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April 01 2013


Special Series: Online Advertising, Evolved

If the banner ad isn't dead, it's certainly on life support.

Once upon a time (actually, not so long ago), there was one way to advertise online: the almighty banner ad. But, the banner ad just didn't do enough. It didn't fully take advantage of the medium, it was hard to track, and it certainly didn't keep up with the lightning speed at which the medium changed.

Even Federated Media CEO John Battelle, who was there at the birth of the banner ad, said recently to Business Insider that as an industry, "we messed up when we decided banner ads would be how we make money on the Web."

Today, as the banner ad of old gasps what could be its last breath, brands, publishers and industry leaders are breaking the ad mold wide open to find new ways to connect online readers with marketing. All this week on MediaShift, we're looking at the ways they're doing this with our "Online Advertising Evolved" special.

We'll still look at banner ads -- but we'll look at how they're innovating and changing. After all, some of the banner ad's ancestors will survive. But, how those ads are targeted, how they're purchased, how they're measured ("viewability" is hot on industry minds), and how they're used will determine their fate.

Then there's scrapping the banner concept altogether and working with something new -- so-called "native advertising." The definition of a native ad can be as narrow or as broad as the person defining it would like. (There's a whole push there -- to define native advertising better so everyone is speaking the same language.) But, in essence, native advertising is advertising that folds more seamlessly into the content around it. It could be just an old-fashioned advertorial -- a story written by a marketer next to an original magazine piece. Or, it could be in-stream ads that pop up in your Facebook newsfeed. Or, it could be a short digital film that's part ad, but also part content. But, no matter what it is, if it's called "native advertising" it has some major buzz around it these days for publishers, marketers and the industry as a whole.

Stay tuned as we tackle a few of these issues this week on MediaShift. Below is a list of what we have planned so far. Have an idea to share? Let us know.

Also, to get you up to speed, see our list below of some of the best reporting, opinion and analysis from other outlets on this topic.

Coming Soon

>Digital Magazines Dive Into Native Advertising, by Susan Currie Sivek
>Where Native Ads Have Been and Where They're Going, by Terri Thornton

>Advertising Remains Revenue King, but the Future Is in Innovation, by Marianne McArthy

>Ad Exchanges: Automated Systems Hold Great Promise, But Raise Concerns, by Dorian Benkoil

>Why Are the 'One Old Trick' Ads Surviving? by Laruen Orsini

>How Responsive Design Is Changing Advertising, by Jenny Xie

>What's Behind BuzzFeed's Native Ad Network? by Alex Kantrowitz

Recent required reading on the evolution of online advertising

Native Advertising Study Shoots Some Bullets at Pre-Roll (MediaPost)

BuzzFeed, Sharethrough Battle to Bring Native Ads to the Masses (AdAge)

Native Advertising Is Bad News (Digiday)

What's All the Hype About Native Ads, Anyway? Looking Beyond the Buzzword. (AdAge)

Native + Content: A Powerful Advertising Combination (MediaPost)

The Washington Post Dives Into Native Advertising (Forbes)

Ad War: BuzzFeed, the Dish, and the Perils of Sponsored Content (The Atlantic)

Where You Can Go Right, And Wrong, With Native Ads (TechCrunch)

We Need a Better Definition of Native Advertising (Harvard Business Review)

AOL Eschews Banners, Leans Into Native (AdWeek)

Native Advertising Works -- If You Don't Embarrass Yourself (VentureBeat)

3 Out of 10 Display Ads Are Never Seen by Consumers (ClickZ)

5 Marketing Predictions for 2013 (Mashable)

The New York Times' Plan to Save the Banner Ad (Digiday)

Industry Effort to Improve Web Ad Metrics Goes Nowhere (AdWeek)

Study Says Half of Media Buyers Will Try Native Advertising in 2013 (PaidContent)

Solve: Media Buyers Warm To Native Ads (MediaPost)

