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Online video CEO says short form and more needed to reach fragmented audiences

? Media brands must consider how to reach and monetize audiences across many platforms, making multiple formats necessary for programmers today.

? Short form and midform are two different categories of content, with short form no longer than 3 minutes and midform between 3 and 22 minutes.

? Distribution agreements are increasingly opening up to include shorter exclusivity windows, which can last as briefly as 24 hours or one week.

Complex Networks, the lifestyle brand and media company formed from the acquisition of Complex Media Inc. by Verizon Communications Inc. and Hearst Corp., generates more than 810 million video views a month across its digital channels and is a top 10 publisher in the U.S. for social engagement on channels like Facebook Inc. and Google's YouTube. In a recent interview, Complex Networks CEO Rich Antoniello discussed how he sees the online video market evolving and the lessons he has learned along the way. An edited transcript of the interview follows.

S&P Global Market Intelligence: The terms short-form and long-form content get thrown around a lot in the media industry. If we define long form as TV episode length, so at least 22 minutes, how do you define short form?

SNL ImageRich Antoniello, CEO Complex Networks
Source: Complex Networks

Rich Antoniello: I think there is a true category of midform, and we look at that as anything between 3 and 22 minutes, and we categorize short form as anything under 3 minutes.

You also have to look at whether there is a premium nature to it. Are you building a franchise and a brand with it? Is it serialized? Or is it more of a one-hit wonder? One beautiful thing about short- and midform content and even some long-form content is the trend to be able to produce higher-quality content at infinitely lower prices. You have to be everywhere. That's why we have short-form programming, midform programming, premium programming and super premium programming, and we have varying budgets and formats within each of those as well.

What is super premium programming?

What we call super premium is basically where we are producing it for either over-the-top or linear platforms, and we're bringing in a big-name producer or we're spending big on talent. It tends to be $150,000-plus range per 22-minute episode. Not that it's directly around pricing. We have some longer-form programs that are super premium from a talent perspective, like our show called "Hot Ones." It's an interview show where we get celebrities or athletes or singers or comedians to come on and answer 10 questions. But before each question, they have to eat a chicken wing. And as each question gets harder, each wing gets hotter. So it's basically an interview show that completely disarms people. We've passed 150 million lifetime views on the show as a franchise. So it's massively successful, gets tons of views on multiple platforms but it's not a wildly expensive show.

Does the fact that there is so much diversity within the short- and midform medium create confusion? Is it potentially limiting growth?

I think a lot of people are pivoting to video now. But going into video is not a strategy — it's just going into a medium. How they are going to do that is the strategy. So when a lot of people go into video, they want to do it the cheapest way they can and get some views. To me, that's not a strategy. If you are a brand, you want to be able to talk to your entire audience around the topics that you are known for, and you are trying to tell a story. You have to get into narrative and give viewers an arc. And I don't think that is directly tied or limited by the length of time of the video. People are conditioned to watch shorter and shorter amounts of video because of the amount of time they spend consuming video on mobile versus a larger screen. I think the end consumer expects a lot more in terms of quality — and by that I don't mean money. I mean the thought that goes into it. Did you make them laugh or think about something? Did you surprise them? So that's where I think we need to make a delineation between what is premium within each of these categories and what does the end consumer really want within a spectrum of time.

How do you think about balancing the distribution platform's desire for exclusivity versus the content developers' desire for eyeballs and reach?

I don't think it's that binary. Because of the competition for platforms, people are being a lot less restrictive about windows. Previously, if you had an exclusive window on content, you could have it up to a year. But a lot of platforms we distribute on, they get a 24-hour window or a seven-day window. And then the content opens up. So maybe there's a fee from the licensing platform and then it reverts to an advertising revenue sharing agreement. With the diversity and the increase of platforms, it has created more power for the content producer, especially a quality one that can produce real audiences, which has opened up the ways to get paid and the length of the windows as well. And I think smart and creative platforms have responded well to that rather than trying to hold on to an exclusive piece of content.