Television

'Challenge in the digital world is to make content that lasts longer' : Turner Entertainment Interactive Media executive director Benjamin Grubbs

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As new media usage grows, broadcasters are trying to find ways to leverage it. Turner is no exception and has been creating tools like games for kids. The idea is to use new media as a brand extension for Cartoon Network and Pogo.

New media is not just a marketing tool but a place where kids spend a serious amount of time engaging with their favourite characters and shows mainly through gaming. The challenge in the digital world is to make content that becomes stronger and lasts longer.

As Turner has worked aggressively on new media to ensure that it co-exists strongly with the traditional media, it has kept a firm eye on maintaining scale for such products across markets.

Turner has also created facilities that develop local content for new media in places like Japan, Korea, China and Southeast Asia. The R&D team in Mumbai, for instance, creates products for the Indian platforms. The aim is to develop the local market and also make product innovations that can be exported.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com’s Ashwin Pinto, Turner Entertainment Interactive Media executive director Benjamin Grubbs talks about how the media conglomerate has used new media to hook kids and build their content brands.

Excerpts:



 

How does Turner approach new media?



New media and traditional media complement one another; they co-exist in the market. The consumption of TV content increases as digital media usage increases. Consumers have an affinity for those brands that we create and they consume them across platforms. They watch an episode of a TV show; online they play a game involving a character from that show. Then at retail they buy a toy or a T-shirt.

There is a three-pronged approach of the Turner interactive business - Create, Play and Edu-tain

-Create: Games like Toon Creator let kids create their own cartoons. Toon Creator has over 469,000 animations developed by kids and 5.6 million views. Another example is Game Creator where kids can create their own games. It has 402,000 kids making games, there are 1.6 million games developed by kids and 429 million games have been

played.

- Play: Cricket Club is an excellent example. There are estimated 10 million game plays in 2011

- Edu-tain: Cartoon Network partnered with Prudential Asia to launch Cha-Ching, an initiative that encouraged kids to learn money management skills by a simple four-part process – ‘Earn, Save, Spend and Donate’. An interactive website hosting games, music videos, applications, etc. was created.

How does the business model work?



For broadcasters, there could be different business models. At Turner we package content on channels and sell them to cable companies who pay us a fee. We sell advertising on our channel and websites. We have consumer products and also do live events.

In the pay-TV market, there is more demand for compelling content that continues to do well. In the digital economy, new revenue streams are emerging. It has only been in the last couple of years where we have seen smart phone usage. The method of monetisation is not just advertising but also buying products like a game. You can buy a game on the phone or buy items within a game. It is not transferring one business model to another. You open up business models that are complementary to your core business.

How much revenue do you get from new media?



We don’t break down the percentage of revenue that comes from different business segments. But the digital business growth rates are high.

Which are your top properties that have been monetised through new media?



The Ben 10 franchise is a good example. This is content that started with television. Then it became a successful global consumer product IP. We license it out. Then in the digital space we have developed online games and mobile products. There is also video content available online. We have monetised it in different ways.



'We have a R&D team in Mumbai that develops products for the Indian platforms. The aim is to develop the local market and also make product innovations that can be exported'



 

You have done online gaming for properties like Ben 10. How effective has it been as a brand extension tool?



What we are seeing in some markets is that people who do not have cable television at home just consume our content through digital media. In some markets across the Asia Pacific, the cable market penetration may not be as high as what it is in India. We see a percentage of people who only consume content on digital. Digital has been a positive development for Turner over the last five to 10 years.



 

Have you done research to show how kids in India and Asia perceive and use new media?



There is similarity in terms of how Indian kids and other kids use new media. They look for games first when they go online. We launched Cricket Club here on Pogo. We then took it to Australia. We will take it to every cricket nation.

For the last 10 years, we have been running a New Generation study. Many kids become more active consumers of technology than their parents; they get initiated at a very young age. The time spent on our site is 25-30 minutes per visit. It is a very engaged audience and they come back quite often. This results in high affinity for the brand. It is not a matter of them spending a couple of minutes online.

They spend as much time in an online visit as they do on a TV episode.



 

How is new media impacting the way kids consume traditional television?



Like I said, it is complementary. It is not a zero sum game where because you grow digitally, the traditional media consumption goes down. The data we are seeing is that both grow in parallel.

Interestingly, girls are heavier gamers than boys.

An estimated 25-30 million kids are online. There were approximately 12.1 million users in 2011 across www.cartoonnetworkindia.com and pogo.tv. 79 per cent of kids (ages 4-14 years) are mobile phone users.

The number of Indian kids who own their own mobile phone is growing.



 

Are costs rising in creating content for digital media?



Yes! On television you make content by spending a year to two years developing a series. In the digital world you could spend the same amount of time developing a game. The investments going into doing some of the larger online games are rising and is almost the same as making a TV show.

The challenge lies in extracting the right returns. In the digital space when we put content out we immediately get feedback. So the team makes conscious decisions about adapting and evolving content. For us it has been a big learning as you have larger investments around digital content. A game has people registering profiles and creating profiles. They have an online identity. Friends come into this environment and they communicate and share content.