Is Your So-Called 'Native' Advertising Really Native? (AdAge)

Sponsor Content Doesn't Fool Anyone Except Advertisers (AllThingsD)

12 Tips to Avoid The Atlantic's 'Sponsored Content' Meltdown (PBS MediaShift)

Managing editor Courtney Lowery Cowgill is a writer, editor, teacher and farmer based in central Montana. In addition to her work with MediaShift, she teaches online courses at the University of Montana's School of Journalism. Before she came to MediaShift, she was the co-founder and editor in chief of the now shuttered online magazine NewWest.Net. When she's not writing, teaching or editing, she's helping her husband wrangle 150 heritage turkeys, 30 acres of food, overgrown weeds or their young daughter.

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April 26 2012


'Carnivàle' Creator Bypasses Hollywood, Launches Transmedia Story 'Haunted'

Discovered on the Internet and known as a storyteller with a unique vision, writer and producer Daniel Knauf, best known as the creator of "Carnivàle" on HBO, has ditched Hollywood and struck out on his own to mine the field of transmedia.

With a beta project made public called "Haunted," Knauf's new company, BXX, is jumping feet first into the transmedia world.

Difficult to separate the plot from the technology, "Haunted" is best described as a fictional story that follows paranormal investigators working inside an abandoned house tormented by supernatural events. The storytelling format features multimedia elements such as research documentation and investigators' blogs. Shot with multiple cameras, the project's navigational timeline allows viewers to manipulate how they view the story.

The transmedia world is a popular one, with Sundance Institute announcing this past fall six transmedia projects accepted into its first-ever New Frontier Lab, with an impressive list of Hollywood heavyweights as advisers. In an article on Mashable, Lisa Hsia, executive vice president of Bravo Digital Media, defined transmedia storytelling as telling a story that extends across multiple media platforms. (For television, it goes beyond the on-air show.)

I spoke with Knauf to find out why "inventing a new narrative" is so important to him, what potential he sees in transmedia storytelling, and to ask him, "Why the rebel stance?" The following is an edited transcript of that discussion.

Bxx: "Haunted" Promo No. 1 from Daniel Knauf on Vimeo.


Tell me about BXX (pronounced BOX) and what drew you to create the transmedia project "Haunted" for the Internet?

Daniel Knauf: Black BXX LLC is the name of our company, but we're going by BXX now. I wanted to see if I could make a nonlinear drama work. I came up with BXX Mars about five years ago, and I did the normal thing and talked to the money people. Everyone said, "This is interesting. Can we make a TV show out of it?" It's the first place they go.

The traditional entertainment industry is not known for their humility. They tend to think they are the end all. You don't take a TV show and put it on Hulu and call it Internet content. No, it's not. It's a TV show you're watching on your computer. Hulu's not really Internet, Funny or Die is not really Internet; those are just TV being watched on a different screen. For me, I wanted to invent a narrative that there was absolutely no way you could have done it if the Internet wasn't invented. That was the goal I set myself.

In the end, I just got tired of trying to convince them this lives and breathes on the Internet. I got tired of explaining finance models to them and I thought, let's just do an inexpensive version of this and show them. I had sold "Carnivàle" off the Internet. I've always been into the Internet, and it stuck in my craw that the Internet wasn't treated as the medium it could be.

But obviously money comes into play; what are the plans to monetize BXX?

Knauf: I've given up on Hollywood. They are too frightened. I've gone so far off the reservation. All I want to do is set up shop here in Nashville and build a studio and start making these things. If I had to monetize this right now, I would use surveys. I think they are the least intrusive. I don't think I need people to watch ads every 30 seconds. I hate roll-ins, banners and pop-ups. I'd like to give people the option to subscribe and watch without surveys for a reasonable price. Choice is best.

