Online Audience Engagement: Video 2.0 Content Into Context

(This feature, excerpted from a contribution by Medialink, is part of the recently released PR News guidebook, "Digital PR." For more information on this and other PR New guidebooks, please visit Media relations has long been a core technique of the practice of public relations. But in this adrenalin-infused culture of anytime and anywhere media where modern concepts such as disintermediation, direct-to-consumer outreach, and leveraging the long tail represent new challenges, how does a PR professional relate to the media today? In stark contrast to the advertising world where disciplines are generally split into creative and media, the public relations industry has largely measured its success by the quantity of media garnered regardless of the quality of written, visual or aural work produced. And, since there are few guarantees in the world of public relations--certainly none with editorial coverage--the natural corollary is for scarcity to drive value. So after years of trying to win over the media gatekeepers and measuring campaigns by the quantity of press clips and broadcast airchecks, how is a PR practitioner going to make sense of this new world order? The rise of the Internet as a universal platform for media consumption already has shifted the perspective for many PR strategists onto creative content--namely video. The name of the new game is to rethink the standard fare of PR deliverables. PR executives who are achieving early success with Web video are evolving into savvy producers and programmers who develop meaningful content and create the appropriate context with self-branded media delivery vehicles. In doing so, PR veterans are becoming painfully aware that proven earned media models, which had guided them through the dawn of television into the age of 24-hour video news, present limitations in today's video 2.0 world. Far too many PR professionals still are applying traditional media rules that were established based on decades of studies conducted on TV viewing habits. While some of those rules still work, others need to evolve. Audience Engagement with Video Let's examine four paradigms that drive audience engagement with video in the advent of this new age of public relations: video technology, video distribution, consumption habits and content. 1. Video Technology: Conventional television remains the primary mass consumption vehicle for video. However, audiences are growing more selective and opting for more intimate media experiences, choosing devices that offer personalization and mobility such as digital video recorders, wireless computers, portable video players and smart phones. According to the Pew Research Center's Pew Internet & American Life Project, which surveyed nearly 3,500 Americans about their use of and attitudes toward information and communications technology (ICT), there are 10 distinct segments of users (see chart on page 6). The Pew/Internet study illustrates that technology sophisticates encompass the combined group of Omnivores, Connectors, Lackluster Veterans and Productivity Enhancers. These segments represent the age range of 28 to 40, use four or more types of IT appliances and lead the pack in their home use of broadband. Yet the results also indicate that the dividing line between adoption and tolerance of emerging technology is not necessarily one defined by age. The middle-of-the-road Mobile Centrics break the pattern of age and high-speed Internet adoption. Mobility, utility and community are of critical importance to them, and cell phones are the devices of choice. With such diversity in preferences, manufacturers have rapidly kept up with the demand for video-playing features on all types of personal media technology. In January 2007, Apple announced plans to launch its iPhone, a video-enabled, multimedia mobile phone that is the next generation of the company's wildly successful iPod product. The iPhone follows Apple's introduction of the video iPod in 2005, which temporarily shut down Apple's online store on the first day of availability due to higher than usual Web traffic. Much fanfare has often accompanied such product launches because of the value placed on winning the approval of the most avid technology fanatics. These "first in line" consumers, many of whom are technology journalists, can impact product sales with their personal reviews. The stakes are high for technology makers, as the future holds the greater promise of broader mainstream acceptance. Product features will be designed to be even more user friendly to attract late adopters or technophobes. In addition, younger generations that have easily embraced technology will come of age to influence demand in the marketplace. 2. Video Distribution: Traditionally, video has been delivered via terrestrial distribution, cable and satellite. Widespread adoption of broadband delivery means that more content--especially video--can be consumed on the Web with a quality that is becoming an acceptable alternative to broadcast TV. A major broadband milestone was passed five years ago when a Nielsen NetRatings survey found that 51% of Americans surveyed used broadband connections instead of dial-ups. The switch by consumers to high-speed Internet was accelerated by a shift in the U.S. home broadband market. According to a 2006 Pew/Internet report, telephone companies offering more attractively priced digital subscriber line (DSL) connections for home users have started to reverse a trend in which cable companies had enjoyed an early lead. The Pew/Internet results showed that DSL accounted for 50% of the home broadband market, as compared to 41% for cable modem providers. Top names in the race to establish the broadband platform of choice are Brightcove, Joost, Maven Networks, Narrowstep, Permission TV and RooMedia, companies that are focused on serving midsize and major content providers such as traditional network TV producers, Hollywood studios and sports entertainment programmers. Others like YouTube and Revver have established their brands with consumer-generated content. There are even business-to-business specialists that provide robust broadband video solutions primarily for corporations and organizations to publish and share their news and marketing content with journalists and Web publishers. 