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

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 the fifth and final episode.

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 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 from Kevin Spacey’s memorable MacTaggart Lecture.

‘The Content Sandwich’

‘Marketing Content in TV’s 3rd Golden Age’ tells the story of 3 brothers: The Creative Brother (the artists), The Capricious Brother (the audience) and The Corporate Brother (the industry), propelled by the latter’s quest — in 12 ‘herculean labours’ — for control of the Content market.

Dénouement is due — ‘the content sandwich’ about to be ‘unsqueezed’ — when the Corporate Brother, notwithstanding the loads of insights from his XII ‘herculean labours’, issues “one last concern”…

Quick recap: “It’s the creatives, stupid.” “The surest path to long-term content success, is building a business around ‘capital C Content’. Big hits still require big risks, even if ‘bright data’ consistently outperform mere ‘big data’. “Quality content is more important than quantity.” “Audiences have shown they want conflictuous, complex narratives. The most valuable stories are filled with characters whose lives are in a mess.” “Artists therefore had better be abandoned i.e. given creative freedom.” “And, on a good note: “Culture is not a luxury item. It is a necessity.”

“One last thing…”

Where do the ads go?” the ‘Corporate Brother’ wants to know, worried that people paying to avoid ads, might not be a healthy, sustainable phenomenon.

While many advertisers might still think of sponsored content as costly, the early adopters among them, have experienced the entertainment market’s ‘blockbuster’ mechanics and learned that ‘capital C content’ is in fact most cost-effective from a long-term perspective.

The telco industry’s track record when it comes to (wanna have) ‘capital C Content’, did not come about by chance. Deutsche Telekom, for example, pioneered with ‘Move On’, a branded interactive road movie starring Mads Mikkelsen. AT&T, for its part, produced Daybreak, a fast paced, cyber terrorism story that was a web series and a prequel treasure to Fox’ ‘Touch’, starring Kiefer Sutherland.

More recently, ‘Women Inmates: Why the Male Model Doesn’t Work’, a paid post — sponsored content — commissioned by Netflix to promote the series ‘Orange Is the New Black’ ranked in the Times top 1,000 articles. “The content had/has to be great. It sat/sits side by side with New York Times content.”

“Someone walked into somebody’s office at Pixar one day, saying they had an idea for an eighty-year-old man and a ten-year-old kid to take off in a house fueled by a balloon…” (Anita Elberse, Blockbusters)

Perhaps even more so than in content marketing tout court, in short, when ‘content marketing content’, “engaging your audience the way they like to be engaged is a smart long-term strategy, even at the expense of short-term gains.”

Will we see more advertisers move from (30”) slots to slates? Brands are making the shift from buying TV ads to sponsoring entertainment, as we speak: while the slowdown in TV ad sales is being considered “structural”, global branded entertainment revenue hit $73.27 billion in 2014, double what was generated by mobile advertising and marketing, “as brands seek to engage target consumers more effectively amid ad-skip tech and on-demand media consumption”, according to PQ Media’s Global Branded Entertainment Marketing Forecast 2015–2019.

Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Todd Juenger: “The world has changed too much. (…) We believe the U.S. television industry is entering a period of prolonged structural decline, caused by a migration of viewers from ad-supported platforms to non-ad-supported, or less-ad-supported platforms. (…) we fear the entire sector will struggle to work until the content owners take concerted action to reclaim on-demand viewing from the SVOD services. (…)”

Source: House of Cards: Excerpt from the Script for Episode One, in: Anita Elberse, MRC’s House of Cards, Harvard Business School Case 515–003, January 2015,;

So, where do you start your quest for ‘content market control’?

House of Cards’ Francis Underwood strangles a dog in the series’ first minutes. That’s how vital ‘abandoned artists’ or creative freedom — and the conflictuous narratives, the messy characters, the controversy that come with it — is to the/any content business, regardless the platform.

“You’ve got to realize,” HBS’ Anita Elberse stresses in her book ‘Blockbusters. Why Big Hits — and Big Risks — are the Future of the Entertainment Business’, “that someone walked into somebody’s office at Pixar one day, saying they had an idea for an eighty-year-old man and a ten-year-old kid to take off in a house fueled by a balloon. You can see people go ‘Wait a minute…’. But they made it anyway, and it (the movie Up) was a tremendous success (grossing well over $700 million at the box office).”

“It’s like Steve Jobs,” Kevin Spacey concludes in his MacTaggart lecture. “Why did he continually cite Henry Ford as an inspiration? Because Ford anticipated that people didn’t know they needed and wanted a car until he invented one.”

This series is cross-posted on

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