nScreenMedia OTT multiscreen media analysis

HuffPost Live, Crackle diverge on secret to OTT success

HuffPost Live

Executives from Crackle and HuffPost Live displayed very different approaches to the market in their key note presentations at BroadbandTVCon this week. One is looking to capture the interest of those steeped in the traditional television consumption model, while the other seeks out the digital natives.

Eric Berger - Crackle

Eric Berger – Crackle

In his presentation TV That Strikes a Cord, EVP of Digital Networks at Sony Pictures Eric Berger talked about Crackle’s approach to the online market. He started out with some data justification for why Sony launched Crackle at all. According to his research, 19% of US consumers are considering cutting the cord and 25% of millennial viewers (18-29 years old) are simply unreachable by traditional TV. This led him to conclude that: “If you want 100% of the market, you have to do TV-Everywhere and over-the-top.”

Crackle is Sony’s answer for the cord cutters who still crave the TV experience. Through a mix of library content and online originals, Crackle resembles many general entertainment cable channels, like TNT and USA network.

However, Crackle is taking advantage of some of the benefits of the Internet in its service. Ad interactivity is baked into the platform with a feature called cRoll. The company is also leveraging user data. To explain how, Mr. Berger introduced a new term (at least new to me): programmatic entertainment. Programmatic buying is leveraging data to automate the ad buying process. Programmatic entertainment is leverage data to target content that is best suited to the audience. Mr. Berger says the folks at Crackle are using this approach to both license the right content and create well-targeted original shows.

Roy Sekoff - HuffPost Live

Roy Sekoff – HuffPost Live

The picture painted by Roy Sekoff, President and Co-Creator of HuffPost Live, couldn’t have been more different. HuffPost Live (HPL) is based on the premise that, as Mr. Sekoff put it, “you can’t get engagement like live” and “you have to be live so people can join you.” Rather than focus on the recitation of the news, the stories act as a jumping off point for a broader conversation about the topic.

The lifeblood of the HPL experience is the viewer. This is apparent from the first time you visit the site. The live video discussion occupies just the top left corner of the screen. Immediately below it is the “Resource Well” where the editors of the segment share the data resources they are using to guide the discussion. To the right is the “Comment Well” where viewer comments are displayed.

However, the most important feature on the whole home page is the “Be an on-air guest” button. Here viewers can submit their video comments and questions. These are reviewed by producers at HPL and the most appropriate are included in the broadcast.

The “Be an on-air guest” feature is crucial to the HPL experience. Rather than rely on the traditional talking-head experts, Mr. Sekoff said they look for user comments from people with “skin in the game.” For example, if the discussion is Obamacare, a single mother with a sick child that can’t get health care has skin the game. And this is where HPL differs from CNN and Fox News, according to Mr. Sekoff. He said, “We <the viewer> have data coming out of ears; what we are lacking is narrative and storytelling.” The on-air guests provide that narrative, bringing life to otherwise dry, dull information.

This approach appears to be working. Mr. Sekoff said that HPL has attracted 1.3B views with an average of 22M monthly unique viewers watching for, on average, 18 minutes each.

Why it matters

Online video services are evolving to fill every available content type and niche.

Sometimes these services seek to emulate a TV experience, as in the case of Crackle.

Others seek to engage in entirely new ways, as with Huffpost Live.

All are beginning to find ready audiences online.

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