Trusted Media Brands: ‘CTV Was Built On The Same Soil That Digital Was Built On’

Mike Richter, VP of global revenue operations for CTV and digital, Trusted Media Brands

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Publishers are finally pivoting to video, but this time, they’re doing it on their own terms.

For Trusted Media Brands (TMB), the publisher of Reader’s Digest, the acquisition of viral video publisher Jukin Media last August has been both a revenue driver and a stepping stone to connected TV. (Fun fact: Reader’s Digest celebrates its 100th birthday this year.)

“Jukin didn’t have a strong dotcom strategy – we barely focused on our dot coms whatsoever – and TMB didn’t have a very strong video and social strategy,” said Mike Richter, who joined Trusted Media Brands from Jukin after the deal. He now works across both CTV and digital as TMB’s VP of global revenue operations, marrying the brands’ efforts together.

Jukin’s portfolio includes free ad-supported TV (FAST) channels born out of user-generated content and social brands, including People Are Awesome, FailArmy and The Pet Collective, as well newly launched channels that pull content from TMB’s portfolio of lifestyle publications, such as Taste of Home and Family Handyman.

Last year, TMB, which uses Unruly as its SSP, grew its streaming viewership by 76% and its revenue by more than 110%.

Richter spoke with AdExchanger.

AdExchanger: What is an example of something that digital media companies can learn from the CTV space?

MIKE RICHTER: First, it’s that getting into CTV is not as scary as it sounds. It does require heavy investment, but there is also a lucrative return. CTV took what digital has done and made it simpler.

CTV was built on the same soil that digital was built on using the same underlying VAST specs mixed with the protocols used for general broadcast. For example, SCTE markers were originally built for ad insertion in traditional broadcast and now they work in CTV for the purpose of identifying an ad break to switch it to server side. There’s nothing truly innovative about the concepts here, but the way we’re using automation is innovative.

What can CTV do to make sure it doesn’t repeat some of the same mistakes that digital media companies have made?

As an industry, I think ad experiences have gone stale. Mainly, you have display, which is just banner ads, and 30-second spots during commercial breaks. We have to think of ways to get more creative.

I love what Origin Media is doing to challenge the status quo and come up with new products, but there also have to be other ways to make the viewing experience and the user experience on both digital and CTV more of a utility and less of an annoyance. Show me things that are going to improve my life or things that are related to the content I’m watching.

What goes into launching a FAST channel?

Vaults or content libraries are a goldmine for many CTV apps and channels. It doesn’t take new content to attract users, you just need content that is bingeable and that will keep people engaged – and that can be older content, original content or syndicated content.

I’m a big believer in using syndicated content as long as it makes sense for the general genre of the channel or app you’re building.

In order to build and launch a CTV channel that is accepted by the platform, you need to have enough programming to fill the whole day. You can repeat content and get away with about 55 to 60 hours worth to start, but it’s a lot easier on the programming and the marketing teams to have at least 100 or 150. Less than that, and the content will go stale pretty quickly for anybody that tunes in on a regular basis.

You also need to have at least two or three original series to launch so you can drive as much appointment-based watching as possible, because you’re on a schedule.

From there, you test everything. You look at the time of day, session length, what happens if you flip episodes around, what happens if you do a promo and you see what drives viewership.

The streaming wars are often framed as a battle for attention with billions of dollars being spent to woo people with high-production-value programming. But what is the role of user-generated content in streaming?

Programming television with UGC content isn’t actually cheap. It might be slightly less expensive than a traditional television show, but you’re still looking at a multimillion-dollar investment for a single show or series.

We’re not just taking unmoderated UGC, slapping it together and throwing it on a screen. All of the UGC we bring in house goes through a strict vetting process. Shows are conceived like any traditional show is conceived and then workshopped into a storyboard, even if not scripted. Our producers look in our library for content that’s supportive of the storyline and, if we don’t have what they’re looking for, our content sourcing team, which is spread all over the world, goes out and looks for content from users just like you and me.

We also have a full-fledged production studio in LA where we produce our own supplemental content.

What do you think about Netflix planning to launch ads? Gotta ask.

They’ve been very smart about the strategy. All of a sudden Reed Hastings is saying he’s into ads – sure, that works. But for the past two years, he made his beliefs about advertising very clear, because he wanted to protect the brand.

Netflix has been raising its rates ever so slightly every six to nine months. Generally speaking, when you begin to offer an ad-supported tier, it’s at a discounted rate, but now Netflix can offer it at the same rate everyone was paying two years ago. In other words, they’ve adjusted the user’s expectations and can charge more.

With the ad experience itself, they have the opportunity to be innovative, and I hope they are, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a more traditional commercial-break-style system. A lot of their own content is designed with black cutaways, including the movies, so in a way it’s pre-built to meet advertising’s needs.

Now they just need to plug it in.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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