Audience tastes are evolving almost as quickly as the platforms on which programming is being watched. Ivana Kirkbride, chief content officer for Verizon’s mobile-first streamer, go90, weighs in the shift, and how tech-savvy viewers worldwide are driving demand for a whole new format category.
by Ivana Kirkbride
Quick poll: Who knows what Unboxing is? How about Creepypasta? What about Mukbang? Believe it or not, these are video formats that millions watch all over the world.
Unboxing is an unscripted format that makes you feel like it’s Christmas morning all year long — opening gift after gift, surprise after surprise. Creepypasta? No, it’s not scary spaghetti. It’s actually a brand new way to share fireside ghost stories around the world. Mukbang may sound completely absurd, but people will watch for hours while creators sit in front of their cameras while gorging on thousands of calories.
Welcome to the digital world where a whole new category of formats is emerging and all you need is a smartphone, tablet or desktop to tap into it, and where niche content is no longer niche. It’s pop culture.
Further, we’re not only seeing a rise in content formats, but also a whole new category of formats.
At go90, for instance, we’re seeing a growth in what we call “premium midform” emerge as our sweet spot.
Netflix and Hulu are dominating binge-watchable content that is 30 minutes or longer, and TV is doing the same for appointment-based viewing. Meanwhile, social media, portals and YouTube are dominating the 10-minute-and-under space.
At go90, however, our research shows that the mobile-first audience led by millennials and Gen Z is spending more time watching videos throughout their day and on the go during the week. And the premium midform format is proving the perfect length for these regular “downtime/watchtime” periods.
In fact, our analytics tell us that premium midform is emerging as the preferred format for the mobile-first viewers.
Our hit shows — including a nonfiction slate of shows such as Snooki & JWOWW: Moms with Attitude, MVP with Rob Gronkowski, Young Guns, and QB1 from Peter Berg and Film45 — are anywhere from eight to 30 minutes in length, and our audience is watching multiple episodes at a time.
So what does premium mean in this context? The concept of quality or premium programming is completely fluid now. It’s not always equivalent to production value.
To test this, I actually decided to take a poll among a small (but cute) focus group — my kids — to see what they watch and how they watch it. My son Tyler, 3, watches The Wiggles, an Australian TV show from 26 years ago that he’s discovering for the very first time on streaming platforms. (Can’t wait to see him discover Fraggle Rock!) And most of the time, my daughters, Malin, 8, and Olivia, 7, stream FUNnel Vision, a YouTube channel. But when asked what their favorites are, they cite Harry Potter, Moana and other blockbuster hits.
They’ve taught me that premium is fluid. Variety, choice and availability rule. And they don’t want less, they want more.
As Malin describes it — they watch it on any screen and often simultaneously — YouTube on the iPad, TV in the background, and musical.ly on the phone.
Nielsen’s Total Audience Report tells us that the average person spends nine hours a day consuming media on a range of screens. That’s more time consuming media than sleeping and eating combined.
So how does this impact how we program for this new generation of media consumer?
Context matters. At YouTube, unscripted formats work because that ecosystem is built on UGC (user-generated content), vloggers and personalities. While working with the video startup Vessel, we found a deeply engaged audience around tech unboxing videos and IT culture because we had a large community of tech savants. At go90, we find that live sports and scripted dramas perform best because we have sports fans who love football, basketball, and soccer, and millennials who love scripted originals with their favorite talent.
Content within context matters. Each platform and its audience is completely unique. You must cater to what works best for that specific community. What works on TV won’t necessarily work on digital, and vice versa.
To take it one step further, what works on Facebook or Snapchat doesn’t necessarily work on Hulu, Netflix or go90. You need to create content with specificity and authenticity to each platform.
The good news is, the industry is more open than ever before. But the currency for attention is higher than ever.
We now live in a world where algorithms, influencers, and social media set the tempo, and we have to keep up.
I leave you with this. Digital innovation and the mobile-first generation are expanding how we tell stories through new formats, new talent and data-driven development.
There’s a new hybrid model — part art, part science, and, what remains the same, a little bit of magic. It’s creating more opportunity in content, programming, and distribution for all of us in the industry. We all know we are in the golden age of television, but we’re embarking upon the golden age of content.
We can shape the opportunity beyond that first screen by coming together, country by country, screen by screen, to tell the best stories on the planet.
Ivana Kirkbride is chief content officer for go90 where she oversees both creator relations, content acquisition, partner management and business development. She is also responsible for go90′s content strategy, development and programming, channel mix, editorial and merchandizing strategy across live sports, originals, primetime and best-of-the-web. Previously, Ivana was head of content at Vessel and spent five years at YouTube, most recently as head of unscripted.
This column originally appeared in the May/June 2017 edition of realscreen magazine.