There were plenty of lessons to be learned from this year's Streaming Media East conference, held May 21-22, in New York City. Digital content creators of all stripes have plenty to learn from the video-focused crowd at SME, but a few key takeaways stood out above the rest.
1) "Media behaviors have fundamentally changed." - Lisa Valentino, SVP of multimedia sales, ESPN
You knew this already, but one of the biggest challenges facing digital content creators is just keeping up with the latest innovations. As soon as you think you've got your content strategy squared away, the internet throws another curveball at you with a new social platform or important connected device. ESPN has an unusual place in the TV market. Unlike many networks, its focus on sports -- and therefore live sporting events -- means its audience still watches much of its content live. But that slightly more traditional audience has not stopped it from creating a huge digital presence. Much of its focus has been on creating multi-screen and social experiences. Valentino even said that for any video ESPN owns on television, it can be turned around for the web within seven seconds. The implications of that are, of course, huge for things like instant replays. But what ESPN really shows other content providers is that it's never wise to get too comfortable. Media behaviors are in constant flux, and your content strategy will need to reflect that.
2) "Digital is now an authentic part of the storytelling process." - Rob Gelick, SVP and GM of digital platforms at CBS Interactive
So many "old media" companies treat digital like an afterthought, and consumers can tell. But Gelick says CBS has had the top network website for the past four years, and a big part of that success has been its whole-hearted embrace of the web as part of the story telling process. For instance, fans of the show The Mentalist will know that the main character has been tracking a serial killer named Red John for five years. He's narrowed the list down over the years, and if you go to the show's site, you can read dossiers on all the potential suspects. So if you've come to the show late, the backstory is explained in great detail -- perhaps even greater detail than most regular viewers would be able to absorb.But CBS took digital integration one step further with Hawaii 5-0, by creating an episode with three alternate endings and allowing viewers to vote on which suspect they thought should be the culprit. The east and west coasts even chose different killers, and so CBS aired different endings for each time zone -- effectively allowing the audience to be part of the story creation process. Which brings us to our next point...
3) "People are tired of being talked at." - Mike Whitmore, head of studio technology, HuffPost Live
The HuffPost Live is a new kind of news show which allows just about anyone with a webcam to be a part of the show. Using Google Hangouts, HuffPost Live allows people in their living rooms to get on the air and share their opinions right alongside the hosts and other guests. Why did the Huffington Post undertake such a technically challenging proposition? Because as Whitmore put it, "People are tired of being talked at. They want to be talked with."Digital content creators need to understand this in order to engage audiences. The HuffPost realized that its vibrant commentor community was a valuable asset and decided to capitalize on it by carrying the conversation over into the extremely engaging medium of video. Not every content company can do what HuffPost Live has done, but it's worth taking a look at your content and figuring out how to bring your users into the conversation.