Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Let’s Meet at SLUSH in Helsinki, November 18-20

Yes, you heard me right.  What better time to travel to Helsinki, Finland for a tech conference than in the dead of Winter -- when it is icy cold, slushy (hence the name) and limited sunshine?

And, that’s the point!  The organizers of SLUSH -- the premier tech conference focused on the white hot Eurasian tech and startup scene -- have a sense of humor.  A far cry from the tedious endless sunshine, heat and oceans that serve as the backdrop for SoCal-centric tech conferences.

SLUSH is “under the radar” for most in digital media and tech here in the States.  Top blue-chip investors (both State-side and outside our borders), media and tech execs will attend.  I will too, wearing multiple hats (and gloves, a scarf, boots) -- as a digital media/tech advisor, investor, and journalist.  My goal is to meet the top influencers and innovators in that part of the world in which so much innovation is happening today -- and to help connect the dots for many of them with opportunities and influencers over on this side of the Pond.  And, simply, to tell their stories -- because more of these Eurasian tech stories deserve to be told ... and heard.

Let’s meet at SLUSH.  Reach out to me via LinkedIn to schedule a meeting.

Being a Minnesotan -- and having grown up in that frozen tundra -- I say, “bring it on!"

Monday, October 20, 2014

D3 -- Disney Demo Day -- Graduation for 1st Accelerator Class

Last Tuesday marked graduation day for the Disney Accelerator’s first class -- the Class of 2014.  10 companies.  10 compelling stories to tell.  And, 10 CEOs who told those stories very well indeed.  (Here they are, each of them, pitching in 6 seconds, yes, 6 seconds a la Vine.)

Not surprising when you think about it.  First, the material is good.  Each company has real substance.  No fluff here.  Disney and TechStars selected them well (kudos to Kevin Mayer and Cody Simms).  Second, each company was in good company -- in the company of the Mouse House, that is.  The quintessential home for story-telling.  And, the Disney team delivered.  Production values for this demo day were second to none.  The Disney Accelerator team turned it up to 11 for this one, giving each company's CEO an opportunity to be Steve Jobs for the day.  There each of them was.  On a sparse stage, in a darkened auditorium, massive screen behind them, visuals choreographed perfectly to their perfectly constructed individual words -- words spoken while pacing slightly back and forth across the stage with hands clasped a la vintage Jobs.  He would be smiling ....

It all worked.  Beautifully.  Each company showcased well.  Each company CEO had trained for his or her moment for days.  But, no matter how much training, it ain’t easy for a young entrepreneur when you have Disney's CEO Bob Iger right there in the front row.  Yet all of them delivered.  (Only later did I learn that a giant teleprompter aided them from the very back of the auditorium -- but, that does nothing to take away from each individual performance).   (Here is The Wrap’s wrap-up of the event.)

My favorite?  Tyffon -- the app developer with proprietary facial recognition technology that has developed Zombie Booth to a tune of 30 million downloads (Zombie selfies, anyone?).  Of course, I am a bit partial here, since I mentored this company in the Accelerator (my stint started in July).  Others that stood out for me included Naritiv, a Snapchat-centric marketing and analytics firm (intriguing) and Sphero, an already-proven and established "connected toy” company that sells its wares at Apple stores (join me by buying one -- your kids will be glad you did -- YOU will be glad you did).

All of these Disney Accelerator company CEOs and teams should be proud.  They have accomplished much already.  And, they have a permanent feather in their caps as a result.  Not too shabby to have the Disney stamp of approval.

I too enjoyed it -- enjoyed being an official Mentor for the inaugural Class of 2014.  And, ready to help some of these grads continue their journeys.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sometimes You Just Gotta Take the Time ...

I live in San Diego.  But work in LA.  That means I commute weekly and regularly spend a couple nights in LA -- nights in which I jam, jam, jam on work when I am not out at dinner meetings or evening events. My typical rhythm on those nights is to hole myself up in my hotel and bang it out -- catching up on all of my correspondence of the day.  And, that means that I too rarely take the time to do anything else in those moments.

But, sometimes you just gotta take the time .... 

