ABC's Digital Evangelists
Group will integrate strategy across the company's divisions
By Anne Becker -- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/26/2006 7:00:00 PM
ABC has created a five-member team to help bring content to new platforms and better integrate digital media into the company's planning. The team members will report to Albert Cheng, executive VP of digital media for the Disney-ABC Television Group, and act as both TV-group liaisons and digital educators to the company's various divisions.
The move comes as major media companies scramble to organize their digital strategies and get their broadcast divisions with the program.
“The world is changing so quickly that we need to have very smart people on the frontlines who learn and understand and keep track of what's going on in the marketplace,” says Anne Sweeney, co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president, Disney-ABC Television Group. “Albert's group is designed to have their finger on the pulse and work with internal groups to really help them move across that great divide.”
Says Cheng, who assumed his newly created post last September after working in affiliate sales and marketing for Disney and ESPN Networks: “We have to work within each organization to evangelize the operation for traditional media and think about how they can play in the new space,” he says. “The challenge is, how do you work within a very large organization to move quickly within the digital media space?”
The team members are Helene Dina, VP of digital media for Soapnet and ABC Family; Bruce Gersh, senior VP of business development for ABC Entertainment and Touchstone Television; Bernie Gershon, senior VP/general manager of ABC News Digital Media Group; Mindy Stockfield, VP of digital media for Disney Channel and Jetix, an action-adventure block that runs on Toon Disney and ABC Family; and David Watson, VP of product design and development.
Among the challenges the team will face is how best to disseminate the company's content digitally while protecting it from piracy and preserving the Disney-ABC brand.
So far, ABC has been careful about funneling its programming to digital outlets. Although Disney was the first company to partner with iTunes when it offered episodes of ABC's Lost and Desperate Housewives, it has not released content to others, such as Google Video. Unlike Google Video, which displays various networks' shows together on one page, iTunes provides a more distinct branded environment, as well as a simpler search function for users.
“This programming, especially a show like Lost, is very valuable to ABC,” so it wants the network branding attached, says Jaime Spencer, an associate in the domestic-TV division at consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates. He believes that the variety of content-distribution technologies could dilute the brand.
“At the same time,” he adds, “there's a lot of buzz being generated from viral exposure so there's really no reason to limit where you are.”
Viral success, however, presents its own problems, notes LeeAnn Prescott, a senior research analyst at Internet-monitoring service Hitwise U.S. After NBC demanded that the viral venue YouTube remove “Lazy Sunday,” Prescott says that the popular SNL clip is now difficult to find on NBC's own site. A search turns up links to messages boards about the clip, not the clip itself.
“As these networks start to become concerned about copyright issues with their content showing up on other sites,” she warns, “they need to make their own sites more user-friendly.”
This spring, ABC will try to lure viewers to its site with free, ad-supported content: episodes of three prime time hits, including Lost and Desperate Housewives. Ten advertisers will participate in the trial, which will offer new ad models, such as allowing users a choice between viewing a spot and playing an ad-sponsored game.
For Cheng, the challenge is to put content out there while keeping it close.
“When you get to a world where digital media's gatekeepers have gone away and consumers can access content any which way they want,” he says, “branding becomes all the more important.”
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