In our continuing series of posts looking forward to what is going to happen this year in media, digital, and advertising, I’m pleased to chat with Andy Chen the CEO of Preview Networks. Andy and I worked together when we were at Isobar’s central hub in London. We like to think we were way ahead of time in terms of our approach when we worked on clients like Philips and its pleasing to see that Andy has gone on to big and even better things.

Andy has politely agreed to spending some time today to talk about the future of content.

MBB: Andy, thanks for taking the time to chat to me today. Can you talk to me a bit about Preview Networks?

AC: Preview Networks is the leading content distribution and syndication platform for localized marketing and video content in Europe. We provide tools that facilitate content owners to syndicate video assets across a myriad of media destinations and devices, and enable media owners to automate commercial content acquisition to deliver audience and revenue growth.

Currently operating with 7 offices in Europe, Preview Networks works with over 300 entertainment content companies in 10 markets and distributes more than 270 million video streams and 1.5 billion images across 1,500 media destinations including websites, social networks, mobile apps, and internet TV.

We work flexibly with content owners, media owners, brands, or agencies that create content for brands.

MBB: Preview Networks seems well placed to compete against the likes of Katalyst (Ashton Kutcher’s company), Demand Media, GoViral, Unruly and other video distribution models. What makes Preview unique?

AC: We focus on what we do best – which is distribution and syndication of content. Besides the robust management system that is focused on distribution, our core competitive advantage rests in the media network we have built, in which we can guarantee content distribution for clients in over 1500 premium media owners across 10 markets.

In additional to that, it is worth mentioning that different from GoViral, Unruly, or perhaps ad networks where they distribute content in the form of pre-roll of in-banner placements, our distribution is a direct integration of XML feeds with our media partners thus we are guaranteed to be a part of the editorial, rather than in the advertising inventory around the editorial.

Production studios and content creation companies such as Katalyst or Demand Media are actually more like potential partners than competitors. As we do not produce original content, we can partner with any content owners (that goes from brands to studios) to help them distribute their content across a myriad of media destination in our network, or help them build a custom distribution network with our CMS.

MBB: How would you define the types of content that you distribute?

AC: Video is a highly fragmented sector of the digital media business and it has a wide range of formats from snack form, short form, to long form. Our focus is on “preview” content. Preview content is what we defined as promotional and marketing material, thus excluding full-length formats or VOD features which are other parts of the eco-system. Content is scattered and hard to be centralized in a hub on the web, but that’s exactly what we provide – a single point of contact for content distribution and publication.

That said, promotional and marketing content can range from 20 seconds to over 2 minutes. So at the end of the day, we are perhaps also a filter for our media partners to ensure and maintain the quality standards of the content.

MBB: There seems to be an increasing blurring of lines between advertising and branded content. My view is that this is detrimental to the term “content” and its usefulness for carrying messages. What is your view on the term “branded content”?

AC: The lines are indeed blurring. However, I would disagree on your point. In my opinion, what we are seeing is the natural evolution of advertising in the attention economy. Brands are beginning to behave more like media owners and publishers than just brands. They produce a lot more content than before, especially videos. The reality is that brands have realized that to truly grab consumers’ attention and consequently engage consumers, they need to provide content to entertain them as an exchange.

My view on branded content will continue to grow, with much higher quality to compete against entertainment content created by studios or media owners.

MBB: I recently read a blog post on HBR which talked about the iTunes effect and the Future of Content. Effectively it says, the more people that produce content, the higher the availability, the poorer the quality. What are your thoughts on this?

AC: I would agree and say that this statement follows the general relationship between demand, supply and price with commoditized goods. As more people want the goods, more goods will be produced, which the oversupply then drives down the price of the goods which eventually creates a polarization of markets: high-end and low-end.

I’m a firm believer that as more “poor quality” content become available, we will also see the increase in value and demand for quality produced content as a result of this commodization of content.

