Insights is a weekly series featuring entertainment industry veteran David Bloom. It represents an experiment of sorts in digital-age journalism and audience engagement with a focus on the intersection of entertainment and technology, an area that David has written about and thought about and been part of in various career incarnations for much of the past 25 years. David welcomes your thoughts, perspectives, calumnies, and kudos at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @DavidBloom.
This installment of Insights is brought to you by Zype.
One of the more entertaining pastimes in today’s online-entertainment business is watching veteranos from the early 2010s adjusting to a much bigger and crazier industry with far more high-end competition and giant audiences.
Some of those early Multi-Channel Networks, or MCNs, are now a footnote in some big company’s quarterly earnings, if that. But others keep rolling, evolving to survive and thrive in a rapidly transforming and far more diverse industry that considers the term MCN ancient history.
I was at the summer party last week at Jukin Media, now 175 employees strong. Their core business model of licensing and leveraging a huge library of soon-to-be-viral online clips appears to be working better than ever.
And then there’s DanceOn, once a pioneering MCN that has evolved into a programming brand creating a wide range of original content built around its deep connections in the worlds of dance and music. Based in Hollywood, the company is still headed by CEO and co-founder Amanda Taylor, a self-proclaimed “musical theater nut” who first worked in dancer and choreographer management.
DanceOn moonwalked onto my mental radar three years ago, when I ran into Taylor and co-founder Allen DeBevoise (also Machinima’s co-founder and former CEO/Chairman) after an event. Notably, the site’s other two co-founders are Madonna and Guy Oseary, the prominent music executive and manager of Madonna, U2, and Amy Schumer.
Taylor’s pitch back then was pretty strong: 30 million fans of dance, including kids taking lessons, amateur and pro performers and lots of fans of kinetic movement captured on video. The company was one of the 100 channels that YouTube funded in a $100 million 2012 initiative, and one of the 40 or so that got a second year of support.
DanceOn and its coterie of creators provided performances, competitions, music videos and lots of related dance-oriented material. Even better, plenty of advertisers wanted to reach DanceOn’s audience. I was intrigued: a tightly focused, vertically oriented service made sense, super-serving a specific audience rather than chasing scale like such sprawling mega-MCNs as Maker Studios.
Since then, Taylor’s pitch has only gotten stronger.
“It’s a huge vertical, and dance is one of the original passion points,” Taylor told me recently. “We have 100 million followers and 1 billion monthly views” of the company’s videos on YouTube, Musical.ly, Facebook, Instagram and just about every other online outlet.
That expansion into other platforms is a reflection of DanceOn’s redefinition of itself as “a social-first video programming team to design, create and deliver original content uniquely created for each social destination.”
DanceOn’s audience is substantially composed of young Millennials and the even-younger Gen Z. And while DanceOn is all about dance, it’s inextricably tied to music, YouTube’s single biggest source of traffic. And because dance and music transcend language, the videos can find audiences worldwide.
DanceOn has benefitted from close relationships to viral sensations such as the dance-heavy debut hit from rapper Silento. His “Watch Me (Whip/NaeNae)“ spent 18 weeks in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 2015, has received 1.3 billion views on YouTube and in turn has spawned a cottage industry of YouTube cover videos.
DanceOn helped drive the song’s success, building an array of short-form and “micro-form” (less than a minute in length) content around Silento’s original for various platforms. It also built a show around one of the song’s most successful video cover artists, Heaven King and her crew.
Now the company uses that approach with a range of prominent dancers, helping drive audience for them and DanceOn on various social platforms, Taylor said
The company also now produces original unscripted and competition shows, most prominently with Boy Squad, featuring five solo dancers brought together by choreographer Matt Steffanina in a weekly series. That show is one of seven (so far) that DanceOn is creating for Verizon’s revamped Go90 video-driven mobile service. All told, the company has made about 30 longer-form series for several distribution outlets.
“We really are about content and compelling stories,” Taylor said. “We’re a programming brand. We’ve always been a programming brand first. We leverage talent. We’re not about aggregation.”