 

What is the challenge in making digital content?



The challenge is to make an offering that will stick with the consumer. The challenge in the digital world has become more apparent over the past couple of years - as you put out games and get active users, there is an immense amount of data that you start collecting. You need to look at what data is relevant and use it to optimise and enhance the platform.

The big effort is not making the content but what happens after you launch it. This is how it becomes better, stronger and lasts for a longer period of time. The online and mobile games that we make now we expect to be in the market for several years. Our aim is not for the product to be in the market for two weeks. These are not campaigns which go away after a couple of months. We want the products to last for two years and we want to see continual growth in that product over a period of time. This is the guideline.



 

How does the process of creating new media applications work?



This starts with consumer insights. It is about conversations we have with consumers and through our focus groups or through a survey. We blend that data with what we see on our own platform. Then we see trends and try to predict where things are going. If it takes a year to develop a game, we have to think about what is going to resonate with consumers a year down the line.

You have tablets and smart phones. We don’t just make content for the PC or Internet. The consumer has to be able to access the content across multiple devices and platforms. This informs the decisions that we make and the technologies that we invest in. When things become multiplatform, you have an extension of the brand experience. Then you look at genres, the market in terms of if there is wide open space that we can go and play into. We also look at how a product can get scale across markets.

Could you give me an example of an innovative project recently done?



We worked on something last year. It started with deep consumer insights. We looked at the market and found that there was nothing that addressed an insight that we stumbled upon. So we decided to develop a product.

A guy in my team wrote a 16-page background story and dreamed up characters and plotline. This was for an online game. It was similar to someone writing a treatment and background explaining what a film is all about. He had visualised the game platform and how it would grow over time. We looked at it in order to visualise the creative



concept. We had to then step back and make a calculated bet as there is no guarantee of success.

We also recently came out with an online racing game. What we are seeing is that there is great adoption of multiplayer racing games among youth. While there were compelling games already present, they were larger console titles or larger massive multiplayer online games that target an older segment. There was an open space for a younger age segment. We developed it for Asia at a studio in China. We talked it out with our counterparts in Europe, Latin America and the US.

They were excited and wanted to co invest. We got scale from our investment and the product will launch this quarter in the US first. Then it will go all over. It started in Asia and found it resonating everywhere. We want to do more of this. If you boil it down to some of the building blocks and basics, products are not so different from one market to another. We also allow for some scope to localise but the main core of it should be similar across regions. It allows for better ROI.

Ben 10 is huge among boys. Storylines for digital products are evolving. We made a storyline for Ben 10 that was not told on TV. We hired the writers from L.A. to give us a story arc. The crux of this story is coming out in a movie that premieres in March. Things have come full circle.

 

How much R&D goes into creating new media services?



We have a team in Mumbai that develops products for the Indian platforms. Cricket Club was developed here. The aim is to develop the local market and also make product innovations that can be exported.

We do research all the time. A lot of data is collected that informs our decisions. We have facilities that develop local content for new media in Japan, Korea, China and Southeast Asia.



 

Is allowing kids to create their own content becoming more important?



Yes! The platforms we develop have been successful. This has surpassed all expectations. Game Creator has been the biggest one. Kids can create their own games. We have different versions of Game Creator. It is about brand engagement.



 

What are the ways in which content owners can work with advertisers online to produce results?



In some cases we sit down and have a conversation. The advertiser can show a business challenge and we find an addressable opportunity. On the other end of the spectrum, we talk about complete custom creation of a new product or service that is done with an advertiser. We have found that 63 per cent of car purchases in India are influenced by kids. Half of the shampoo purchases are also influenced by kids.



 

Is the lack of an effective measurement system a challenge?



There are third party research tools from parties like Nielsen and comscore that advertisers, agencies and publishers like ourselves subscribe to. Turner also has its own research systems and tools. We develop content that we market to the market. We also want transparency in data. We can see what the response rate is from consumers. ROI comes from things like registration, an online purchase and filling out an online form. We can track this user funnel so that we can better optimise it.

There is a continuous dialogue that happens. The digital space moves fast. A couple of years ago we weren’t talking about smart phones. We want to have dialogue with other marketers so that we can evolve.



 

What role do social networks play in reaching kids?



The reality is that people are on social networks. Facebook is a way for us to distribute content. When people are on Facebook, that is where their experience lives. But for us leveraging Facebook means staying on the platform; it is not about providing marketing messages that take users off Facebook. It is about providing content within that platform. This is where our investments have been going. Among social networks that kids use Facebook dominates.



 

Is the economic slowdown having an impact on broadcasters pursuing aggressively their new media plans?



No! It is accelerating growth. What I mean by this is that during a fiscal crunch you might want to look at ways to do things that are more effective and efficient. In the digital world things change at a very fast pace. There is a need for constant dialogue to stay on top of changes. In new media with barriers falling, it might make more financial sense to do something now compared to earlier.

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