I am a runner.  Have been for years.  And, LA has some of the most picturesque running spots in the world.  The canyons -- and, of course, the ocean.  

My office is only a few miles from that beautiful ocean in Santa Monica.  So, one night a few days back, I put aside my work for a couple hours and made that few mile (but several driving minutes) trek to Santa Monica, strapped on my running shoes, insert my ear-buds, and just ran ... along the coast ... on the boardwalk ... watching others like me as I passed them by.

As the sun set on that beautiful night, I listened to M83’s epic song “Wait” over and over again -- dialed up to 11 (I suggest you try it -- trust me on this one -- it is the perfect soundtrack for these moments).  I finished my run.  Watched the sun set.  Captured this shot.  And vowed to do it more often.

Life is short.  It is easy -- too easy (particularly in the hyper-fast tech world) -- to stay heads down all the time.  God knows I do, especially when away from home.

But, just like I tell my kids, sometimes you just gotta “look up” -- and soak it in ...

MDM Newsletter #2 - “Brands & Media Edition -- The Opportunity"

We here at Manatt Digital Media (MDM) just published issue #2 of our monthly newsletter -- this time, the “Brands & Media Edition -- The Opportunity.”  It is truly jam-packed with timely helpful pearls o’ wisdom about how brands can capitalize during our digital media transformation.  Articles include:

(1) “Top 10 Legal Considerations for Brands Involved in Digital and Social Media Advertising”

(2) “Brands, the New Media Companies/MCNs?  Red Bull and Now Marriott”

(3) “Case Study: Manatt Digital Media Accelerates a Beauty Products Company’s Transformational Shift Into a Full-fledged Media Company”

(4) “Welcome to Hallyu-wood! The Addiction to Korean Dramas -- Why Big Brands Should Be Watching”

(5) “MDM Client Company Spotlight: Whistle Sports”

(6) “MDM’s Advertising Expertise and Spotlight Profile”

This follows MDM’s Newsletter #1 -- “The MCN Edition” -- another must-read about ... you guessed it ... all things multi-channel network-ish ....

If you find these newsletters helpful, interesting, thought-provoking, inspiring, provocative, intriguing --  or at least not boring and useless -- then subscribe.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Congrats j.viewz - Surpasses $60K Kickstarter Goal for Music DNA Project!

Thanks to all who helped Jonathan surpass his goal -- and give more life to his incredible DNA Project! Check out his Kickstarter Link right here.  Great innovative way for music fans to understand the full story(ies) behind your favorite songs -- and for artists to engage with their fans like never before.

Friday, October 10, 2014

DramaFever, the Next Digital Video M&A Mega-Deal? Here’s Why (& Why "Korean Drama” Matters)

Yesterday, rumors began to swirl about leading, but little known, Korean “drama” site DramaFever -- that it is in M&A “play” right now for a deal valuing the company up to $140 million.  The potential buyers?  AMC Networks and European broadcast group RTL Group.  Earlier, Barry Diller’s IAC had been rumored to be kicking the tires.  In any event, DramaFever, which has raised $11.5 million to date and is reported to generate $20 million in revenues, highlights the power of the “Korean Drama” -- a genre of video content that most of us know very little about.  But, clearly many in the U.S. must, because 85% of DramaFever’s audience is non-Asian.
Eunice Shin of Manatt Digital Media, and a long-time digital media expert who is steeped in the overall digital video and MCN space, sheds light on this stealth genre and phenomenon -- and why Korean Drama (and related genres) “matter.”  I consider this guest post (originally published on her LinkedIn profile under a slightly different title) to be a “must read.”  Here it is.
The Korean Drama is the Perfect Case for the New Globalization of Content

