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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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Using Data to Manage and Optimize Your (Content) Brand’s Value

One of the benefits media companies enjoy from using an integrated platform like Cisco Eos to deliver their social entertainment experiences is having a singular data view on how audiences are interacting with and around their branded content.  This data can be extremely valuable in helping enhance or optimize the value of the content experiences for both the consumer and the business — or, it can be just another distraction.

As an ex-data wonk (and now a marketer trying to leverage a multitude of measurement systems), I know that more data is not always more useful.  With the overwhelming amounts of data available from your online channels, the more rare asset is actionable insights that can be derived from all that raw data.  Many times insights can come from simply putting individual data points (e.g. a 10% increase in traffic) into context — which helps me understand if a 10% increase is a good outcome relative to what I’m trying to achieve, or some external benchmarks.  The ability to provide context around individual metrics gives marketers and website operators a robust platform for testing and evaluating the value each web experience is delivering to its audience.

Introducing the Cisco Eos Brand Value Index (BVI)

We’ve generated a significant amount of data across the 100 Eos-powered web sites, and we recently put on our data spelunking caps to dig into this data to find actionable best practices our customers could use today, as well as to define a framework for contextualizing the broader data landscape generated by Eos interactions.

What I’d like to do now is to introduce you to some early thinking on a contextual analytics framework in Cisco Eos that we’re calling the Brand Value Index (BVI).

Before you ask, a couple of points on the data: Read More »

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2010: A Year in Review for Cisco Eos

Year end is a natural time to sit back and take stock of what you’ve achieved throughout the year.  As we jotted down some accomplishments for Cisco Eos in preparation for this year’s annual pilgrimage to the Consumer Electronics Show, I realized  how busy 2010 was for the Cisco Media Solutions Group and the Cisco Eos social entertainment platform.

  • Over the last 12 months, the number of Eos-powered websites has grown to nearly 100 sites including some big names like Wenlock and Mandeville — the mascots for the London 2012 Olympics delivered by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic GamesKid Rock and Cisco’s own Do You Flip? site for all those user-generated videos coming in from the advertising campaign.  With 4-5 new sites come online per month we had to give up posting images of new sites on the wall when we ran out of room…
  • Traffic across the Eos-powered sites continues to grow and we’re now averaging 3.6+ M unique visitors and 15 M Page Views per month.  We saw a 20+% spike in November as a couple of sites made big content pushes going into the holiday shopping season.  Good news is that our Unified Computing System (UCS) based data centers continue to handle both the growing and dynamic traffic with minimal downtime.
  • The product and engineering teams continued to crank out features with 10 software releases taking place in 2010 that represented more than 300 individual features and enhancements.  Some of the big accomplishments include:
  1. Internationalization —  a big development focus for Eos in 2010, customers can now localize the  content and language for a site and manage it from the common Eos administrative application.
  2. Mobile applications — in addition to delivering content to homegrown mobile apps, Eos customers can now launch and manage iPhone and Android mobile apps built on an Eos framework.  Here’s an example of an Android app built for the Variety Screening Series 2010.
  3. Audience and media analytics — to help customers optimize the value of their sites, we now delivered detailed Audience and Media consumption analytics in the platform.  This is a first step in adding value through the interactions data available in Eos.
  4. Bulk management tools — most homegrown media platforms don’t effectively scale beyond 15-20 sites because of the difficulty of maintaining and upgrading all of those sites.  The common administrative interface for Eos helps with some of those issues, but we also know we need to make it easier for customers to manage and grow all these great sites they’re launching.  To that end, we’ve delivered some of the bulk management capabilities customers need, but we’ve got a lot more we’ll be looking to build in the future.

The list of what happened in 2010 could go on, but we’re going to save some of that to share with you at CES and in the coming weeks.  Thanks to all of our customers, partners and readers of this blog for a great year.

If you haven’t already seen it, be sure to check out this video of CMSG SVP and General Manager Dan Scheinman for his perspective on trends in the media industry through 2010, and the increasing importance of social entertainment solutions like Cisco Eos in helping media companies grow the value of their online brands.

Cheers, and we look forward to continuing the conversation with you in 2011.

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Online Entertainment – What’s more important – Content or Technology?

Mary Meeker - Morgan Stanley Slide on the Online Advertising Market

At the Web 2.0 Summit 2010, internet analyst Mary Meeker presented data, shown above. The chart she offered drives home an important point to media and entertainment companies – 28% of our time spent with media in the US is on the internet – so we expect our media brands to deliver online. And Nielsen also released data this summer  showing 22% of the time people spend on the internet is with social media. In aggregate, Web users spend a total of 110 billion minutes on social Web sites and blogs each month. Therefore media companies must tailor and create engaging digital content to speak to the audiences who want to interact with content brands online and across social media sites. But what’s more important when trying to create appealing media experiences for socially engaged audiences who are spending 28% of their media time online: Is the technology experience more important than the content? Or is the content more important than the technology experience? Vivi Zigler, President of NBC Universal Digital Entertainment (bio link here), attempted to address this question at the Digital Media Conference West in San Francisco:

Vivi Zigler tells us in the clip that NBC Universal has to tailor and tweak existing technologies to the story lines of the NBC TV shows and to the shifting tastes of the online audiences to create engaging experiences.  How does NBC Universal adapt technology to changing television story lines and still create an engaging and quality experiences? (continued ..)
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