Big Media Firms Are Exploring Site-Based Social Communities

Scott Brown, director of marketing, media & entertainment, Cisco Systems

Scott Brown, director of marketing, media & entertainment, Cisco Systems

February 25, 2011 – It’s nowhere close to a megatrend yet, but to hear Scott Brown talk about what’s happening with Cisco’s Eos program it’s not hard to imagine that not too long from now the social mediazation of TV programs and movies could become the next big thing in digital media.
Eos, the Greek goddess of the dawn, is the name Cisco Media Solution Group has given to its hosted SaaS (software-as-a-service) platform, launched two years ago and now working with 100 Web sites worldwide to create social entertainment experiences around branded content. Brown, director of marketing for media and entertainment at Cisco, says the firm is working with many more entities in anticipation of a surge in rollouts this year that likely will include some major TV programmers.

The idea is to use the Web site associated with a specific program, TV network or music group as a kind of social networking forum where fans have an opportunity to learn more about what’s going on behind the scenes, engage with actors and other people associated with the content, communicate with each other and participate in other goings on that help build loyalty and draw traffic. It’s a far cry from the usual practice of leveraging a presence on Facebook, MySpace or YouTube to do some viral marketing or generate buzz around a specific show or event.

So far, record labels and bands have been at the forefront of this phenomenon, with many bands now taking their fans with them on the road in what amounts to a 24/7 engagement that includes posts of videos from paid videographers. For example, Willie Nelson’s site, one of many artists’ sites employing Eos through fan-services supplier All Access Today, features raw video clips on a “Crew View” tab along with “Club Luck,” a forum for interactivity among fans.

Among recording companies, Warner Music Group, especially its Atlantic Records label, has been a big user, Brown notes. Where big producers of TV programming are concerned, the idea is still gestating, he adds.

”This is something new,” he says. “There’s a huge undercurrent of industry conversation about how to use digital to its full potential as a social medium and not have it there to be just another channel.”

In a recent study aimed at examining the future directions of social networking and how media companies can exploit these developments, Forrester Research finds that some entities are already focusing efforts along these lines. “By mingling professional with consumer-created content, and transmitting the authentic voice of the fan, media companies can differentiate their offerings from those of pure-play social networks, online-only content sites and their traditional competitors,” Forrester says. “Likewise, media companies can avoid disintermediation and commoditization by better understanding the tastes, needs and usage patterns of their audience gained through analyzing the data behind this engagement.”

While some programming outlets are still questioning the value of engaging audiences socially, many are on board with the concept and are just trying to figure out how to put it all together. As Michael Nash, executive vice president for digital strategy and business development at Warner Music Group, notes, getting the tech aspects off the to-do list is a big help. “We are dependent on technology, but we are not a technology company, so using a platform through a strategic partnership is a very desirable approach,” Nash says.

“When people have to do this themselves, bolting all the piece parts together, it’s not only costly and time consuming; it’s not scalable,” Brown says. “Eos is an integrated platform that enables you to create, manage and grow your socialization strategies across multiple sites. When you log into Eos, you just have one application, an integrated socialization backend, to manage for all your sites. All your teams working on specific sites can operate through one dashboard, which is part of an enterprise-class system with rules and permissions governing levels of participation among internal staff and third parties.”

In a recent project commissioned by Cisco, research firm IDC, after interviewing executives at leading media and entertainment companies, built a model to describe the relative ROI and TCO (total cost of ownership) associated with Cisco Eos versus do-it-yourself (DIY) solutions. According to a Cisco white paper, IDC found that “companies migrating to Eos from an existing DIY solution at a total investment of $121,000 realize average cost savings of $162,000 over three years per Web site and generate $306,000 in additional net revenue for total benefits of $468,000, yielding an ROI of 280 percent.” Implementing Eos in a greenfield scenario with no pre-existing installation yielded a 197 percent ROI compared to 24 percent on a DIY basis.

Rather than inventing anything new, Cisco has pulled together a wide range of tools and services to provide Eos customers support for a multitude of strategic approaches to socializing their sites in whatever way fits their needs, Brown notes. Things like WordPress blogging tools; Dart ad servers; publishing support from Brightcove; integrations with Facebook Connect and Twitter; open APIs (application program interfaces) to enable customers to integrate third-party apps into the platform, and much else have been core ingredients. In February Cisco added new distribution capabilities to complement the management facets, including multi-bit-rate encoding, bulk media uploading and support for HTML 5 and Flash 10.1 on the Cisco Eos video player to facilitate adaptive streaming across mobile as well as fixed devices.

One example of how content companies can tweak these tools to their own needs can be seen in what London-based Dogwoof Studios, distributor of feature-length documentaries such as Food, Inc. and An Inconvenient Truth, is doing to drive engagement in the causes espoused by its film makers. Dogwoof develops Eos-powered sites for each film it distributes and the social issue it addresses. Each of the film sites ties back to a centralized site called “Good with Film” that helps audience members interact with other people across a broader tableau of political activism.

“They want to extend the awareness and engagement of people who watch a film like Inconvenient Truth beyond global warming,” Brown says. “So there’s the site specific to that topic and then the hub and spoke tie-in of those sites to Good with Film that helps them build a much larger network of people working toward social goals.”

At this point, where mainstream entertainment is concerned, one of the steps media companies can take toward building engagement through social networking on their sites is to offer extraneous content that’s not part of the actual programming so that fans have something to “snack” on between the “main meal” of the next episode, Brown says. “If you’re a diehard fan of a particular content brand, you don’t want to have to wait all that time between shows to get your content fix,” he says.

At the cutting edge of the evolving scenario some companies are even bringing consumers into the creation process, Forrester says. “Some media companies see the blending of professional and consumer content along with the communication engendered by social technologies as a new form of storytelling,” the researchers note. “Some have started incorporating feedback and innovation from the audience, at the same time increasing engagement, and loyalty and improving storylines. They’re beginning to invent a new entertainment form: community-based content.”