Marketing Content
in TV’s 3rd Golden Age (3/5)

An Epic Essay in 5 Episodes — by Frank Delmelle

How do you market Content (with an entertaining capital C) in times of “total audience fragmentation”? Since even the most authoritative voices tend to scatter their answers across a.o. the 2 million blogposts people publish every day, we fitted their very best shots into a neat, five-part article series. Here’s episode number 3.

If the Content industry were a sandwich, you might want to imagine the piece of bread on top to be the artists and the piece of bread at the bottom to be the audience. When it comes to the filling in the sandwich, however, not to mention its garnish, chances are your mental picture turns into an uneasy wriggle, squeezed in the middle.

‘The Content Sandwich’

The sandwich metaphor needs a little elaborating, in other words: if we’re to get to grips with the marketing of Content in TV’s so-called 3rd Golden Age, an actual, imperfect, epic narrative seems sine qua non. “Storytelling,” after all, “helps us understand each other,” to quote Kevin Spacey.

‘Marketing Content’ tells the story of 3 brothers: The Creative Brother (the artists), The Capricious Brother (the audience) and The Corporate Brother (the industry), centered around the latter’s quest — in 12 ‘herculean labours’ — for content market control.

Bruised but not beaten by his first nine attempts to get his Content to market, ‘The Corporate Brother’ comes up with a — once again very trending — tenth tactic…

X. “Dive into the data”

“Similar to the NSA, Netflix tracks every action you take while watching
and browsing anything on Netflix
. The difference is that Netflix does it to deliver their audience great content. They know what keywords you’ve searched for, what movies you’ve walked away from, when you’ve pressed pause, and what shows you’ve watched for an entire day straight. Netflix is a research and data driven company that leverages these data to distribute and develop content that resonates with their audience.”

“You do need to have access to and understand an ocean of information in order to properly evaluate content,” confirms Modi Wiczyk, co-chairman and co-chief executive officer at MRC, in HBS’ Anita Elberse’s ‘MRC’s House of Cards’. “I thought that if you could gather all that data and use it on behalf of the artists.”

“For Netflix, they used their data to uncover the insights that helped them commit to investing in House of Cards. (…) Understanding your audiences motivations, interests and wants will help you craft great content.”

“Netflix entirely built its audience through its unique recommendation engine. Its size and scope are staggering. No less than 300 people are assigned to analyze, understand, and serve the preferences of the network’s 50 million subscribers.”

Netflix does what a.o. Google, Spotify and Amazon are doing: their “recommendation algorithms model our browsing and purchasing behaviour in comparison to PLUs (People Like Us), and direct us to content they calculate we will enjoy.”

Two footnotes, nonetheless, to this ‘10th herculean enterprise’:

1. ‘Bright data’ consistently outperform mere ‘big data’. Notorious example: data say 82% of U.S. adults binge-watch television. -> If Netflix had followed the traditional content delivery model, series would be released episode by episode, whetting audience’s appetite while slowly building anticipation over time. Instead, each season of a Netflix original series is released in one fell swoop, allowing addicted viewers to binge watch at will (and likely obsess over their favorite shows while awaiting the next season with bated breath). (BTW: “Binge watching and binge eating are notorious bedfellows”.)

2. Data ownership remains splintered as well… “Owning and activating consumer data effectively will (need to) be a core competency for all marketers and media companies. “By 2020,” says eXelate’s Garbaccio, “more than 75% of marketers and media companies will be using a Data Management Platform (DMP) to activate data–their own and that of third parties.” (…) to what degree should consumer data live with marketers versus the media properties and social networks that aggregate audiences for them versus their agencies? (…) “finding ways to partner” would be a better course for marketers to take.”

Operators still have a rare key to success there, by the way: “their relationship with and knowledge of their customers. This customer intimacy sets them apart from other players in the value chain that do not (yet) have B2C capabilities. It allows them to create value by bringing together the most relevant content and advertising offerings, tailored to the needs of their customers. (…)”

XI. “Get the transactions right”

Just slightly under pressure and running out of patience, the ‘Corporate Brother’ then dodges towards a hasty attempt to reap short-term results. While that 11th ‘herculean’ ambition seemed very on trend at first, it wasn’t.

Today’s winners, it turned out, “build relationships instead of creating purely transactional moments.” Look at Netflix: “Rather than continue to promote its content through traditional direct response advertising, Netflix has moved to a more narrative storytelling approach — a key component to creating content marketing videos.” “The days of advertising about 30 days before the premiere are gone,” confirms Michael Engleman, head of marketing at Syfy. “Long-lead is now our priority.” “(…) Netflix has built a model that rewards hyper engaged viewers while fostering both short-term buzz and long-term connections. (…) they will be more likely to become advocates and continue membership once they have a great experience.”

Today’s winners “build relationships
instead of creating transactional moments

“Creating and retaining audiences takes long-term strategy across platforms”: long-term’s making headlines in AdAge these days. Kevin Spacey, for his part, knows from experience that “shows can take time to find an audience,” while the clearheaded Michael Wolff, author of ‘Television Is the New Television: The Unexpected Triumph of Old Media In the Digital Age’ (July 2015) points at “the bifurcation of the media business”:

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to retweet it,” dixit Michael Wolff, author of ‘Television is the New Television’. Image: screenshot from
  • “On the one hand, there is the influential, (…), the culturally significant, a business and medium of value, need (…) and exclusivity.
  • On the other hand, there’s the cheap, crass, and low, a constant and immediate arbitrage between what you spend to create the medium against the short-term sales it produces.

It’s all media, but with different models and to a different effect.”

Continue. Read episode 4.

Missed the first episode? Here’s how it all began.

This series is cross-posted on

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