3 Reasons to Believe Great Original Programming Is the Future of Digital Video

Awards, Amazon and a hunger for storytelling

Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something. That's Plato. Simple words. Rich in meaning.

As we look to the fourth annual Digital Content NewFronts, we can expect to see more rich content slates and high-quality programming options from wise men and women, and luckily, fewer fools (I use this reference respectfully, versus literally) who do not yet believe that premium digital serials are the future of entertainment.

Tony Weisman

Three reasons for my optimism: Awards, Amazon and the proliferation of stories worth telling and seeing.

The Holy Trinity of Hollywood awards—Oscars, Emmy's, Golden Globes—have typically honored Fox Searchlight Pictures, for example, over the likes of an Amazon or Netflix when it came to trophy contention and credit lists.

The conversation, however, got a streaming-swift kick in the traditional model derrière when the Emmy's handed Netflix's House of Cards nine nominations (and three wins) for its first season. This year, the trend is further fortified by the win of Amazon's Transparent and Jeffrey Tambor for Best Television Series, Comedy or Musical, and Best Actor in a Television series, Comedy or Musical, respectively.

It's beyond starting. It started. Viewers spoke with the two most valuable things they have to offer: their time and money. And no one knows this better than Amazon, the online retail giant who made buying dangerously easy and the shopping cart famous. Amazon knows your future—before you live it.

According to CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon invested $1.3 billion in Prime Instant Video in 2014, picking up programming exclusives and HBO content. Despite an aggressive membership price hike from $79.00 to $99.00 a year, few blinked. In fact, membership subsequently grew 50 percent. Amazon is making big, hearty bets, as are other progressive publishers and distributors, among them our fellow founding partners of the Digital Content NewFronts (DCNF) including AOL, Hulu, Yahoo, YouTube and newcomers like Maker and Vice. Each has stories to be told, and stories worth discovering.

Which brings me to my final reason to be optimistic: the proliferation of stories well-told, worth watching and dollar-worthy. EMarketer released an updated report this month forecasting that the digital video ad marketplace will reach $9.6 billion by 2016. Between 2013 and 2014, there was a 52 percent increase in spending.

Also in 2013, the second year of the Digital Content NewFronts, a "Call to Arms" letter was sent to publishers and published in Adweek, authored by the big buying brains and brawn across Starcom, Zenith, UM, my agency, DigitasLBi, among others. It asked that publishers invest in three focus areas if indeed we are to have collective skin-in-the-game and "give digital video (and its consumers) the attention, the brands, and yes, the dollars, that it deserves."

The first assignment was to give your shows the promotion they need and deserve. One of the biggest challenges in betting big on original, digital programming is giving advertisers the confidence that we can actually deliver audiences-at-scale. If you build it, will they watch, love, and follow? Likely not without a little help. 

Secondly, give us and our clients more reason to believe. Simply put, here's the ask: give us a reason to believe and trust our gut with metrics for guarantees. Let's call this the "gut-guarantee." We want to invest in your programming. We want hits. We want greater regularity in show quality. We want an arsenal of success stories. 

And lastly, back the faith with measurement.
 Help us build the bridge to these other screens. Not only through reach but also with metrics that value the true power of digital—engagement and interactivity—that builds dialogue with brands.

[Here is the IAB's response letter.]

How do you think we as an industry did during these last two years, in these three areas? My humble answer comes in this observation as reported by The Wrap: Streaming Crashes Golden Globes With Amazon's Historic Wins: "It's no coincidence then perhaps that one of (this year's) Globe's hottest afterparties, the Weinstein Company bash, had acquired Netflix as a co-sponsor. And on the signs advertising the soiree around the grounds of the Beverly Hilton, the word "Netflix" was bigger than the word Weinstein. Harvey taking a backseat during the awards season? Welcome to the future."

While I don't believe that Harvey Weinstein or any respected studio will ever take a step back (nor should they), consumer appetite for great stories—no matter the origin—continues to grow.  

Eight years ago, when DigitasLBi founded "NewFront", and went on to co-found the DCNF marketplace in 2012 as the only official agency partner, we had our share of criticisms and applause. In 2015, we look forward to the continuing wisdom and story making, telling, discovering and selling potential of this year's event. And a big thank you to the publishers, content creators, brands, consumers and agencies who together lifted the tide to everyone's benefit.

As for my prediction of a potential Golden Globe winner in 2016? Mozart in the Jungle (or perhaps I'm just a fool).

Tony Weisman (@TonyWeisman) is CEO of DigitasLBi North America.  This opinion piece is the second in a weekly series leading up the the start of the Digital Content NewFronts on Monday, April 27.