After leaving StoryPipe in 2006, a company that focused on spreading filmmakers’ content, Colin Kimball wanted to produce original content of his choice. An avid foodie and lover of the Julia Child-type cooking shows of old, Kimball knew what kind of content he wanted to feature — he just needed a platform to host it.
With the idea for a “short form cocktail show” in tow, Kimball formed Small Screen to create a venue for the concept. Launched in April 2007, “The Cocktail Spirit with Robert Hess” became the Small Screen Network’s first series. Now, 180 episodes of “The Cocktail Spirit” later, Small Screen has 13 cocktail-based series and a whole bunch of recipes to go with them.
“It was more serendipity than anything that led me to Robert Hess and moved us into the craft cocktail movement,” Kimball explains. “From there, things just snowballed.” This refers to Hess connecting Small Screen to other “major players” in the cocktail scene, like Jamie Boudreau and Kathy Casey, who now both host their own shows on the network.
Kimball’s passion for food and drink keeps Small Screen honest. Honoring “the simplicity of the old school cooking show format,” Kimball says he wanted to create a place for shows that did this as television began to move further and further away from the concept. With the Food Network, etc., “falling way short of providing great, simple food and cooking content to the world,” Small Screen seeks to fill that void with knowledgeable professionals who know their ingredients and carry out their recipes with care on the smallest screen in your home.
While television continues to focus on competitions and “reality” food programming, it’s a comfort to know that some foodies are still dedicated to the basics when it comes to video entertainment. Small Screen plans to produce more original cooking and food programming and distribute it to places like YouTube, AOL On, Howdini, and Roku. But in the meantime, Kimball took the time to answer some additional questions we had about spirit brands, the whole business of being on and off YouTube, and the overall value of Small Screen:
It is widely known that on YouTube especially, the key age demographic is often younger than the legal drinking age (21). Was this a concern for you at all?
Small Screen launched it’s own site well before we launched a YouTube channel. When we launched in 2007, I, for lack of a better way to put it, hated YouTube. At that point, it was the place where you saw cat videos and dogs on skateboards. It was certainly not a place I wanted to put our shows. Since then, YouTube has obviously evolved and grown. I really appreciate YouTube as being one part of our larger distribution strategy. Just because the main demo for YouTube is relatively young doesn’t mean that young people are watching our videos there. In fact, according to YouTube Analytics, 95.5% of our US audience is of legal drinking age and 90% are above 25 years of age, a key in working with spirit brands.
What is Small Screen’s business strategy when it comes to working with liquor brands/retailers?
Small Screen has had great success working directly with spirit brands and their agencies at a sponsorship and brand integration level. Many of these partnerships have grown steadily over the years now and show no signs of slowing down. If anything, we are seeing greater interest from existing and new brand partners. For example, William Grant & Sons and their portfolio of spirit brands have sponsored four seasons of “The Proper Pour with Charlotte Voisey” thus far. They are looking to expand their relationship with Small Screen in 2014 and beyond. They see the audience we have built in the cocktail community and the data we have collected over the past six years and see it as a no-brainer to continue partnering with us.
What can you tell us about future developments for the Small Screen Network?
I look at what Andrew Creighton has done at Vice as a great example of what can be accomplished in the content space. For Small Screen that means more shows, more verticals, build, buy, partner. We will continue to produce new seasons of all our original programs, grow our brand partnerships, and develop new programming to feed the cocktail niche. In 2014 we will add food programming, finalize deals with top tier distribution partners, and begin building out proprietary systems and products that complement our video library and help our brand partners, who could not or would not advertise on traditional TV, advertise on small screens. For example, we just launched Small Screen Cocktails on Roku with our partner, Future Today, a company that helps content owners distribute and monetize their content outside of Youtube.
You’ve recently decided to build your own multi-channel network. Why?
We want to deliver real value to video creators. When we ask video creators what they want from an MCN, they invariably say, ‘Help with sales and distribution.’ Depending on the creator, they may also want help managing their channel so they can focus on producing video. That’s it. They don’t need more analytics or apps or discounts on third party services. MCNs are very young and we feel there is an opportunity to scale and compete with much larger companies by being better.
Why should a creator join your network versus others? What’s your value proposition?
There are thousands of video creators that get little or no attention from their MCN. How can they? The largest MCNs have 30,000 or more creators in their network. It is impossible to serve that many people in a meaningful way. Helping a video creator go from $100 a month to $200 a month in YouTube revenue is not something to cheer about, especially when the MCN is taking up to 50%.
In our opinion, the largest MCNs out there SAY a lot but DO very little to significantly expand reach and increase revenue for the vast majority of their creators. Our approach is to be very hands-on and collaborative with each and every creator we bring into the network. We will take what they create beyond YouTube to our top tier distribution network within days of signing with us and work with them to develop direct relationships with brands that are much more lucrative than pre-roll ad revenue.
Creators in our network keep 100% of the revenue they have developed thus far. Small Screen only shares in revenue that we help generate. Blanket boilerplate agreements are out the door, too. Each creator’s needs are different so each agreement we negotiate is specific to each creator. The video creators we know are the storytellers and audience builders and they are really good at those things. They should be treated like kings and queens, not serfs. So far, that value proposition seems to be working. We just signed SingleMaltTV into our network and have a number of deals in the works. If folks are interested in joining our network, they can email me directly at email@example.com.