For the vast majority of global citizens participating in this social world, we are all too familiar with the phrase “oh-bba Gangnam style”. Psy’s Gangnam Style video is one of the most globally viewed videos of all time with over 2 billion views. Yet to grasp scale, Psy’s popularity is only a very small portion of the overall Hallyu movement - the term referred to the Korean Wave or Korean Fever, the global fascination with South Korean pop culture and media known as KPop. Hallyu emerged in the 1990s in other parts of Asia, but the movement has been propelled into a true international market with the global growth of online and mobile content consumption.
The two strongest areas of interest in KPop are in music and TV content. The popularity of KPop music is often covered and well known. And now, TV drama series known as KDramas are grabbing the attention. The typical KDrama is most similar to what we know as a mini-series in the U.S.. They often tell a complete story in one series, self-contained typically in 16-24 episodes. With dozens of new shows produced each year, with a constantly revolving list of featured multi-media talent, there is no shortage of KDrama fandom.
With a deeply engaged and loyal audience, KPop is widely consumed not just in South Korea and throughout Asia, but has rapidly growing fans from Latin America and the United States. In the U.S., English sub-titled KDramas are most popular on YouTube and streaming sites DramaFever, Crunchy Roll (KDrama), Viki, and MNet America, as well as select content available on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and iTunes. KDramas are more popular than ever with millennials, especially with 18-24 year-old American women, not of Korean heritage. DramaFever reports that 85% of their audience is non-Asian, with 45% being Caucasian and 25% being Latino.
No surprise that this premium content has sparked the interest of global investors, romanced by that growing, global loyal fan base.
In December 2013, The Chernin Group acquired a majority stake in Crunchy Roll, an anime and Asian drama streaming site, for roughly $100 million. In the months that followed, Crunchy Roll spun-off a Korean entertainment focused site called Kdrama, featuring a library of dramas, variety, and music shows. In May 2014, Crunchy Roll acquired Soompi, a Kpop news publisher and community website. And in recent days, it was announced that Kdrama and Soompi would rebrand to form SoompiTV. Currently, most of SoompiTV’s content is only licensed for the US and Canada, but they are working on gaining licensing rights to the global audience. Impressively, Crunchy Roll and SoompiTV – distributors of KPop and other Asian content - are part of the first few video services invested in and managed by the highly regarded The Chernin Group/AT&T OTT joint venture, Otter Media.
In September of 2013, Japan’s Internet e-commerce giant Rakuten purchased Viki, a premium video streaming service run out of Singapore, featuring Korean dramas and other Asian content. That deal was rumored to be at $200 million.
And now, with close to $20 million in revenue this past year and a very global audience, DramaFever is another leader in the KPop/KDrama media space. With a rumored valuation near $120-140 million, Drama Fever is being pursued and courted aggressively. To date, DramaFever has raised $11.5 million from investors that include AMC Networks, Bertelsmann, NALA, and Softbank.
These are some serious bets being placed on the global value of KDramas as a major media asset. Here’s why more media companies and brands will be addicted:
1) Deeply engaged, fiercely loyal global audience
Not too long along ago before many of the streaming sites had international licensing rights, KDramas had limited availability outside of South Korea, and pirated videos made their way around the world fueled by the crowd-sourced, multi-language sub-titling of popular series. A large community of fans were dedicated to making this content available, and the loyalty and following of audiences are still reflected in the ongoing virality of what many would deem as obscure, foreign content. Today, sub-titling is still crowd-sourced on sites like Viki and YouTube, with the more popular KDramas sub-titled in over a dozen different languages.
Throughout Asia, the content has cross-generation appeal, with both men and women. Earlier this year, a very popular series, MyLove from the Star, debuted in Korea and had an average viewership of 24% in Korea. It then sold rights to China where it’s been viewed online through iQiyi, a Chinese video streaming platform, over 14.5 billion times. The series finale was so widely anticipated and watched by all ages, that Chinese news outlets covered people calling in sick and taking time off to watch the finale and alluded to the high probability that the national productivity of China was impacted by the fandom around that show.
2) Deep library of addictive, binge-watching worthy content
With the soap-opera like cliff-hangers commonly written into each episode, coupled with the availability and ease for online and mobile consumption, KDramas are ideal for binge-watching through the series. I’d even argue that KDrama fans were the originators of binge-watching. There are hundreds of past KDrama titles, with constant, year-round production of new content. With this rich library, DramaFever reports that their subscribers watch on average 54 hours (3,234 minutes) per month. In comparison, subscribers on Netflix and Hulu are reported at monthly average views of 644 minutes and 223 minutes per month respectively.
