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What (Really) Makes Content Premium?

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By Jason Kirk on September 20, 2011

It’s hard for a day to go by where a blog (or 50) won’t be writing a story about “Premium Content” online, on mobile, on tablets, etc. — it’s that phrase that supposed to give a site a feeling of distinction, an advertiser a feeling of comfort and a user a feeling of excitement and interest.

That all sounds well and good, but what does “Premium Content” really mean?

For many, that means Hulu or Netflix, platforms made up primarily of Hollywood-created content from studios and networks. It also means content that lives on platforms controlled by actual studios or networks like CNN.com or ESPN.com. A relative newcomer, Movieclips.com, takes your favorite movies and creates thousands of high-quality clips based on title, famous line, genre, theme or even mood.

The point is that much of this content (at least video) is taken from the same stuff you can (or have) seen in theaters or on television.

For others, it’s what many like to call “branded entertainment,” where content is being produced and sold to brands, but done in a way that it feels more distinguished and of quality compared to the user-generated video (UGV) that makes up the vast majority of sites like YouTube. It’s also often done by the same people and companies who create content for traditional media outlets, further adding to that feeling of quality.

Still others might look no further than companies like Bleacher Report (a favorite destination of mine) that takes a lot of user-generated sports content and makes it feel like ESPN.com. Sites like this are popping up more and more and making coach feel a lot more like business class, thanks to how they display and bubble up the content sometimes created by people just like you and me. As a result, brands and audiences are starting to buy into it (literally).

And there’s my own personal experience. Focusing on content here at Ustream, we’ve been fortunate to forge deals with numerous “premium” partners including CBS, UFC, TMZ, PGA Tour, TechCrunch and many more. We are also fortunate enough to have tons of celebrities, musicians, politicians and athletes go live each and every week. Everyone from Bon Jovi to Obama to Ochocinco has called Ustream home, and best of all, the engagement we see on Ustream usually is tops amongst video sites, which is great news for content creators because it means…people are actually watching the content.

But a funny thing happened last April. An amazing guy named Bob Anderson decided to put a camera up in Decorah, Iowa focused on a bald eagle’s nest. He then worked with us to get his channel set up and to get it promoted across our platform (Internet, Mobile and Connected TV). What happened next was something that nobody truly saw coming: In April alone, Bob’s little bald eagle cam had over 65M views and 8M unique viewers (with each one of those 8M viewers averaging around 5+ hours a month on the channel). The channel is now up to over 200M views and we’re working with Bob to create another cam that is preparing to “hatch” very soon.

If I went to the guys at Hulu or YouTube, if I walked into the ad agencies representing Johnson & Johnson and Coke, even if I went to a development team at some of the major cable nets, and I told them I had content that would generate 200M views in three months and keep audiences engaged for hours each a month, they’d say, “Where do I sign?” They’d also probably expect a multimillion-dollar, star-studded concept and production. Using the eagles as an example, money doesn’t always equal audience.

So then what does premium mean? Many might not think the Decorah Eagle Cam was premium (even though Bob had night-vision cameras and kept his audience updated on a daily basis). At the very least, most wouldn’t put it in the same bucket as say Family Guy on Hulu. But if Eagles are what people want to watch, if it attracts a specific audience and the broadcast quality is high, why not? In addition, it’s still about story. Whether it’s a Hollywood blockbuster, a hit TV show, breaking news live on Ustream or yes, animals, the stories drive the success more often than not.

If you’re a creator, consumer, advertiser or publisher, it’s time to rethink how you define premium content. Online video in particular, and blogs like Bleacher Report and Huffington Post, are blurring the lines between what is and what isn’t considered premium. The key is going back to the main objective of why we deem something premium in the first place. The assumption is premium content is of quality, is brand safe, might have talent attached to it and will attract a large audience. I think we all know by now that often doesn’t guarantee success by any means (Cowboys and Aliens anyone?). Don’t get me wrong, audience and quality are important, but after that, it’s anybody’s guess.

Click on the next page below for more about which television show over the past 20 years alread taught us all the lessons we’re re-learning now — the answer may surprise you…

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