Burton Jablin, senior vice president of content at Scripps Networks, is in charge of evaluating new platforms to determine how the company’s programming would work on cell phones, iPods and the Internet. And there’s a lot of content to work with. The Scripps family includes Home and Garden Television, Fine Living, Great American Country and Do-It-Yourself. Jablin recently spoke with Multichannel News technology editor Matt Stump about Scripps’ recipes for new-media success. An edited transcript follows:
MCN: How do you approach marrying the content you produce with the new platforms that exist today?
Burton Jablin: We like the idea of being technology and distribution mechanism agnostic. We want to make sure we’re satisfying consumers who are interested in home, food and project content — the three big categories we deal with — in the best possible way we can.
There is a little of the chicken-and-egg thing for all of us who create content: What’s going to be there first, the demand on the consumer side for getting content in a particular way or the ability for them to get it? You have to have both to make it work. Our job to make sure we’re there when consumers use particular kinds of technology.
There is a large degree of experimentation for us to learn as much as we can about how people are going to use Scripps Networks content. Our content tends to be information based with an entertaining element. In the deals we’ve done with cellular providers, we’re trying to gauge some of that.
We’re looking to provide short-form video for use on cell phones, such as Food Network recipes.
If you were watching Food Network last night and saw a great recipe, and you can’t remember the ingredient list while you’re walking through the grocery store, wouldn’t that be great to access that on your cell phone? That’s the kind of utility we’re talking about.
At the same time, we talk internally about how much video will people want to watch on a cell phone. We don’t know. We’re going to try to find that out.
MCN: Will you sell advertising?
BJ: That’s the intent.
MCN: Let’s talk about broadband and the 10 microsites you plan to launch in the next year.
BJ: We will roll in the next couple years — 10 is a good number to think about — vertical sites, although I’m not sure all these verticals will look or act the same.
The goal here is to roll out fully fleshed out and robust packages of content, channels — if you want to call them that — in even more targeted categories than HGTV and Food [provide] on air.
It’s the first one of this new group. We’ve already have HGTV Pro out there. This one is highly focused on the professional builder and consumers who are at a really sophisticated level of homebuilding that they want all the information. That’s getting 900,000 unique visitors a month now.
MCN: How much HGTV Kitchen Design material was on HGTV.com and how much are you expanding that with the new site?
BJ: The architecture of the site is completely new. Most of the packages and tools are new and original. It’s advertiser supported, where you can use advertiser products to populate the kitchen design. It’s got cabinet and countertop design functions, styles of appliances, colors, all of that is extremely nimble.
We’re launching with 200 videos. A good portion of those are re-edited and cut down from our video library. But we’ve also commissioned new video content for the launch and more and more original video content will rollout over the next few months.
MCN: You talk about packages and tools. Are there diagrams, for instance?
BJ: The big one is a kitchen design tool that is about as sophisticated as they come. It’s advertiser supported, where you can use advertiser products to populate the kitchen design. It has cabinet and countertop design functions, styles of appliances, colors. All of that is extremely nimble.
MCN: If I knew what I was doing, I could design the kitchen in my new home, hand it to a builder and say: “This is what I want.”
BJ: That’s the idea.
MCN: How many of the other 10 have you defined?
Jablin: I’ve been holding back on that just for competitive reasons. If you go to our Web sites and look at what’s on there already, it’s not hard to discern the categories we’re thinking about.
The bottom line is to create a much more video-centric experience online. Collectively, Scripps Networks is streaming 6 million-7 million videos per month right now. We want to be even more video-centric so people can have a real experience.
We know that the best way HGTV and Food Network work on air in connection with online is when people see something on TV and it inspires them to go to the Web site and get more specific information. Part of what we want to do is allow for you to have that experience, in full, on the Internet.
MCN: How many TV advertisers are with you online and what are you generating in online advertising?
BJ: We don’t break out revenue figures for online. But we have a large number of advertisers on our Web sites — it’s big money — and they have been there for a number of years.
MCN: How long ago did you get over the hump of putting video on the Internet in the face of criticism that it would hurt your TV business?
Jablin: I think we did get over it earlier than most [content companies], but there are still vestiges of that between the TV group and the online group. We had an internal team headed by Channing Dawson that was dedicated to emerging media that informed the executive-management team about what the opportunities were. We had a distribution team that worked really well to get us some deals.
VOD is a good example. We were out there early on and learned that you’re really not hurting [yourself] if more people are interacting more often with your content. We are creating relationships in more ways, more times, with more people, more often. And that can only be good for our brands.
And we didn’t dump lot of video on the Web sites all at once. We augmented the television experience. We didn’t replace it, at least for now.
More and more, our on-air and online teams have been working together to make this happen, because if we don’t, we don’t get the cost efficiencies of creating video.
MCN: What about doing deals with Google, Yahoo, MSN and AOL? Do you need those guys?
Jablin: We have had ongoing deals with MSN and Comcast.net to provide video content. Those renewals are in negotiations right now. You’re asking the right questions: How much do you work with them versus really building it out on your own Web site?
We’ve decided to try some things to see how it works. Generally speaking, our notion is that we’re building brands here at Scripps Networks. The overall goal is to make sure we build the brands in a way that we control how they are built and how they interact with consumers. If you can structure a deal that provides some benefit to the brand, in addition to providing content to those portals, then you are probably doing a good thing for both.
MCN: The Kohlers, the Sears, the mainstream advertisers you have online, do they have any inclination to go to Google or Yahoo, where there are more eyeballs, versus the specific demographic you provide?
BJ: There is no question with some specific advertisers that are endemic in our category — Kohler is a great example — they have worked very aggressively with us online. They see the value of a targeted group of consumers that they can advertise to.
So, yes, Google, Yahoo and America Online [have] huge numbers. But if you’re trying to sell somebody a whole bunch of appliances or fixtures or fittings for their kitchen or bath, don’t you really want the ones who are interested in kitchens and baths to begin with rather than kind of a scattershot approach.
If you’re looking for a particular audience interested in a particular thing there is no other place to get it in our categories than our Web site, no matter how big the audience is on Google, Yahoo or MSN.
What about subscriptions as a new media revenue stream?
Jablin: Not yet, but we are thinking about it. We want to be careful. We know there is an incredibly robust advertising play, and we don’t want to do anything to hinder that. But if we provide greater utility or greater access or something that customizes beyond what we offer generally on our Web sites, that may be something worth paying for on the consumer’s part.
To a consumer, they would end up getting such value -- either through the utility or customization that we’d offer and maybe through discounts on merchandise or discount coupons we do in conjunction with advertisers. The value proposition would be so weighted in favor of the consumer that they would think this would be really good for them to do.
MCN: What’s going with video-on-demand? Is it progressing to being a business?
Jablin: The [operators] clearly have an interest in VOD in a big way. We’ve been doing it for a long time and we want to continue to be a good partner. The key for us is to put together a combination of what’s going to appeal to the consumer, getting the metrics, assess whether it’s working for a consumer and hopefully bring in an advertising play that makes it works for everybody. I think we can arrive at that. There seems to be advertiser demand.
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