Blip’s Evan Gotlib on Content, YouTube and European Expansion

Evan GotlibBack in 2005, Blip (formerly was a startup video network bootstrapped by five individuals. Since then Blip has grown internationally and last year the company rebranded with a view to becoming the ‘go-to’ destination for episodic web series. In 2013 the company will be focusing more heavily on European markets than ever before, and VAN spoke with Evan Gotlib, SVP, Advertising Sales and Branded Entertainment, about the Blip proposition, YouTube’s content strategy, and how web native content differs from TV content.

VAN: For those who might not familiar with Blip, could you give a little background on the company?

EG: We’re a destintation for original independent web shows, which has been a core feature of Blip from the beginning. One of the reasons we’ve been able to enjoy a little bit of success has been the fact that we’ve never shied away from that core mission of allowing producers to find great distribution and great monetization for their shows [ad revenue is split 50/50 with independent video producers] so viewers can connect with their great content. I really believe in the new era of storytelling, which we now live in, and this democratisation of content that technology has allowed for.

Now for $300 you can walk into a consumer electronics store and buy enough kit to produce a web show. I also think we’ve moved away from the era when people looked down upon that type of content – now people cheer it. We’ve never strayed into the UGC area or entered the broadcast TV online’ space either. We’ve focused on online web shows and native storytelling for the web. That’s what Blip’s all about and will continue to be about.

What are the key differences between a ‘web series’ and content produced for TV?

I think the number one content in terms of our content vs TV content, is that a web show is still something that the viewer has to work a little harder to find. And during that process of discovery a relationship is built, and so the process of finding the content becomes far more central to your delight and enjoyment, than say flicking on the TV and watching The Simpsons or The Office etc.

With a web show you form a deeply personal relationship with the content as you have to make a conscious decision to find it and watch it, rather than it being pushed at you by a large network or cable company. I think that relationship not only of value to the viewers but also to our advertisers, by leveraging the special relationship our viewers have with that content.

However, we did some focus groups about a year ago and we found that our viewers really love television, saying it’s fun, entertaining and well produced. But they also have room for lots of other content. We think their time is collapsing but technology and time-shifted content is allowing them to watch so much more than they did in the past. So what they said to us was, ‘I’m never going to give up my TV and please don’t even talk about taking that away from me, but I’m also really interested in finding out about what else I could be enjoying’. That could be Blip shows, content from Netflix, music from Pandora etc.

How are you selling your inventory? Are you selling everything directly or do you also use ad networks and exchanges?

The majority – I’d say approximately 98% of our sales in the UK and the US are direct sales – but we do use some ad networks for international sales in markets where things are a little more complicated, such as in Eastern Europe, Asia and in some parts of Latin America. But the majority of our international sales in what you might call the big five European markets – the UK, Germany, Italy, France and Spain – we sell directly.

We tend to package it more as an audience buy rather than selling against any one individual show, so our value proposition to the advertiser is our ability to aggregate audiences they’re trying to reach across multiple shows.

Have YouTube’s forays into content benefited Blip at all?

The YouTube content experiment is interesting, partly because most of the shows aren’t actually being renewed. I don’t think that’s necessarily the fault of the shows, but I think the fundamental problem is that YouTube is not the discovery engine for long-form content, as much as they want to be. I think most people visit YouTube at least once a day, as I do myself. YouTube brings me great joy because I love to see the videos my friends send me. I put videos of my daughter on YouTube and share them with my family and friends, and it’s a wonderful service.

But I just think it’s going to be difficult for them to radically change that business because they have to resposition their service in the minds of a billion people. So I think that’s why they’re failing with their content strategy. I don’t think they’re made to be a discovery engine when the site is set up to be an uploading/sharing engine. I think it might be better for them to simply embrace their DNA as a destination for UGC – a billion people coming to your site really isn’t bad!

At Blip we’re thinking more along the lines of what we call ‘UGS’, which stands for ‘user-generated stories’. UGS is different to UGC which is often just a 30 second video of your cat throwing up. But I don’t think YouTube is the right place for storytelling because we’ve all been trained to be on YouTube for 30 to 180 seconds.

Are Blip doing anything with branded content? 

About 9 months ago, many of the agencies we work with started asking for content. It shifted from asking for your coolest, sexiest solomo thing, to your coolest, sexiest content thing. So we saw the writing on the wall. We created a few one-off branded content projects, but we soon realised this was going to become a major part of our business at Blip, so we created Blip Studios out in LA, which is a full-service, top-to-bottom, complete studio, and we’ve been creating content on behalf of our clients ever since.

Content is a great business for us because we know how to make web native content. We don’t make content for TV and are solely focused on native web video content. So all of the people who work in our studio on the development side are people who, at one point in time, had a successful web show. So they actually know how to do this, which I think puts us in a different position.

Which markets are you working in and where are you seeing the most growth at the moment?

We’re seeing explosive growth in Europe at the moment, particularly in the UK, Germany, France and Italy, to the point where we can hardly keep up with the growth and are selling out all of our inventory every month. So in the future we’re going to be dedicating a lot more resources to Europe, particularly in London.

We don’t have any content resources in Europe at the moment (other than our sales team) and we plan to create content in the native languages of the companies we’re working in. However, we do find that people in Europe love US content, but we still think it would be advantageous and useful to marketers if we create more native language content. So that’s something you’re going to see us do over the coming year as we roll out our international strategy.

What does the typical Blip advertiser look like?

We tend to focus mainly on Fortune 500 companies here in the US. We have about 300 unique advertisers and 26 of the top 50 advertisers in the US. For the most part that’s exactly who you would think including Chevrolet, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Xbox, Gamestop, AT&T and Verizon.

In the UK we do a lot of work with O2, Vauxhall and Lynx. We also have a high volume buying deal with Videology that funnels in about 50 different clients. Brand association is extremely important to us so we don’t really work with anyone outside of that Fortune 500 list.  I spent ten years at Conde Nast so I might be more attuned to this than most, but I think brand association is just so important.

What do you think we’re going to see happen in the coming year?

We’re going to see a significant consolidation in the video ad network space. I think there are too many of them and there’s too much that marketers don’t understand, so it becomes too scary for marketers. I think the winners will be people like Tremor who have been doing a really great job and understand video and the concerns of brands around things like brand safety.

I think you’re going to see more budget coming in to digital video, but I don’t think it’s necessarily going to come at the expense of TV as most people think – I actually think it’s going to come at the expense of print. I also think we’re going to see an explosion of branded content as more advertisers dip their toes into that world.

I think we’re also going to see more focus on OTT. I thought perhaps last year was going to be the year of OTT but it didn’t really happen, but perhaps 2013 will be the year it really gets going.

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