A CBS viewer isn’t likely to see the network run a promotion for NBC’s “Heroes” or ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” But on the Internet, cross-promotion of online video shows has become a way of business—and one that’s paying off.
Last month, online video-sharing site blip.tv formed a partnership with online network Revision3 to cross-promote each other’s shows. Revision3’s “Web Drifter” and blip.tv’s “Geek Entertainment TV” have been running post-roll ads promoting the other show for about a month now. Since the promotion started, “Geek Entertainment TV’s” viewership has risen 93%, and Revision3 said views of “Web Drifter” have doubled.
As a result, the two parties extended the deal into mid-January. Blip.tv is a platform that carries original and serialized shows for the Web and shares ad revenue with creators. Revision3 produces online shows, most of which are tech-centric.
Other online video sites and services are marketing competitive sites and shows. Earlier this month, online video network Next New Networks, which distributes its shows across multiple Internet outlets, provided exclusive auto content to video-sharing site Veoh Networks and then promoted those videos on other auto blogs.
In the traditional TV world, these marketing tactics would make hyper-competitive executives cringe. But in today’s Web world, a rising tide lifts all boats. Web video viewership is growing overall, so Web video executives don’t feel as if they are competing in a zero-sum game.
Also, today’s Web video has been built on a notion of viral marketing, word-of-mouth and the pass-along effect. YouTube grew as blogs, MySpace pages and other sites embedded YouTube videos. The blogosphere, too, has blossomed from blogs linking to one another to drive traffic.
“Old media was about owning or controlling the content and the channel of distribution, marketing to get people to come to you, and holding onto them as best you could. New media in the Internet age is about links and about being distributed and aggregated,” said Jeff Jarvis, a noted blogger who runs the site buzzmachine.com. “So now it makes sense for you to get your content everywhere, and it also makes sense for you to add value by linking your readers to good stuff anywhere.”
Cross-promotion also makes sense from a practical standpoint because not all Web shows have sold out of ad inventory yet, said Jim Louderback, CEO of Revision3. “Because we have unsold inventory it makes sense. We might as well do something with our unsold spots,” he said.
As shows sell out, Revision3 will move on to the next show and use that time for additional cross-promotions, he said. In fact, blip.tv and Revision3 have started running cross-promotions for another pair of shows: blip.TV’s “Make” and Revision3’s “Systm.”
“We see it as part of the marketing mix going forward,” Mr. Louderback said. “If you look at folks producing high-quality serial stuff on the Web, there is no reason we shouldn’t all be working together to grow the Web. We are not competing with each other. We are competing with all the bad video out there.”
Web video has begun to move past its user-generated roots into professional content, but the companies still need to get that message out to Internet users, said Dina Kaplan, co-founder and chief operating officer of blip.tv. She engineered the Revision3 deal with Mr. Louderback over a breakfast meeting at Balthazar in New York’s Soho district in late October.
“We all have an interest in showing media companies, advertisers and audiences that there is more to video on the Web than viral video,” Ms. Kaplan said. “All of the companies involved in Web shows have a strong interest in promoting each other because we are all pushing advertisers to do more ads on Web shows and to show them there are quality programs on the Web.”
The anecdotal as well as the empirical evidence suggests such deals work. Ms. Kaplan received an e-mail from a “Web Drifter” fan just last week saying he had started tuning into blip.tv’s “Geek Entertainment TV” after seeing a promo on the Revision3 show.
Exclusivity of content is simply not an option on the Web today, nor should it be, said Tim Shey, head of network development at Next New Networks. The online video producer distributes its Web shows across a range of venues, such as YouTube, blip.TV and Veoh, as well as niche blog sites. “Nobody can control where stuff goes, and anyone who tries to keep content from flowing around the Internet will fail,” Mr. Shey said.
Exclusivity only works with ads and business models, he said. Next New strikes a range of ad-sharing deals with its partners. In some cases, Next New sells the ads. In some cases, the distributor does. But revenue is split commensurately in both cases. Also, if Next New sells ads in a show, it apportions the revenue split with each distribution partner based on the percentage of views that partner brings.
Cross-promotion is an essential component to the company’s business strategy. “We aren’t just trying to build destination sites. If you want to look at the era of destination sites, YouTube already won,” Mr. Shey said. “There are a lot of sites out there that are looking for great video content and can’t get enough of it.”
That includes Veoh Networks, the eighth-most-visited video-sharing site in October with 3.3 million unique visitors, according to Nielsen Online. Veoh offers a channel called “Rides” that includes auto-centric content from a number of content providers, including Next New, which produces the auto show “Fast Lane Daily.”
“To show we appreciated Veoh as a partner, we gave them some exclusive content from the L.A. Car Show and we talked about it everywhere else,” Mr. Shey said. That promotional message for the Veoh material appeared on dozens of car sites that carry “Fast Lane Daily,” he said, which means those other sites effectively encouraged viewers to go watch material elsewhere, driving traffic away. But blog traffic as a whole is built on linking back and forth.
Veoh has collaborated with other Web sites to promote their content, too, said Evan Labb, director of audience development at Veoh. For instance, Veoh had exclusive distribution of the horror Web series “Day of the Dying Living” from Mindsplinstersfilm and co-promoted it on both Veoh and mindsplintersfilms.com..
To make a cross-promotional deal work, the shows should ideally be on even footing, Ms. Kaplan said. “You want to make it an even trade, a fair deal.”
She said she plans to pursue other similar deals when appropriate and also expects to let blip.TV shows advertise on other blip.TV shows.
But don’t expect the love to last forever. In five years or so, when the Web is more established and viewership has stabilized, Web shows may be duking it out just like TV networks are.
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