But let's be realistic, in order to make these things, they cost money. I'm a huge believer in capitalism, and we'll look for people to invest in this. Money follows the eyeballs. I tried a Kickstarter for this, and I didn't meet my goal. But when I told people they would get their money back, I got $14,000 sent to my PayPal account from total strangers in $5 and $10 amounts. They just wanted to see this thing and loved "Carnivàle" and what I do. The money will come.

Audience-building must be key to a project like this that's outside of the Hollywood system and without its production and marketing budgets.

Knauf: I've built a relationship with my audience. It used to be complex for the audience and artists to connect, but that chasm doesn't exist anymore. We have no PR. We've really only promoted through social networks. We had about 3,100 people sign up for early access, and we've had about 8,000 unique visitors. Not bad for no advertising or PR. Only 22 people put their hands on this thing. We are all artists or craftsmen. Even our CFO was pulling cable. I was driving the RV. We didn't build sets. We shot on location. We used high-end security cameras and made certain compromises and bootstrapped it ourselves.

The actors ended up doing such an amazing job, that what was supposed to be a beta, not for the public, we decided to release to the public. We did the pre-launch because we thought it would be pretty buggy and wanted to get feedback before it went public, and two weeks later we went live. Anyone can access anything free. They do have to register if they want to unlock documents; this is so next time you log in, you aren't locked out of documents you've already opened up.

Thumbnail image for Documentation Haunted.jpg

About 30 percent of people who visit spend more than a half hour, and about 12 percent spend more than an hour. I created this to engage people, so we are really happy. Strangely, the U.S.A. is the No. 1 place for hits, but Norway is second. My wife says it is because it's where 'Big Brother' was invented.

Speaking of 'Big Brother,' there is a voyeuristic aspect of "Haunted." It reminds me of certain forms of reality TV mixed with paranormal activity. I think the use of the security cameras amplified that feeling. Can you talk about that?

Knauf: There is a voyeurism quality. Even a good movie feels voyeuristic or (like) a stage drama. What's interesting is, with this shooting schedule, you're not just watching actors acting. You're watching actors living. There was no off-stage. We had cameras in the bathroom. When we said 'action,' we didn't say 'cut' for 32 hours. There is a certain level of reality that occurs in that situation. We directed in shifts, and there is still some footage I haven't seen.

My partner, at about 26 hours, said, 'You gotta come in and watch these people.' I would say they were experiencing some kind of incipient post-traumatic stress syndrome. They were zombie-fied and behaving oddly. The location was like a spook house with sound effects and things falling and crashing. There isn't a big difference between being an actor pretending to be attacked by a haunted house and being a person being attacked by a haunted house. It was a traumatic event for them, and I ended up cutting about eight hours off the shoot.

Dan and cast.jpg

What about the tech part, the security camera vibe and ability to track the characters' movements throughout rooms? How does this factor in, and where do you see this going?

Knauf: I'm used to copywriting everything, but now I get patents and I feel like Thomas Edison. It's really cool, like I'm an inventor or mad scientist. The hardest thing when we are explaining 'Haunted' is the easiest thing when you get on and play with it. People ask, 'How do I watch this? What if I make a mistake?' It doesn't matter. You can't do it wrong. I tell people just watch it, and you'll see how natural it is. Nothing is more artificial than a three-act structure. They don't exist in nature. What you find when you play with 'Haunted' is you are accessing it like you do your memories. Memories don't work in a linear fashion. Memories work like we work on the Internet -- something reminds us of something, that keys something, that then links to something else.

It was designed to have multiple cameras and views open. The first thing that came up was people wanted to sync them all up. I hadn't thought about that, and we did our best to make that happen. Of course with the Internet, maintaining sync is hard unless you have a really big pipe. I would like to make it work better on tablets. We have 90 percent function. We can't get the time slider to work on touchscreen HTML 5 yet, but we are working on it.

What I really want to do is make it so people can download these videos and cut their own movies and have a film festival. We haven't licked that end of the coding yet, but definitely for the next one.

Is there a specific 'event' I can send readers to find to get a taste of 'Haunted'?