3) Growing interest in the KPop Lifestyle
This past summer at the KCON conference, an annual K-Pop convention held in Los Angeles, attendance doubled from the previous year to over 42,000 in attendance, with nearly 40 percent coming from outside California. Most of the attendees were female, and less than 10 percent of the attendees were of Korean heritage. KPop is not only relevant in music, TV and film, but it is making significant plays in fashion lines, and even skincare and makeup. There is also a very large global following of Korean beauty content creators on YouTube, furthering the allure and appeal of the KPop lifestyle with a highly engaged audience.
However, there are some growth and improvement areas that KDrama creators and distributors will need to address to fully optimize and monetize their assets for this growing global audience.
  • Ad/Subscription Model: Currently, the majority of content distribution is supported via ad revenue. On subscription sites like DramaFever and Viki, audiences can subscribe to avoid ads. But given the well-known work-arounds (hint: use Apple TV to watch ad-free) and fans used to dealing with irrelevant ads, it’s going to take more sophisticated features and services to convert a larger number of people to a paid subscription model. Additionally, there is an opportunity for more sophisticated and targeted advertising. On one of the more popular streaming sites, with use of my Facebook login, it repeatedly rolled a 15 second spot from a utilities company, 3 times in a row to make up the 45 second spot. Perhaps the right brands and advertisers just haven’t come yet. Or perhaps it was a strategy to drive me to subscribe to avoid the annoying, irrelevant ads. Either way, this is a clear opportunity for both brands and streaming platforms.
  • Discovery: Just like the rest of online content, discovery of premium content in the crowded and confusing space is often a barrier to entry, and is certainly the case for KDramas. Many rely on social community boards for recommendations and reviews. An interesting feature for one of the streaming services could be to curate and recommend shows based on interest and watching profiles.
  • Cross-over of KPop Talent: Fans of KPop stars in Asia are rabid. Simply put, they make the Beliebers look harmless. Just don’t tell them I wrote that! The most popular KPop stars are singers, dancers and actors, with numerous endorsement deals in Asia. However, the artists themselves have yet to make as strong of a cross-over to English-speaking fans as they have in Asia. Perhaps it’s because many of the stars haven’t mastered the English language yet, or perhaps it’s because the management companies who control their careers are not apt to monetizing on the global scale.
  • Brand Integration: Product placements and brand integration are seen with every series. But it is obvious that most of those brands are still just aimed at that first Korean audience, not considering the global market thereafter. This should spark the interest of global brands to consider. It’s a clear opportunity for the industry as a whole and a definitive growth area for further monetization.
  • Rights/Licensing: Lastly, many of the distribution rights and licensing deals are still less than sophisticated and strategic. For example, My Lovely Girl (aka She’s So Lovable), a highly anticipated new series starring Rain concurrently broadcast in South Korea, is available in the US on DramaFever, SoompiTV, Viki, and on YouTube. Streaming services are fighting for the same audience with often the same content. For streaming services to differentiate, service features may not be enough. Licensing deals are bound to evolve. At the same time, building a licensing model with restricted access will be a challenge, especially for content that got its catapult from bootstrapping, resourceful, rabid fans.
As seen with the industry and ecosystem around KDramas, the growth and monetization of global content are still in its infancy, with great opportunities for distribution licensing/rights, brand integration, advertising and subscription models to advance.
Fun fact: Korean management companies are run much like the old studio system, where the studio contracted talent, and only made movies around those contracted artists. Similarly, Korean management companies target and manage talent, often with the triple threat formula in singing, dancing and acting. Many of the KDrama are cast with stars who are solo artists or a member of a group, who are trained, cast, produced and promoted by the same major management company. Korean management companies constantly scout and train new talent, and are often seen as cut-throat, talent factories. Implied criticism of this system comes as no surprise.
Eunice Shin is a Director at Manatt Digital Media (MDM), a deeply connected and entrepreneurial team, providing unparalleled, multi-disciplined services in business development and acceleration. MDM is at the forefront of digital innovation and multi-platform strategies - globally recognized as thought leaders and connectors in the digital media space. MDM’s unique perspective is through the lens of seasoned entrepreneurs, strategists, lawyers, analysts, venture capitalists, and incubators – working together to connect the digital media world. Eunice is a seasoned industry executive, passionate in partnering with innovative and transformational companies to accelerate business, creating competitive advantage and growth opportunities.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

