Broadcasters and production houses are directing more resources into digital-only networks, as testing grounds for programming and talent as well as emerging revenue streams for specific interests and audiences.
Korean entertainment major CJ E&M, for example, has started trying out different formats and styles for professionally produced content by using YouTube stars from its own multichannel network (MCN), Dia TV, to host online shows for its traditional TV brands such as OnStyle, Olive TV, Tooniverse and Mnet.
At the same time, the broadcaster offers bundled ad sales across its cable offerings and equivalent genres in Dia TV, one of the largest MCNs in Asia, with around 30 million subs.
“Separating business models is not the right approach,” Dia TV’s head of global business development, Jenna Mok, remarked during a panel discussion at last week’s ATF conference in Singapore.
“The key is the content, but we should look at whether it is mass-driven or social-led,” she added.
Broadcasters must adapt to a world of mobile devices and personal screens, for both long-form and short-form content, Mok noted.
“Having an MCN division, CJ E&M is testing a lot of different things: what kind of business model will work, what kind of storytelling and content would resonate with the audience better, and then later on maybe implementing that back into the premium content we do,” she explained.
CJ relaunched its MCN, first set up in 2013, as Dia TV in May this year, in a bid to extend the YouTube network’s global reach and ramp up monetization.
As part of the push, Dia TV creators will feature on Channel M, CJ’s international offering for Southeast Asia, with negotiations underway with other online video platforms beyond YouTube, as well as other MCNs with international reach.
Stylehaul branches out
Meanwhile, fashion and beauty MCN StyleHaul is also experimenting with different ways to make money and attract viewers online, after testing a new sponsorship model with its first original production earlier this year.
Vanity, 12 11-minute episodes of scripted drama, made its debut on YouTube in June, with cosmetics brand Maybelline on board as an exclusive sponsor.
Maybelline products played a low key role in the show however, in favor of a more overt presence on StyleHaul channels for some of its creators and influencers, who also appeared on the show.
“They were able to take Maybelline’s commercial objectives outside of the show, so the show remained integral as an entertainment piece,” explained StyleHaul’s VP of Asia-Pacific, Philip Kitcher, speaking on the same session at ATF.
“As a model, it’s just where we may go in the future,” he added.
“We haven’t come up with the format that’s going to be the cookie-cutter scenario. I don’t even know if that exists any more in our business.”
StyleHaul is now part of RTL, after being taken over by the European broadcaster at the end of the 2014, providing the MCN with more leeway to experiment.
That includes more online drama productions, following Vanity as well as a second series of Storytellers – a web series first developed by one of StyleHaul’s creators that now has the digital arm of Hollywood studio Legendary Entertainment signed on as co-producer.
“We have a significant amount of cash, which will allow us to grow the business in a number of different ways,” Kitcher said.
“We believe original premium content is part of that. How all that breaks down in formats and minutage, we’re still learning”
At the same time, production house Endemol Shine is also building out its MCN, Endemol Beyond, as a bridge spanning ideation as well as monetization for both traditional and online media.
“We moved very quickly into digital to make sure we could answer the question, mostly from our advertisers and sponsors: what do we do digitally,” said Endemol Beyond’s head of digital and branded content for Asia, Christopher Smith.
“But we are now there in digital, we keep asking: can this extend into terrestrial, especially in Asia where we know that multi-generational families come together in a communal viewing environment,” Smith added, also speaking at ATF.
The group is planning to boost Beyond’s Asian footprint with a pan-Asian version of Icon – a beauty and lifestyle network run with vlogger Michelle Phan – due to launch before the year is out, with dedicated Korean and Japanese incarnations to follow.
Globally, Beyond will deepen its presence in other verticals, starting with a gaming initiative in Q1, as well as forays covering food, sports and lifestyle.
While traditional programming is still the mainstay of Endemol Shine’s business, the group is becoming increasingly interested in new platforms and media as its broadcast clients step up efforts to woo digital audiences.
“There’s an audience there they haven’t been able to grab or penetrate so they would like to bring them into the viewership fold,” observed Endemol Asia MD, Fotini Paraskakis.
“It’s a few broadcasters, not all, but using talent online will grow very fast for us, because the TV space is quite crowded now in terms of content,” she added.
“Everybody’s always looking for the next big idea, and there’s a natural progression to move to online.”