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Ellen Digital Network Eyes New Native Ad Experiences As TV Audiences Move Multiplatform

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MultiKim Kardashian and pop star Taylor Swift are the only people with more social followers than Ellen DeGeneres.

The popular talk show host’s brand transcends demographics and geographies, which has spurred a deeper shift into digital despite Ellen’s TV ratings strength.

In May, Ellen Digital Ventures and Warner Bros. Television launched the Ellen Digital Network to identify new areas for digital development. That includes 360-degree video ads, which Ellen’s team produced and aired for the first time last month on ellentube and EllenTV.com for Liberty Mutual.

Ellen teased the 360-degree video on-air but didn’t directly appear in Liberty Mutual’s video, which was essentially a giant native ad for the insurance brand.

The video took viewers down five different interactive storylines, all of which culminated in a “call to action” to dial Liberty Mutual for roadside assistance. The video ad has received 5 million views to date.

At a time when advertisers increasingly aim to align with the ethos of a media company or personality, this type of branded content co-creation is catching on with other big advertisers, including Chevy and Mondelez (in partnership with Fox and BuzzFeed), said Alana Calderone, VP of branded entertainment and new business for Ellen and a former brand manager for Unilever’s Caress.

That’s because brands have more of a direct role in the content creation process now, while the media owner supplies the audience for the tactical execution part. 

In Ellen’s case, many want to capitalize on DeGeneres’s massive social following. On YouTube alone, TheEllenShow channel averages 300 million views per month. On Snapchat, she averages a million views per day.

“The goal is to create a really great piece of content that will be seen by a lot of people and weave the brand authentically throughout,” Calderone said. “Although we agree to campaign objectives upfront, [the brand] trusts the show and the producers to figure out the story and craft it in a way that makes sense for our own DNA.”

Ellen employs 10 to 15 people who are focused on digital projects, while about 50 are focused on production for the television show.

In total, about 100 staffers work on Ellen’s owned and operated properties, which include user-generated video portal ellentube.com and the official talk show website EllenTV.com. Together, they generate 105 million page views per month.

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“Ellen’s television rating is wonderful, but it’s only a fraction of her following,” said Ed Glavin, an executive producer for “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “What’s changed most is you can no longer think about who’s going to see your content just on television. There’s no line between our show and the digital content we produce.”

Ellen’s media ventures surpassed BuzzFeed in December among top properties for total video views, according to data from Tubular Labs, due mostly to her growing multiplatform following.

Ellen Digital Network plans to develop native content and short, snackable videos going forward. In addition to its 360-degree videos, virtual reality is also attracting brands as Facebook and YouTube usher the interactive format into the mainstream.

Social distribution is a key part of Ellen’s strategy beyond her O&O since DeGeneres’ Facebook page has 24 million likes and Ellen TV has banked about 1 billion video views on the social platform to date.

“We as producers want to get as many people into our tent as we possibly can, but we also realize people consume content wherever they are,” Glavin said. “They are no longer willing to make an appointment with their television at 4 p.m. in their respective city.”

Ellen’s multiplatform audience has a distinct appetite for her content – the 25- to 54-year-old demo loves her linear programming while those aged 12 to 20 find her on YouTube – yet there is always some crossover, Glavin said.

Ellen Digital Network is not so maniacally focused on measurement as it is a gut check whether the digital content meets Ellen’s brand standards.

Only then, Glavin added, does engagement fall into place.

“I’ve been producing daily talk shows for 24 seasons and follow the numbers obsessively, yet I have a healthy skepticism of those numbers,” Glavin said. “It’s important not to overthink the numbers. If we do something on Snapchat, we know intuitively it’s probably about a 90% different audience than Facebook. We don’t just think about audience – it starts with good content.”

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