ESPN, the New YouTube for Brands? Welcome to The Age of Lifestyle Media Companies

ESPN is not just for us couch potatoes anymore.  It is now a home for those selling those very potatoes from which the chips-we-eat-as-we-watch are made -- i.e., major consumer brands.  Huh?  What?

Here’s the story.  ESPN just announced -- nay, invited -- major brands to develop programming for their distribution platform, initially focusing on its TV Everywhere app.  Not commercials.  Not ads.  Not traditional sponsorships.  Actual entertainment programming.  Engaging video.  Case in point -- major media company, Dick’s Sporting Goods (well, perhaps not “major” yet, but possibly with major aspirations to become one some day -- Marriott anyone?) developed the documentary series “Hell Week” for ESPN.

Pause and chew on that for a moment.  Dick’s didn’t go to YouTube first with its videos -- historically, the standard path for brand-backed videos.  It went to ESPN first.  And, it paid ESPN for that privilege.  That is precisely ESPN’s goal -- to become the first choice for major brands to produce original, differentiated and compelling programming for its audience.  Outside the YouTube ecosystem.  And, here’s the beauty of it -- not only does ESPN get compelling (hopefully) new programming developed on someone else’s dime, they also get paid by that content creator (in this case, Dick’s) for that privilege AND ... wait for it ... ESPN also gets to run their traditional ads against that programming which pay yet again.  That is some Trifecta!  Kudos to you ESPN!

ESPN is not alone in its goal of being “the first choice” over YouTube for video creators, including brands.  This “divorce” from YouTube -- perhaps not a complete divorce, but at least a trial separation -- is a persistent theme in digital media circles these days.  Content creators of all stripes increasingly loudly express dismay (that’s a soft way of putting it for some) over YouTube’s 55/45 revenue split to creators.  The result is a burgeoning number of YouTube alternative platforms that promise better times for those video creators who enter their world first.  Think big OTT guns like Netflix and Amazon.  Think old stalwarts like Yahoo!, Comcast and Xbox.  Think major MCNs like Disney-fied Maker Studios, Otter-ized Fullscreen and hot young MCN Whistle Sports (which bills itself as a new kind of ESPN for millennials).  And, think newbies like Vessel and Zealot Networks.  Something is most definitely in the air ... on the air?  Yes, in more places than ever before.  High times indeed for the creative community.

Which brings us back to Dick’s.  Dick’s is not alone.  Marriott, as glibly noted above, just recently busted a move (reference, too dated?).  Pepsi just made major “noises” to that effect.  Starbuck’s.  And an increasing list of “others” all trying to pull a Red Bull and smartly transform themselves into lifestyle media companies that are significantly more interesting -- and engaging -- to consumers (especially to the coveted mobile-savvy millennial).

In any event, ESPN’s bold move is not to be denied.  Or overlooked.  It is yet another major data point demonstrating that brands increasingly see (or strategically want others to see) themselves as becoming media companies.  My business team and I at Manatt Digital Media see this directly.  We have already guided brands in this kind of media morphology.  We just recently finished a media transformation engagement for a respected beauty brand.  

This is real.  It is not fashion or fad.  And it is accelerating ...

Brands -- grab your lifestyles now while they last!  And, become storytellers, not just marketeers ...

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Kin Community -- My Interview with CEO Michael Wayne of the “Quiet" MCN for Women

Kin Community -- a leading women’s lifestyle MCN (in fact, they bill themselves as being "the #1 women’s community"), but have you heard of them?

Chances are, “no."  But, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know them.  It may just mean that this MCN's story is a bit more difficult to tell.  

I recently sat down with founder & CEO Michael Wayne at the company’s beautiful offices in Santa Monica, California -- very near the offices of fellow MCN Tastemade (which I recently profiled).  And, I learned a lot in our time together ... and was impressed by his thoughtful, disciplined and, yes, humble approach to his overall business.

