Last November, then-Time Inc. CEO Laura Lang announced that the company was gearing up to launch a digital video unit complete with new studios and programming, plus a new leader in former Meredith video exec J.R. McCabe, Time Inc.’s first svp, video. It wasn’t exactly a revolutionary move—other top publishers like Hearst Magazines and Condé Nast had already entered the video space in recent years—but for Time Inc., it signaled an important step forward.
And now, after a long wait and a new CEO, it’s finally ready to roll.
“When I got here, there were certain brands doing things individually [with video], but there wasn’t a centralized, strategic vision throughout the company. There wasn’t a high level of commitment,” said McCabe. His first big challenge, he said, was “bringing everyone together so that we were all headed in the right direction.” To that end, he made about a dozen hires, placed exec producers to oversee each brand vertical and, just recently, did a casting call for on-screen talent. A new studio with livestreaming capabilities was built in the New York offices, while video facilities in Birmingham, Ala. (where most of the Lifestyle group is based), expanded.
Meanwhile, when it came to a content strategy, McCabe wanted to focus on certain categories—namely, live programming and franchise-based shows—that would differentiate Time Inc.’s offerings. The first big launch, in June, was Sports Illustrated’s live daily video show, SI Now, followed by a weekly live show, Pro Football Now. (Building on the live strategy, Time Inc. inked a partnership with CNN Newsource, allowing its brands to use the network’s raw news footage.) This November, Entertainment Weekly will debut two new daily shows, The Must List and TV Recaps, based on its popular magazine franchises. Other forthcoming programs include The Top 3, a Time magazine-branded daily social media brief, and Real Simple’s Tip of the Day.
While the new content will be placed “front and center” on respective brands’ pages, said McCabe, Time Inc. is also planning to widely distribute its video content. The company has signed distribution deals with the AOL On Network, Alloy Digital, NewsLook and NDN, and created a production team dedicated exclusively to YouTube.
“There was not an existing deal beforehand for user-initiated content above the fold. We were not able to commercialize it with any regularity,” McCabe said. “This partner network will allow us to guarantee the ability to deliver views.” McCabe is bullish, projecting 40 million to 50 million new views per month.
The distribution pacts are a major draw for advertisers, which, according to McCabe, have “constantly” asked for more video content. Ford Motor Co. made one of the first major buys, signing on as presenting sponsor of SI Now. “When there’s something unique like the live show that SI is doing right now, which brings value to their consumers and shows a commitment on their part, we want to be a part of it,” said Ford and Lincoln digital media manager Erica Bigley.
Jim Bacharach, vp of brand strategy and communications for John Hancock, which sponsors Pro Football Now, said that his brand was attracted to SI's weekly series for its value as a companion to the sports TV programming its customers were already consuming. “Half the time they’re watching TV, they’re engaged in their smartphone or tablet,” he said. “Because we advertise on pro football telecast primarily on the NFL Network and ESPN, we want to be there with a second screen presence. [Pro Football Now] provides a kickoff point to our sports fan's weekend."
With CEO Joe Ripp now on board, Time Inc.’s video push will continue to expand exponentially, according to McCabe. He is looking ahead to the company’s debut at the 2014 NewFronts as he plans new initiatives in the mobile space, even considers the possibility of a Time Inc. venture on TV. “Before Joe came in, he said that we’re not just a print company, we’re a media company,” said McCabe. “I think that fits into the spirit of this.”