Knauf: Saturday, Hour 5, Segment 6, Camera 1 is a good time for people to check out to see a character reacting strongly to something she is watching on camera, then they can go find which camera she is watching. Our audience has blown my mind. We have a lot of multimedia research stuff, articles and such, and they knew to go to the logs and find out when all the weird s--- happens. It didn't even occur to me they could do that. People are so smart at figuring out all the 'wow' moments.

Screenshot Haunted Seg 5.jpg

That's clever of the audience -- a true use of a multimedia project. With this under your belt, are you ready to tackle BXX Mars? What genres of storytelling do you see as lending themselves to this format besides supernatural or horror?

Knauf: BXX Mars is the next one we're doing. It's about a group of astronauts facing being marooned. They have a short launch window they have to make or be stuck on Mars. BXX Mars will be 72 hours. I'd love to do BXX Niagara about a honeymoon hotel. A family reunion would work, too -- any story that Robert Altman would have done. This whole thing is character-driven. We could follow people in a shelter in a hurricane like Katrina or track a firefighter on 9/11 -- or BXX Whitechapel and set up the East End of London and have the actors living that role for a 12-hour period.

How do you decide the length of time to cover?

Knauf: The length of the event isn't as important as how we are covering it. One isn't directing in a traditional sense -- more like cuing events to poke the actors with a stick. It's a marathon for an actor. I'm not willing to hurt people to deliver entertainment. The next one, the actors will really have time to train, especially when we aren't on location but on sets. You could technically call a cut or shoot an insert, but the problem is it feels totally false. There is a level of reality in these performances that exist only in this format. Even voices change in tone depending on whether one is tired or scared. It is impossible to duplicate.

There is a strength in the performance from the actors being in character for so long. The actors had to change how they act. I had to change how I write. Everything changed. It turned out to be a surprising way to tell a story. They wake up in character and cook a corn dog in character. It leads to some real moments. We connect with the quiet moments. That's where drama lives. This format really delivers that.

MS: So is this goodbye to Hollywood?

Knauf: What has really burned me out on Hollywood is since I did 'Carnivàle,' I have a stack about 11 feet tall of material, and maybe 18 inches of it has landed on eyeballs. I didn't get into the business to write for half a dozen studios executives. I've been paid well for the 11 feet, but that's not why I do this. I do this because I am paying forward for every writer that inspired me. If my stuff isn't landing on eyeballs, then I've failed at that. In Hollywood, they are always teetering on the brink of saying no for 1,000 reasons. With BXX, I can create huge amounts of content for peanuts in Hollywood terms. I can create 1,500 hours of content for under a million dollars. This is potentially very profitable, and I can take those profits and do standard productions as well.

BXX Mars will create 1,600 hours of footage. I could easily cut a mini-series out of that for TV. What's cool is once everything is set up, I can bring in an American cast and then bring in a Chinese cast and do it all over again. It is so cross-platform. Everything follows the Internet because the Internet embraces every medium.

And everything you do is yours as opposed to working within the Hollywood system and selling rights. Is that a motivating factor?

Knauf: My big bugaboo with Hollywood is copyright. If you open a Stephen King book, it is copyright Stephen King. If you watch 'Carnivàle,' it is copyright HBO. The only reason for that is they are pigs. There's only five or six of them, and they know they have to stick together. It's like a cartel and so against antitrust laws. I want to create a studio where if someone wants to make something at my studio, they get to retain their copyright. It will never be 'copyright BXX.' That's my pipe dream. We would be what Random House is to Stephen King -- we would publish that person's work. Why would I pirate someone's intellectual property just because I'm the one with the money? It's disgusting the way Hollywood treats artists. Everyone's convinced we are always on the bubble of being fired at all times. The town runs on flop sweat. 'Everybody will never work again.'...There is so much fabulous material that didn't move forward because of Hollywood timidness.