And though the company still creates plenty of short-form and micro-form content, with Boy Squad and other new programs, it’s venturing into longer shows on Go90 and YouTube, part of an effort to provide both classic viral content and higher-quality premium material.
“Audiences want both,” Taylor noted. “They want to be part of the social-video experience, watch it and participate in it. But they also want a more lean-back experience.”
Taylor also explained the company is less focused on one recent trend, creating exclusive content that sits behind a subscription video-on-demand service’s paywall.
“It’s exciting that YouTube is announcing premium shows that sit in front of their (YouTube Red) subscriber wall,” Taylor said. “Now I’m seeing a resurgence. People are really excited about launching big shows in front of a paywall. There’s a lot of opportunity to see an advertiser(-based) model evolve. There’s no reason not to do that ourselves.”
Like any smart online-media company, DanceOn uses data to help spotlight hot videos and performers on the way up, testing material with small groups of influencers to see what will likely be a hit when the video goes public six months later. It’s been able to ride and even help drive dance sensations such as dabbing and Hit the Quan.
Recently, singer Katy Perry hosted a contest through DanceOn to find a dancer for her next music video, a promotion in support of her recently released album. The contest received more than 4,000 video submissions. DanceOn built microform content around the contest to promote it and will also make an unscripted show about the process and the winner announcement.
“It’s its own marketing machine,” Taylor said, as contestants used the Perry song Swish Swish for all their submissions, promoting the song even as they created more content that could find more followers. “We’re a music-centric programming brand. We have creative capabilities, marketing, distribution. Most importantly, we’re about building brand and great stories, so that not only will (fans) watch us, they’ll follow us.”
To be clear, Taylor and DanceOn face all the challenges everyone else in the digital-media space must solve too. In fact, this has been an epic week in an epic year, as several companies position themselves for the next wave of changes:
- Disney said it will end its film and TV licensing deal with Netflix after 2018, and finally launch standalone SVOD apps for that content as well as ESPN.
- To console itself, Netflix bought comic-book giant-in-the-making Millarworld, and announced the debut of a David Letterman talk show.
- Facebook unveiled its new “Watch” tab, home for its premium video initiative, and disclosed programming deals with National Geographic, Major League Baseball, Univision, Time Inc.,Hearst and more than two dozen other providers.
- Apple Music finally debuted Carpool Karaoke, spun off from James Corden’s The Late, Late Show on CBS and one of Apple’s first (semi-)original video shows.
- New services keep arriving. Amazon Channels added BritBox, which features BBC and ITV shows such as Dr. Who, East Enders and Coronation Street. BritBox’s direct competitors for Amazon Channels subscription dollars include PBS Masterpiece, Acorn TV, British Pathe’ and Best of British.
- Former Fox News Channel star Bill O’Reilly, forced out over a series of sexual-harassment lawsuits, launched a subscription-only 30-minute news show on his website.
- NBC officially killed its inexplicably named comedy service SeeSo, weeks after the CEO departed and much of the staff were laid off.
- The film business is getting hammered. Movie chain AMC saw its stock price drop 27% after a miserable quarter and an 11% drop in summer box office. The four biggest movie chains lost $1.3 billion in value since Aug. 1.
- FX network chief John Landgraf went Skynet about Peak TV, referring to the “titanic struggle” between traditional media and the tech-backed giants throwing cash at digital video. “I want the humans to be able to hold their own against the strength of the machines,” he said. His network also launched the standalone app/service FX+.
Amid all that, Taylor said her company continues to carve out a spot, so it can remain independent as a sustainable, standalone business. Remaining light-footed among the media and tech giants, dancing between their lumbering, massive brands, will be the key.
This installment of Insights is brought to you by Zype. Zype makes it easy for content owners to build and manage successful direct-to-consumer video businesses. The platform supports both Video On Demand and live video, multiple integrated monetization models and turnkey automation that simplifies video workflows. Visit www.zype.com to request a demo.