MBB: 2010 was about content barriers, with Murdoch placing restrictions on his good quality content. Some see this as justifiable, others not. Do you see this sort of content barrier coming down around more of the web? If so, what does it mean for you?

AC: I’m not in a position to critique what one of the biggest global media moguls is doing with News Corp when it comes to the monetization strategy of their content. Whether content should be free or not is one part a web 2.0 philosophical debate and one part business reality of generating revenue. What I do believe is that good businesses are usually the result of good business models – and I’m sure Mr. Murdoch has done the due diligence on the business model he has chosen, even if it means going against the current of the “modern web.”

In regards to Preview Networks’ position in this equation, our business is actually quite neutral whether there are content barriers or not. We are in the business of distributing preview content as I mentioned earlier, and this form of promotional and marketing material works as a lead generation whether there is a pay-wall, ad-funded, or free.

MBB: My view has always been that a distribution point needs to maintain neutrality between content provider and contact point. Do you think there is a responsibility on your shoulders (Preview Network) to maintain content quality?

AC: The responsibility to maintain content quality varies depending on the nature of your business. Some video platforms focus on UGC or low production content while others focus on professional and higher end of the spectrum. At Preview Networks we only focus on the higher end of production and content quality because our focus is on promotional and marketing material – by definition, this type of content is professionally produced with glossier quality.

That is not to de-value viral seeding companies or P2P video sharing platforms – it is just not the segment that we focus on as a business. As the cost of production decreases even further and becomes more democratized, there will be a surplus and even over-abundance of lower end content. And we believe that’s what will make brand produced and higher quality professionally produced content even more valuable.

We are the distribution and syndication platform so in a way the quality we maintain is the encoding, streaming, and integration of the content, but not necessarily the quality of the content itself. That said, of course we do our best to help maintain certain industry standards as a part of the eco-system.

MBB: The future of content doesn’t seem that well defined at the moment. Almost feeling that consumers may begin to shy away from branded content, what is your view on the future of content?

AC: My opinion is that good content will never have a shortage of audience – whether it’s produced by Endemol, Katalyst or Adidas, Nike. When the content is entertaining and informative, it will always have longevity – just going from main stream to longtail.

MBB: If you had three words of advice that you could say to any brand thinking of getting into branded content, what would they be?

AC: I can’t summarize the advice in 3 words per se, but here are 3 sentences:

1) Have a formal and structured distribution strategy when you can be where people are

2) Youtube and Facebook are not the panacea for content distribution

3) Push for a transaction after the content view

MBB: How do you think brands should plan around content in the future?

AC: Brands spend a lot of money in producing a piece of good content, but they often neglect the importance of distribution. They sometimes think using Youtube and Facebook or simply just other social outlets that is a “strategy” but in my opinion that is rather 2008-9.

In the near future all brands will (and already have started to) behave like media owners – managing their own creative and content like assets, and focus on managing the distribution of these assets to as many destinations as possible, regardless of UGC (eg social networks, communities, etc) or professional (media owners, PR destination, etc) environments.

A good piece of content should not be a museum piece. Distribute it widely in a structured and targeted manner, and don’t naively expect people will come to you to watch it – you have to be where people are.

MBB: What metrics would you look at as a brand manager or agency when talking about content distribution?

AC: Rather than just focusing on how many people have viewed the content and for how long, try to focus on what they do after the view eg transaction or purchase.

MBB: What is your favourite piece of content from last year and what do you think that means about you?

AC: My favorite piece of video content in 2010 was the Nike Music Shoe with the Japanese DJs. To me it represented the perfect example of short form branded content – it communicates the brand essence, the coolness, and it provided a sneak preview of the shoe collection. All boxes ticked.

If I had to anything that I would add to this execution, it would be that this video should have been linked to ecommerce where the audience can buy those shoes online, and Nike could have made this video available in all ecommerce environments and syndicated this video across these destinations.

MBB: What does great branded content look like?

AC: I think a great piece of content doesn’t “look” like anything – it simply moves you and makes you want more.

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