People ask why there isn't anything good on TV. I'm coming from the inside, and I'm telling you that not only do they think the audience is an idiot, to the point where they think you can't feed yourself, but they loathe you, too. They hate the audience because they can't figure out why they watch what they watch. I've read somewhere that the odds of a show succeeding is about the same as they were in the '60s. Things fail now because they are exactly like 10 other things on TV.

I think we are going to have another renaissance. My showrunner friends listen to me being a mad prophet, and they are amazed: 'You do whatever you want to do? No one tells you what you have to do!?' I think when people realize the gates are open and no one will shoot them when they step out, things are going to change.

Mad Scientist Daniel Knauf.jpg

Technology is definitely pushing storytelling to new limits. As writer and blogger Chuck Wendig wrote on transmedia, 'It makes me feel like I'm from the future. In the end, though, whether you call it transmedia or cross-media or new media or hybridized-story-pollination (HSP), it's still just storytelling. Though it's storytelling in a bigger, sometimes weirder, way.'

Amanda Lin Costa is a writer and producer in the film and television industry. She writes a series called "Truth in Documentary Filmmaking" and is currently producing the documentary, "The Art of Memories."

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April 25 2012


April 11 2012


Daily Must Reads, April 11, 2012

The best stories across the web on media and technology, curated by Lily Leung.

1.YouTube adds pay-per-view to live streaming (GigaOm)

2. Trust in online ads grows while trust in ads in traditional media falls (TechCrunch)

3. Can other stand-up comics duplicate success of Louis C.K.'s distribution model? (Fast Company)

4. LinkedIn launches tools to help businesses target followers (Online Media Daily)

5. How local TV newsrooms are using Pinterest (Lost Remote)

6. Even Amazon, eBay have joined the Pinterest bandwagon (PaidContent)

Subscribe to our daily Must Reads email newsletter and get the links in your in-box every weekday!

Subscribe to Daily Must Reads newsletter

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April 07 2010


Print ain’t dead: How an ad-man-turned publisher is building a local news empire profitably in Texas

John P. Garrett says he worries he sounds like someone from the early 1990s who predicted there would never be a computer in every home. Garrett’s the Texas publisher of seven neighborhood editions of a monthly newspaper called Community Impact Newspaper. And he’s not looking online to grow his business. The difference between him and the Luddite computer naysayer is that, so far at least, he’s been right. His business is profitable, and he’s expanding. His secret to success: attract local advertisers by giving readers relevant content through targeted distribution. And that content is often focused on the sort of local government coverage that newspaper doomsayers say is at the greatest risk.

Garrett left his job as advertising director at the Austin Business Journal in July 2005 after he was inspired by the toll road coverage, or lack of it, in his local newspaper. North Austin is a fast-growing, suburban part of the city, ripe for development. In 2005, the city of Austin had started massive construction on these roads (“they looked like Stonehenge”), but when Garrett turned to his local newspaper he couldn’t find stories on where they were going, or how North Austin residents might use them. “The local papers were very much [covering] ‘the local chess team has made it to state.’ Not that that stuff’s not relevant, but for most people it just isn’t,” Garrett said. His idea: Take the community feel of a local paper, cover neighborhood news the big papers won’t, and focus on business and development stories relevant to a typical resident.

“We write a lot about local government, local development, city business,” he told me. “In the greater Austin area, there’s probably ten different cities. We’re the only news organization that has a reporter at every city council meeting.”

Garrett started his business out of his house, with a $40,000 loan from a low-interest credit card. He hired an editor and writers to take care of the content side; he’d focus on the business end. He’s paid off the debt and now turns a profit. He employs 76 people, including reporters, editors, designers, managers, and ad sales reps. The staff is broken up into teams by location, including at least one reporter, editor, and sales person per area; larger regions get more resources. Three top editors oversee editorial quality across all seven publications.

