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What happens when ‘Community’ is just a ‘tab’

Example of 'Community' as a tab

In spending some time recently on the web sites of major TV networks, I notice something has not changed much since 2004, or 2005, when TV networks first started developing branded web site counterparts with message board or discussion areas for TV show fans.

In the early days of TV show web sites, discussions about the episodes were not placed against the content, but typically were segmented off in separate areas of the web site, into ‘forum’ areas. And such forums (or ‘message boards’ as they are also known) still exist today, mainly because they are straight forward and easy to use, even though there are other social tools to comment and participate in a conversation around content.

Despite their ease of use, on many a media site, it may take you three or four clicks more to find the discussion threads about a particular program once you’ve found a community ‘tab’. And the discussion threads may be outdated, the last thread may be older than the latest episode of a TV show!

I still think forums are a great way to start new topic threads and allow fans of a TV show, movie, or artist to discuss in depth the content as comment boxes may have a text limit.

Yet when forums are the ONLY place to discuss the content, and there’s no way for fans to comment directly against the content (e.g. comment below a video, or a blog post), you see some interesting drop offs in site engagement. Also, fans go to other sites, like Facebook where they can comment directly against the content, leaving the branded entertainment sites behind.

For example, I examined the ‘community’ tab for the Fox animated comedy ‘American Dad’.

Fan Forums / Community area of for the TV show ‘American Dad’

In the show related forum pictured above, at the time of writing this blog, the last post by a fan is from 5 days ago, and the post received only 26 views. Meanwhile I went to the Facebook fan page for ‘American Dad’ and found that page owner Fox had posted a episode clip just a day ago. Because commenting was allowed in line, against the content, the clip netted 75 comments in just one day and over 1400 ‘likes’, way surpassing the social engagement of a 5 day old post on Fox’s own community.

Fans can’t comment on video clips of ‘American Dad’ on, but fans are allowed on to Facebook, greatly increasing the engagement off the main site

So while American Dad fans can’t comment against the video clips on the site they are enabled to do so on the Facebook fan page for the show, or on the official YouTube posted clips for the program.


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Social Media Week Panel: Standing Out in a Video-Congested World

Let’s face it:

  • videos on the internet are a dime a dozen these days
  • there’s no way to differentiate one brand from another when it comes to the impact of video
  • YouTube is the only channel for video distribution and there’s no value in anything else

If you believe any of this, then you definitely need to join me at an upcoming Social Media Week panel.  I will join several industry colleagues in providing a crash course on how to stand out in a video world.

In this session entitled, “How to Stand Out When Everyone’s Using Video,” I will focus on the finer points of using video to engage audiences and integrate it with organization’s social efforts. With me will be Jim Louderback, CEO of Revision3; Jordan Hoffner, president of digital media at Electus; and Melissa Chanslor, social media lead at Text 100.  Moderating the panel is a true technology and social media maven, Liz Gannes of All Things D.

During the discussion I promise we won’t just tell you that video is important, and that it provides a different channel to communicate with various audiences — everyone knows this by now. Instead, we will be specific about why it can be a great tool for a brand (especially if you’re a media company), and how to get the most value from it. Read More »

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Visualizing Your Brand’s Audience Engagement Profile

We recently introduced the concept of a Brand Value Index (BVI) — a composite index media companies can use to assess the relative value of their social entertainment sites powered by the Cisco Eos platform.  (Read the blog entry here.)

As I noted, a singular number like the BVI can help provide context at a portfolio level,  but it doesn’t provide a lot of prescriptive power on what I should do to improve or optimize a particular site experience.  For that kind of insight, we need more data points and the ability to compare individual factors to comparative benchmarks.

We can achieve both of these by standardizing each of the 11 variables in the BVI on a common scale, and displaying them on a radar plot like the attached.  (For those that are interested, this graph has also been normalized on a scale from 0-6, where the average across all sites is always a “3” and “0” is the absence of a particular factor).

Remember Site A and Site B from the previous post?  The question I posed about was: would you invest your limited resources in Site A, an over performer in the portfolio, or Site B, an under performer?  Without more context, you can’t make a good decision one way or the other.

To help you answer this question, let’s look at each site’s situation and BVI footprint for context: Read More »

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Movie Web Sites: A missed chance to engage audiences?

FACT: A box office blockbuster hit movie results in big web traffic numbers at the site managed by major motion picture studio. But the big audience draw at an official movie web site is temporary.

In 2009, I put together this chart on the web sites of three biggest films of 2008. The movie web sites for the top 3 films of 2008 nabbed about 500,000 unique visitors when the movies launched in theaters. About half that traffic number you’ll find on the sites a few months later when the DVD releases for the same film titles are promoted.

Top 10 Grossing Movies of 2010

I recently looked at some ComScore traffic statistics for the web sites of the top ten grossing movies of 2010 ; I discovered the trend of rapidly rising and falling web traffic at movie web sites has not changed since 2008.

In fact, the top 10 films of 2010 drew even more web traffic than ever – most every top 10 film drew over 1 million unique visitors to the official site at the time of film release. After the release, traffic to the official movie web site falls precipitously, maybe returning to about ½ of the numbers at the time of the DVD release.

Despite being a long term franchise, site only experiences traffic when a new title in the series is in theaters.

Eventually the movie sites are abandoned or just stay online and have few visitors. This happens quite often because there is no new content or little social engagement on the movie sites to motivate fans to come back.

As outlined an IDC whitepaper (offered here by the Cisco Media Solutions Group), the average movie promotional web site costs $1 to $3 million to design, develop and host during the theatrical release (typically 4-6 weeks of heavy traffic). Those costs includes all design and development, staffing and technology infrastructure.