3. Consumption Habits: Access to more abundant bandwidth affords the consumer more freedom and greater power in the way video may be viewed. This is an historical change that closes the chapter on the half century-old oligarchy of network TV programming and ushers in a more democratic system in which the consumer truly manages the entire consumption process. Remember NBC's "must-see TV" promotion for its fabled Thursday night lineup? The effectiveness of that network TV promotion was based entirely on the concept of appointment viewing. With the exceptions of mega-hits such as the Super Bowl and "American Idol," today's consumers insist on having full control of the video experience, and that means video on- demand 24/7, interactivity and mobility. Viewers are no longer gazing intently at the TV monitor waiting for the programming to be fed to them; they're grazing media throughout the day. And the Internet is playing a larger role in that modified behavior. 4. Content: In developing its own protocols, the budding Web video industry borrowed a page out of the TV playbook by first segregating ads from editorial and entertainment content. Internet audiences were first introduced to in-page video ads with endcap-style positioning, where advertisements ran before or after the native programming. True to their origins, these ad clips looked a lot like traditional TV commercials that were selling or promoting products. The quantum leap for viewers and marketers alike was the Web's ability to present specialized programming for well-defined audiences and interactive features that allow for direct communications. Of course, interactivity has come a long way since such relatively simple Web applications like e-mail and mobile text messaging led the groundswell. YouTube first captured the imagination of legions of amateur video producers, who embraced the video sharing network's ease of publishing and instant access to a worldwide audience of millions. In March 2007, the popular Web site announced the winners of its first YouTube Video Awards, among them the video series, "Ask a Ninja," which beat Web celebrity Lonelygirl15, who gained notoriety for being outed as an actress in what appeared to be ongoing video blog entries of a real teenager named Bree. Along with interactivity, precise targeting is another dimension of audience engagement that has contributed to the rapid development of content for both the Internet and, indirectly, its parent, television. The two-way demand for a more relevant video experience in the relationship between marketers and audiences has brought about the emergence of a third genre of video content: narrative marketing. PRN An overview of the groups of information and communication technology users % of general population Median age Number of IT devices (of 8) % with broadband at home What you need to know about them Omnivores 8% 28 6.0 89% They have the most information gadgets and services, which they use voraciously to participate in cyberspace and express themselves online and do a range of Web 2.0 activities such as blogging or managing their own Web pages. Connectors 7% 38 5.0 86 Between feature-packed cell phones and frequent online use, they connect to people and manage digital content using ICTs--all with high levels of satisfaction about how ICTs let them work with community groups and pursue hobbies. Lackluster Veterans 8% 40 4.1 77 They are frequent users of the Internet and less avid about cell phones. They are not thrilled with ICT-enabled connectivity. Productivity Enhancers 8% 40 4.3 71 They have strongly positive views about how technology lets them keep up with others, do their jobs and learn new things. Mobile Centrics 10% 32 3.9 37 They fully embrace the functionality of their cell phones. They use the Internet, but not often, and they like how ICTs connect them to others. Connected But Hassled 10% 46 3.4 80 They have invested in a lot of technology, but they find the connectivity intrusive and information something of a burden. Inexperienced Experimenters 8% 50 2.9 15 They occasionally take advantage of interactivity, but if they had more experience, they might do more with ICTs. Light But Satisfied 15% 53 2.5 15 They have some technology, but it does not play a central role in their daily lives. They are satisfied with what ICTs do for them. Indifferents 11% 47 2.0 12 Despite having either cell phones or online access, they use ICTs only intermittently and find connectivity annoying. Off the Network 15% 64 0.5 0 Those with neither cell phones nor Internet connectivity tend to be older adults who are content with old media. Source: Pew Internet & American Life Project April 2006 Survey. N=3,355 for Internet and cell phone users. Margin of error is +/- 2%

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