Direct mail distribution

Garrett says a smart distribution strategy is at least as important as smart content to his success. When we talked, Garrett noted he was on Twitter at that very moment, engaged in a small tiff with Jeff Jarvis, whom he said argues relevant content is the key. “There is talk about hyperlocal content — buzzword, got it. But there’s not enough talk about the distribution of it. [Jarvis] is saying it’s not about the distribution anymore, it’s about relevant content. I’m saying it’s about both.”

When Garrett was preparing to launch Community Impact, he knew he wanted to use direct mail to distribute his product. He’d create targeted editions of his newspapers, print them on high-quality, stitched and trimmed paper, and mail them to everyone in the area. (You can see a copy of the print edition here.) Why not just toss them in driveways? “The Average Joe really hates that,” he told me, and his business is all about reaching the Average Joe (or Jane). He’s skeptical about online ever becoming his primary distribution outlet. “I hope I’m wrong,” he says, pointing out it is cheaper to publish online than mail content. Garrett points to the Huffington Post, which was still not profitable as of a few months ago, as an example of his problem. “If anyone’s made it, it’s the Huffington Post with 9 million in page views. How in the world is ImpactNews.com going to do it?”

This recipe — relevant content, wide distribution, and local targeting — has turned out to be attractive to local businesses looking to advertise. “We’re winning the local battle and we aren’t the least expensive,” Garrett said. Small ads run $350 to $400 per paper, which he says could buy more than a monthly run in a local paper.

Advertising success

I talked with one of Garrett’s long-time clients, the Austin Regional Clinic, which has locations throughout the Austin area and buys ads in all of the newspaper’s editions every month. Heidi Shalev, marketing communications manager, told me she likes being able to customize ads by community, including a map to the closest location. “We decided it would be better to pull out of the Austin American-Statesman. We can drill down into the niche area community [with Community Impact]. With the Statesman, we can’t speak on a more personal level.” (The Statesman does offer zoned advertising, but in fewer zones and lower distribution in those zones.)

Ken Moncebaiz, owner of K&M Steam Cleaning, a carpet cleaning service in Austin, says about a fourth of his business comes from the full-page ad he buys on the back inside cover of the Community Newspaper editions in his area. Since he started advertising in the paper in 2005, he said his business has doubled from five trucks to ten, and he said Garrett deserves some of that credit. He spends $10,000 a month on the print cover ad and an online ad. In all, he spends $36,000 a month on six or seven forms of advertising, like radio ads, online search ads, and other forms of direct mailing like ValPak. He does about $2.5 million a year in business.

“In Austin, there’s like ten different sub-cities inside of it. That newspaper is so neat because it actually gets to the different subdivision in that area,” Moncebaiz explained. “What our customers love, what they all say is they read the newspaper from cover to cover. ‘It’s free, it tells me all about my area.’ That’s why they love it. The reason I love it is everyone reads it cover to cover. I anchor the inside back cover, no one else is allowed to have it. It’s all mine.”

January 06 2010


Advertisers Still Prefer Print to Online

A rare bit of good financial news for journalism points once again to the difficulty of financing online media.

PaidContent reported this week that Politico raked in more than $20 million last year, finishing with operating profits of about $1 million.

That's the good news. But as Molly Fischer wrote in the New York Observer, Politico's print publication -- something few of us outside the Beltway ever see -- accounted for 60 percent of operating revenues. This was the case even though the paper version has an estimated circulation of 32,000 compared to the more than 3 million unique visitors estimated to visit the website every month.

As Fischer said, "Even if Politico's success testifies to print's demise, print advertising remains the best way to make money."

Politico, of course, is fortunate enough to have both a print and web presence. Those of us at web-only publications (such as Gotham Gazette) cannot help but be frustrated by seeing ads -- and revenue -- going to print publications that may have fewer readers and weaker content.

People like seeing their ads on coffee tables -- particularly on the mayor's coffee table, as an ad salesperson told me when I wondered why Gotham Gazette did not get more image ads from unions and advocacy groups. So far, it seems, even the people at Politico have not been able to break that habit.

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