It’s amazing to consider all these resources are applied towards a single movie site while the audiences visit, leave and never come back. It makes you wonder what the return on the investment is.

Chris Thilk agrees – Thilk runs a web site On his site, he covers how major movie studios market their films, especially digitally. In a post he wrote for called ‘Why Do Most Movie Web Sites Suck’ (subscription required), Thilk faults studios for not committing to the conversation around their movies on the Facebook pages they’ve created for their movie titles. He also wonders why the official movie sites do not have as much information as the Facebook pages:

I keep noticing big gaps between what I know has been created and what is available on official movies sites, which are (in theory) supposed to be a movie’s central hub of information. Often missing are bios on the stars, other versions of the trailer (especially after you’ve seen them on TV), photo galleries and more.

Chris Thilk also hits on a theme we’ve blogged about here many times he believes a movie marketing web site should be the central hub for the conversation around a film title. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube comments can all be aggregated back on the main movie site, while social tools should be added to the movie site so fans can share content from the main site with their social networks like Facebook (read a related Cisco blog post on how social sharing features can drive audience back to a branded entertainment web site).

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Creating Effective Digital Sponsorships through Social Entertainment Experiences


The concept of sponsorships is often confused and intermingled with advertising in the online world. In reality, sponsorships are a different vehicle than traditional display or video advertising and as a result have different objectives for the advertiser and different intended effects on the consumer. The Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) distinguishes sponsorships from advertising as the following:

In line with the definitions above, a complete site takeover of the NY Times home page by a brand like Coke (that includes a complete buyout of the ad inventory on the page) will be considered a sponsorship. The intent is for Coke to have a stronger brand association with NY Times, which cannot be achieved by the purchase of a simple ad unit.

With their unique nature, sponsorships can pose several issues for publishers:

Technology Issues

Sponsorship placements are not standardized by the IAB

The assumption with sponsorships is that advertisers want to create a truly unique and custom experience on a publisher website or mobile app. While the desire for customization is largely true, there is still a huge demand among advertisers for some standardized sponsorship placements on websites (e.g. page skin, media player skin etc). For this reason, publishers such as ESPN ( and Washington Post ( publish their sponsorship specifications on their website, so the advertiser can pick the one that they want. This standardization enables faster adoption of sponsorships and increase in revenue for the publishers.

Organizational Issues

The custom nature of sponsorships puts strain on the development organization to get them live and running. Unlike traditional advertising, where the ads are remotely served by an ad platform and does require any incremental development work on the publisher end; sponsorships are for the most part implemented as changes on the publisher site. This requires the publisher development team to be involved every time a sponsorship is created or updated. As a result, sponsorships require a longer lead-time and the allocation of scarce development resources.

Publishers have a hard time calculating the ROI, inhibiting further sponsorships. Implementing a sponsorship requires the creative design, engineering, ad operations and marketing organizations on the publisher side to be involved. Given the amount of staff needed to accommodate these sponsorships, the publisher is often at a loss to calculate the ROI on the sponsorship. Therefore, the publisher does not really have the incentive to create additional sponsorships.  Similarly, advertisers don’t have a discrete ROI metric to gauge the impact of their sponsorship outside of traditional reach and view metrics.

Standard IAB Ad units are easier to sell; ad sales know how to sell them; brands know how to buy them. Standardization of IAB ad units have enabled publisher ad sales to easily sell this inventory on their sites, either directly or via ad networks since advertisers know exactly what they are buying. This is not the case with sponsorships; the custom nature of sponsorships implies that the publisher has to engage in a conversation with a potential advertiser to explain the nature of the digital sponsorship, the creative placement etc. As mentioned above, sites such as ESPN and Washington Post have attempted to standardize these placements and in some ways define a standard for their own site.

Cisco Eos and Sponsorships

With its focus on delivering high-value, brand experiences, the creation of digital sponsorships on Cisco Eos websites is greatly simplified by the flexible site customization tools and the separation of the presentation and and application layers. Publishers can leverage Cisco Eos to create and manage digital sponsorships without disrupting the content experience, or day-to-day operations of their websites.

Case Study – Variety Screenings 2010

In a recent implementation, Variety Magazine created an Eos-powered web site to host video content around their Variety Screening Series 2010 ( To enhance the value of the sponsorship of the physical movie screening, Variety enabled three different digital sponsorships (site takeovers) on the home page – Dell, Altoids and West Hollywood Tourism Bureau.

Dell Takeover of the Variety Screenings 2010 Site

Altoids Takeover of the Variety Screenings 2010 Site

Publisher was able to enable three different sponsored versions of the site with rotation of the versions, without making any code changes to the site. The sponsorships were de-coupled from an implementation standpoint from the actual site.

Following are the key benefits of using Cisco Eos to enable digital sponsorships.

o   The site customization tools enable the publisher to create a sponsored version of the site without impacting the live site and without having to make any code changes. Cisco Eos’ versioning capabilities enable the publisher and the advertiser to review the sponsorship site and when ready, make the sponsored site live.

o   Cisco Eos streamlines the process of creating digital sponsorships on a publisher site and turns it more into a creative exercise as opposed to an engineering task.

NOTE: The Variety Screening Series site only implemented site takeovers as a type of sponsorship on the publisher website. However, Cisco Eos is agnostic of the specific type of sponsorship and provides the same flexibility to implement other types of sponsorship (such as player skinning, specific page skinning, module attributions to a brand etc).

Using the flexible design and customization features in Cisco Eos make it easier and more efficient for publishers to offer sponsorships as part of their digital inventory. This empowers them to build more sponsorships more often thereby increasing revenue and reducing costs.

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