First, here are some facts that may make Kin Community’s pitch more challenging and less easily “hype-able":

(1) Kin is a rarer kind of MCN “animal” -- unlike a purely style/beauty-focused MCN like StyleHaul (which has long-rumored to be in M&A “play” as we speak), Kin Community covers multiple vertical lifestyles for women (food, health & fitness, beauty & style, parenting, home, and entertainment).  This means its overall story is, by definition, less focused and easily “pitch-able”;

(2) it is significantly smaller than mega-MCNs like Maker Studios (acquired by Disney for up to $1 billion) and Fullscreen (acquired by Otter Media for a deal rumored to value the company for up to $300 million).  In fact its scale is about 1/10th that and more Big Frame-like (acquired by AwesomenessTV for $15 million).  Nonetheless, Kin is certainly larger than other leading MCNs who have a bigger spotlight.  Kin now reaches 25 million subscribers (about half of whom subscribe to one channel -- “The Ellen Show”, as in Degeneres), with over 207 million monthly views, and over 4.3 billion lifetime video views.  In other words, its reach is real; 

(3) the company launched in 2007, practically a different generation and vintage from most leading press-proven MCNs.  This genealogy is very important to understand, because let’s not forget the impact (both financial and psychological) of the Great Crash of 2008 on all entrepreneurs who pre-dated that crash.  Unlike post-Crash MCN babies like StyleHaul, Kin had to weather the storm -- which meant that it needed to deploy its cash conservatively, much more conservatively than the speed of deployment of most MCNs today.  In the words of Michael Wayne, “we are recession children” -- and, that fact clearly has made a lasting impression on him and how he runs his company.  As a result, Kin’s steady growth over time may be less “exciting” than younger MCNs who have jumped higher and faster (even if some of those may be doing so with less compelling financial results).  Let’s face it -- the press (and investors) always prefer the young upstart with $0 revenues that can scale to infinity and beyond;

(4) the company’s CEO, Michael Wayne, doesn’t seemingly actively court the press or seek the limelight.  But, he is a proven entrepreneur who really knows his business -- he just may approach it in a more deliberate fashion for the reasons discussed above;

(5) the company caters to a slightly older female demographic -- certainly older than StyleHaul’s.  62% of Kin's viewers are between the ages of 18-52 (by the way, 74% of all viewers are women).  As such, it is not as much of a “millennial” play as most of the others.  After all, youth sells;

(6) Kin, at least for now and unlike most other MCNs, is content to live on top of YouTube’s platform and not chase other distribution platforms.  Kin, unlike others, is also generally content with its ad and branded-content and sponsored business model.  While Kin ultimately may syndicate and “upstream” more of its original content, unlike StyleHaul, don’t expect direct commerce opportunities here anytime soon; and

(7) unlike virtually all other major MCNs that feature hundreds and usually thousands of video creators, this MCN features only 90 or so (the most of important of which is “The Ellen Show”).  Fewer creators, personalities and channels mean fewer personalities to hype the overall story itself.

But, less hype doesn’t translate immediately into being any less impressive.  And, here’s why:

(1) the company has actually attained stand-alone and ongoing profitability (on a long-term basis);

(2) it also just recently closed a significant Series C round of $12 million in financing to further diversify its channel line-up and significantly accelerate its scale, particularly internationally -- not by the blue chip kind of “usual suspect” MCN investors that we have come to expect, but instead by stealth international strategics (led by Canadian media company Corus Entertainment) who can further accelerate the company’s “quiet" global growth; and

(3) the company’s relationships with its brand partners run deep and frequently extend for years.  Take Target.  Target is the reason Michael Wayne and his team targeted the more mature women’s market in 2007 in the first place.  And, Target remains its biggest sponsor today.

Kin Community.  Certainly not the hare.  But, not necessarily the tortoise either.  

Perhaps just a company in the MCN space that has already demonstrated a real, long-term stand-alone business model.

Kind of quaint.  Definitely a bit quiet.  But now ready to amplify its voice.