The entertainment category is one of the best positioned to take advantage of the changes in web metrics from a website/publishing, advertiser and promotion perspective.
Nielsen//NetRatings' recent transition to duration from page views for site ranking has sent a signal to the interactive marketplace: as the web experience continues to evolve as an entertainment, information and commerce medium, the metrics that support measurement and monetization will change with it.
While the re-shuffling of the order of top websites has made most of the headlines, what does this shift mean for entertainment?
To get a sense for the drivers of change rather than rankings themselves, sites like AOL, EA and YouTube made significant advances in those rankings due to the heavy use of applications like IM/email, strong interactivity with games and message/fan forums and addictive, viral short form video content that serve to drive duration.
Studios and networks as publishers
Some segments of entertainment have already evolved and adopted strategies that extend engagement, improve rankings and increase attractiveness to advertisers while others represent missed opportunities.
If the four primary duration drivers are applications, games, community and video, movies & DVDs can immediately deliver on three of the four (save applications), and with the rapid adoption of the right widget strategy, they could quickly deliver on the fourth.
That said, select few of the major studios use their websites for advertising revenue, though one exception is the new Disney.com site, which takes a subtle approach with cross-promotion of Disney properties via navigation that spans audience/target audiences, divisions and characters in addition to third-party advertising. Another exception, Warner Bros' ad augmented model, is a bit more aggressive, with pop under advertising, sponsorships and display ads.
EA's success as a content company that has converted its website into both a fan and revenue generating medium can serve as a model for studios to reassess the true value of their content. The goal for studios should be to build a loyal fan base that follows franchises across all release windows, uses their sites as a platform to monetize peripheral content (like alternate shot selections, DVD extras and cast interviews) and leverages this audience as an attractive segment for advertisers to connect with online.
When network and cable TV websites are compared to their studio counterparts, the heritage as an advertiser-supported business reveals itself online. The nets are increasingly using video, games and community and Web 2.0 features to create a robust promotional tool for their shows, as well as to monetize the resulting fan base and content to become an online corollary for offline advertising campaigns. And, for some sites, the online audience will open the door to new advertising relationships that offline isn't able to support for pricing or contextual reasons.
This transition to a more engagement-centric web presence would likely have continued organically, as full episode viewing becomes more widespread, fan support is encouraged through UGC efforts, talent involvement in website content becomes more standard a practice and integration with linear viewing grows more prevalent.
However, as the metrics, rankings and advertisers now reward these features, there should be a priority for networks to monetize these assets. This requires rethinking their approach to building a site from functioning as a promotional vehicle to working as an ad supported, revenue generating platform.
For studios, networks and game companies, the metrics/ranking shift to engagement raises the value of their content at every level of the online food chain, from portals and content aggregators to niche sites as well as ad and video networks. This has implications for hits, library and niche shows and films.
Great content has always been in demand. The highly rated TV shows and high grossing films have always had the opportunity to contextually place content to support their properties in the highly trafficked locations of portals and content aggregators simply because it's mutually beneficial. Now more than ever, this content should have additional currency for its owners.
Think of studios and networks with fledgling shows trying to find their audience and the long tail of studio DVD vaults. With the right infrastructure or online distribution partner, this content should find a home for myriad blog, fan site and ad network channel outlets that serve as an engaging site feature and an opportunity for the show or movie to acquire new fans.
Finally, the stock of online entertainment partnerships will rise as studios and networks seek (or are courted by) promotional partners that can leverage show or movie content to support their brands.
While the timing and importance of the transition to duration based metrics may be getting the lion's share of debate, there's no doubt that this is the benchmark of the future.
If entertainment and content owners want to take advantage of this change, they need to begin now by thinking strategically about the currency of their content, the importance and relevance of their fan base and their ability to translate both into something unique and meaningful for advertisers.
For example, USA Network is now promoting its fall lineup and is using the returning "Monk" series as a traffic driver to it's cable network portal. It stands as a great example of best practice. It's promoting its website on the linear cable station with a 30-second ad that features the "Monk" website. The website itself supports display advertising by brands such as Windex and Capital One and it incorporates a variety of viral efforts to help build buzz for the new season such as a user generated content contest, community and polling.
Mike Wokosin is vice president of entertainment at Real Branding. .