Traditional media organizations are scrambling to retain relevance and generate revenue in light of the competitive forces brought on by the web. While the ongoing evolution of media is generally considered to be detrimental to content creators – consider the financial woes of prominent figures in the newspaper and music industries, for example – new forms of cross-platform content are emerging that hold great promise from both a consumer engagement and revenue generating perspective.
Tel Aviv-based The Box epitomizes the new breed of content creators that are redefining how people consume content and engage with brands. The production company, which also maintains a presence in Los Angeles and Paris, is unique due to its focus on creating “content around technology” for advertising and entertainment purposes. Though according to Yaki Gani, VP of Business Development, the line between what is considered advertising and what is considered entertainment is increasingly hard to define.
The company, which was founded in 2003 by CEO Eli Uzan, initially focused exclusively on delivering creative advertising services. Clients include blue chip companies like Nike, Coca-Cola and Disney, and while the advertising content is varied, the campaigns offer consistently high levels of consumer engagement. For example, consider the Diet Coca-Cola campaign which involved the development of a site called “Do what feels good”. The flash-heavy site presents visitors with a set of pre-produced video clips which all conclude with a customizable foggy window component. After selecting a clip, the visitor is able to craft a personal message which then becomes seamlessly integrated into the video content and can be sent on to friends via social networks.
This kind of advertising – industry insiders refer to it as ‘advertainment’ – works well for advertisers because it typically incorporates viral components and helps brands to foster deeper relationships with consumers. And consumers benefit because, unlike most passive advertising alternatives, they engage voluntarily and receive entertainment value. Other campaigns include significant video content components, and production values are consistently world class.
About 3 years ago the company began extending its scope into the entertainment industry with the creation of cross-platform content for production and distribution in partnership with mainstream broadcasters. The most notable example of The Box’s entertainment efforts to date is CelebZ, a prime-time television show which aired in Israel earlier this year. The animated series, referred to as “the story of the celebrities’ self governed neighborhood, where nobody is famous because everyone is”, represented a new level of consumer engagement for mass market entertainment. The series was complemented by an interactive website which enabled viewers to create sketches of scenes that could be submitted to the show’s creators for review and possible inclusion in the series. (Up to 25 percent of each show was made up of user generated content.) Throughout the series, the site attracted 1.5 million hits and facilitated the creation of 15,000 sketches. Evidently, the concept of truly interactive cross-platform entertainment resonates with consumers.
The Box is currently engaged in discussions with broadcasters in France and the US with regard to the development of localized versions of the CelebZ series. Interestingly, the company has also received expressions of interest from advertisers, which view this kind of interactive platform as a promising way of engaging consumers with their brands. This is consistent with the increasing popularity of ‘advertainment’, as evidenced by the success of the Burger King-sponsored series Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy and others. Tensions may arise, however, when content creators seek to incorporate concepts that are not consistent with a sponsor brand’s image. The ill-fated Windows 7-themed episode of Family Guy, which was later abandoned by Microsoft, provides a case in point. Nonetheless, it is clear that ‘advertainment’ holds increasing appeal for advertisers in an era when conventional advertisements are less tolerated and less capable of engaging consumers.
The Box raised a round of financing earlier this year from Greylock Partners. At first glance it seems a curious investment by Greylock, as most content companies are not compatible with the venture capital financing model. But The Box is no ordinary content company and, with an increasing focus on the development of original concepts, like CelebZ, the company has the potential to build cross-platform entertainment brands with global appeal. These concepts represent valuable intellectual property, though not of the patentable variety that most readers are accustomed to. Exactly how valuable existing and future creations are is an open question. But The Box could be positioning itself to become the equivalent of Endemol for the cross-platform interactive entertainment era. (Endemol, a Dutch company, is the creative force behind Big Brother, Deal or No Deal and other mass entertainment success stories.)
The Box is pioneering a model of interactive cross-platform entertainment which has proven appealing for consumers and is well suited for adaptation as the media landscape continues to evolve. While over the next decade or two we will likely see the complete phasing out of traditional distribution platforms, like cable television, it seem that the death of these traditional media industries has been called prematurely. Under its current model, The Box is ensuring that consumers can get the benefits of the large-screen high quality viewing experience made possible by cable television, while incorporating the powerful interactive elements made possible by web technologies. Early signs suggest that this is a winning formula and that The Box could be the driving force behind one of the next big things in mass entertainment. This of course assumes that Uzan and his team can continue to think, err, differently.