As with most Kara Swisher panels, "Spotlight on Social Media" was full of heavy-hitters and big ideas. Swisher opened up the floor with her trademark pointed cynicism: "If social media and storytelling is lonelygirl15 and Facebook poking, we're screwed." From there it was a fast and furious exchange that I've managed to distill into some key subjects.
What Hasn't Worked
Robert Tercek, President of Digital Media for The Oprah Winfrey Network (www.oprah.com/own): Social networks focused on niches like food, racing, etc. A successful social network is one formed around a media object or content like films, personalities or TV channels just to name a few. There's a feeling of connectedness.
Chris Gebhardt, EVP & GM of TakePart, Participant Media’s new social action network (www.takepart.com): Community is an audience with something to do, a social bond. Tough to get a community going and to connect with audiences. We displayed a mobile shortcode at the end of "The Cove" to drive people instantly to act. This single touchpoint doesn't always work though.
Jason Hirschhorn, Chief Product Officer for MySpace (www.myspace.com): Online promotion of a film works up until the film opens. No one has looked at premiering a film online. What does this model look like? This current partnership between Sundance and YouTube will be an interesting one to watch.
Dave Eun, VP of Content for Google (www.google.com): Every filmmaker deserves an audience, but after the content is produced how is it shared? The YouTube platform aids in the connection between films and audiences so that sharing becomes meaningful. What hasn't happened: organically building the community as you're creating the project. Process of making a film and engaging an audience doesn't have to be separate.
Ondi Timoner, Director of "We Live in Public," which won the Grand Jury Prize in the documentary category last year at Sundance Film Festival (www.weliveinpublicthemovie.com): We lacked funds for advertising and marketed through texting.
Matt Jacobson, Head of Market Development for Facebook (www.facebook.com): Facebook being a content creator. "Mass Animation" was a crowd-sourced CG animated film that we required to be of theatrical and Academy Award quality. In the end it showed us it wasn't a scalable path. We're really focused on Facebook being a wide-serving platform. It's a dangerous game to create a platform specifically for music or movies.
MySpace, Facebook, Google/YouTube and The Oprah Winfrey Network as "Distributors"
Hirschhorn: This is pre-supposing that filmmakers want a channel or theatre release. We (MySpace) look at it a different way. Use our platform anyway you like to promote. We will not create the content, but we will be an exclusive vehicle to show the film. We can't have the same cost structures as a film distributor because it eats away at the bottom line. We want to continue to be a platform where Warner Bros. or The Oprah Winfrey Network can house their content, but also work with XYZ to distribute their content. Ubiquity is great, but CPM wise you want something exclusive.
Tercek: The Oprah Winfrey Network is not a tv channel, but an aggregator of audience. We consider it an ongoing conversation that travels through TV, websites and the network. TV is not the most participatory medium and our goal is to get people active in the real world. Inspire meaningful action, document it and upload it to the website. We call it the "action ecology." You have to give people a meaningful role as participants, transmitters and amplifiers.
Eun: Calling YouTube a distribution channel is over-simplifying and misses the point. We try to connect people with each other around video and there's an infinite amount of content to accomplish this. We don't want to tell you what's good or bad, we collect your signals of what you and your friends like to suggest videos you might like.
Hirschorn: We don't need to create branded content. We have an audience that we know and can target them based on what a brand wants.
Eun: We did a three-way deal with Burger King and Seth McFarlane. He created a bunch of animated shorts and actually made fun of Burger King, but they got the type of messaging they wanted so he rode a fine line. Scalable, sometimes we don't know what that means. You can do three branded content projects a year though you really need to be doing 3 million. Everyone wants the silver bullet, but everyone is still figuring it out. For us, it's about giving choice, we don't know the answers, but let's give you enough tools to try and let us know what works.
Gebhardt: There's always been a tension between editorial and advertising, priority for us is protecting the creation. Also it's got to be about branded community formation. Content creation, the community around that content, then providing brands access to this community. Essentially using entertainment to create community.
Jacobson: Embedding brands in content is nothing new. Films have been using product placement forever. We need to create more meaningful integration and make the pond of interested brands bigger.
Eun: We want to empower you to be able to make money doing what you love, making films for the world.
Gebhardt: There is movement in this direction of filmmakers making money, but it's painfully slow. Dollars flowing into this space, we just need more time to figure out what works.
Hirschhorn: It's in our best interest to make sure content creators get paid eventually as they are creating the content that drives traffic to MySpace.
Timoner: You can make money, its just a slow boat to China.
Hirschhorn: I always get squirmy talking about quality. Is "Avatar" better "quality" then "We Live in Public"?
Eun: Who is to judge what is good quality for someone else? We let the audience choose. The generalization of YouTube videos as "dog on a skateboard" quality is a big studios viewpoint. As if to say we (the big studios) make good quality content and you (users) make bad quality content.
Predicting the Most Important Developments in 2010
Eun: The process is part of the product.
Timoner: Get your kid to college.
Gebhardt: Building engagement into every single piece of content.
Hirschorn: Fan created content.
Other Choice Takeaways
Swisher: Craigslist didn't kill the classified business, it collapsed it.
Tercek: Only two ways to get paid, either paying attention or paying money and you have to offer a strong proposition for either.
Timoner: Documentaries are becoming less and less of a theatrical platform. 2004, 2005 were the peak for documentaries and hopefully that returns.