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PERSPECTIVE

A hyper-engaged age

By Drew Buckley 11-06-2015

Five years ago, a visionary friend asked me to join him on a ride to create the next-generation content studio. The mission of the business was to create hit, populist content not only for traditional television partners but also for new digital platforms. That friend was Ben Silverman and the company we co-founded was Electus, backed by Barry Diller’s IAC.

I recall vividly the slides of our business plan in which we confidently stated that within five years digital platforms would be investing in original content alongside traditional TV networks. The brand logos scattered across our slides included Amazon, Netflix, MSN, Yahoo and YouTube. At the time, many questioned if these platforms would ever recognise the value of investing in original content exclusively for their audiences. I knew the objections well. During my tenure at Yahoo Media Group – where Lloyd Braun started Yahoo Original Studios – I served as the general manager and fought the doubters, both internally and externally.

However, these platforms continued to grow, and with big dollars on the line they had to diversify from one another. Some accomplished growth through investment in technology, while others gained an advantage with exclusive, premium, original content.

Luckily for us, it didn’t take five years. In spring 2012, YouTube announced its US$100m original channels initiative and in early 2013, Netflix placed a big US$100m bet on one TV-calibre series, House of Cards. We partnered early with YouTube and launched three funded channels, and today have series on multiple digital platforms including Netflix – which has commissioned our Marco Polo drama for a second season – Amazon, and others.

At the five-year mark of our business plan, it’s now common to consider these digitally distributed platforms as buyers of premium content similar to those of traditional networks. It truly is the golden age of TV and a great time to be an independent content studio. We work hard to galvanise the greatest storytelling talent we can find and help to bring their visions to life on every platform that counts.

Every good business has to reinvent itself as the surrounding market changes. Now that digital buyers have been established and are thriving, how are we planning to address the next five years of existing and new buyers? What does the future hold and where are we investing to compete? Dusting off that original business plan slide, the new landscape of partners includes platforms like Instagram, Vine, Facebook, Occulus, GoPro, Snapchat, Vimeo and others, and the dynamics of storytelling on each is so very different.

To prepare for a future of great storytelling no matter the platform, we at Electus believe that you have to embrace ‘platform-specific programming’ now and even more in years to come.

It is great content married with killer data and insights, strong audience development capabilities, and technology that simply ‘works,’ no matter how you access the content. Just like in the past, when you waited to see if a concept would work via next-day television ratings, in the future data will be the key driver on how best to alter the content for the specific platform. You will continually have to rapidly test formats, talent and concepts, and can reformat content on a dime because of direct feedback from a hyper-engaged audience.

We formed Electus Digital in early 2014 through an internal merger with another IAC company, CollegeHumor, which is top in its category on YouTube and Facebook.

In the comedy genre, our presence across these platforms serves as a real-time incubator of IP. This reach has enabled us to bring seven new longform projects to various digital and TV partners – all based on our CollegeHumor IP and talent. We are replicating that model in the gaming, fandom culture and men’s lifestyle verticals through our brands Dorkly and WatchLOUD.

A multi-platform content studio of the future has to understand what works for a 10ft versus 2ft versus 2in viewing experience. Hit content programming will emerge in all forms and lengths across a myriad new platforms, but it will come from storytellers who truly understand the differences of each. As I look ahead, I predict studios of the future will need to have the ability to distribute content directly and on a variety of platforms. This will be an essential part of the IP development process in years to come. We think we are a few steps ahead.

today's correspondent

Drew Buckley COO, head of digital Electus

Drew Buckley is a founding partner of Electus, as well as the company’s chief operating officer and head of digital, where he is responsible for overseeing finance, acquisitions and all transactions within Electus and their partner companies.

In addition, Buckley oversees a team of digital executives focused on creating new content experiences for Electus Digital, which comprises website properties CollegeHumor.com, Dorkly.com and WatchLOUD.com; YouTube channels WatchLOUD, Nuevon and Hungry; and production companies Big Breakfast and dumbdumb.