!”) within the limits of the new technology of the time. In fact, looking back I marvel at the very direct parallels between MTV’s model (band makes a video, submits it, best stuff moves to the top of the queue) and YouTube’s.

CB: How is distributing online content different from traditional means of syndication?

FS: Well, online video syndication is a model that’s been tried and failed for a number of years. It’s only in the past several months when Next New Networks explained its core principals of super-distribution that we were met with anything other than rolled eyes; everyone was certain that the one true way was destination viewing. Our personal experience of consuming belied that strategy; we all wanted to see stuff wherever we wanted to, and we built the company around that very idea.

In less than 18 months, our company has amassed almost 300 million video views of branded, community-oriented episodes at our networks and over 30 million every month now. And our distribution partners are as little as individual bloggers and as large as YouTube, Yahoo, or TiVo, among dozens of others.

CB: What’s the best advice you can give to content creators that are trying to make the jump from television into online video?

FS: Hmmm, great question and one that I’m asked almost every day. Some advice, in no particular order:

  • It’s a simple medium (believe it or not) that requires simple solutions.

  • Think about your audience first, your production second.
  • Don’t just transfer the kinds of programming and production you would do for TV.
  • DIY. Big crews and big budgets won’t buy you an advantage. (Not like it actually does in any medium, does it?)
  • Authenticity rules. That doesn’t mean it should look funky or that it should look slick, just that it should be what the audience needs it to be.
  • Have fun. For me, making media is the stuff of dreamers. Don’t think too hard about it all, dream your dreams and make what you actually want to make.

CB: With all the online tools and resources available to emerging creative talent, why do content creators need a network at all? What can Next New Networks provide them with that they can’t get on their own?

FS: I try to convince everyone to do it by themselves first. Figure out whether you have what it takes to succeed in the new media. Honestly, if you don’t have what it takes to find an audience without us, I’m not so sure we (or anyone else) can be that helpful. If you can, we can help a lot, supercharging everything from production to distribution to promotion to advertising sales.

Barely Political and Obama Girl would be a great example. Ben Relles, the brilliant mind behind Barely Political, launched the first Obama Girl video to great accolades and viewership success while working full time at an advertising agency. We acquired his operation a few months on, affording him the opportunity to think and execute his vision full time. And now, after dozens of episodes and tens of millions of views later, he’s about to embark on his next new networks.

CB: In your view, within the online space have the roles and responsibilities of content creators, distributors, and advertisers changed?

FS: Not really. All of us have only one responsibility and that’s to the audience. If an audience is happy, everything else falls into place.

The difference now is that there’s no gatekeeper telling anyone what the audience will and will not accept. Anyone can prove they’re right (or wrong) all by themselves.

And that makes competition keener and the results betters for everyone.

Join us for ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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