It’s been a big year for Hearst and Verizon, respectively and together. Between Hearst’s big investment in, and subsequent acquisition of, Complex and Verizon’s aggressive push into video with the launch of mobile streaming service go90, its stake in Awesomeness TV, slew of digital video deals, the two companies have been at the center of the video tidal wave for the better part of a year and a half.
Now, from AOL’s Newfront, taking place in New York tonight, the two companies have unveiled the strategy for RatedRed.com and Seriously.TV, as well as the 20+ employees that have been hired to operate and serve as on-air talent for the streaming brands.
As many media businesses learned from YouTube’s Original Channels initiative, standing up a channel isn’t easy. It takes a layer of surgical diligence about content strategy, talent (both executive and on-camera) and focus on targeted verticals to even have a chance at making it work.
But Hearst’s Neeraj Khemlani and Verizon’s Shawn Strickland, are lazer focused on scaling the two brands under the joint unit they formed — Verizon Hearst Media Partners — by building a centralized team on product and development.
Big Bets on Original Video and On-Air Talent
RatedRed.com is a video-first channel aimed at reaching millennials concentrated in the Heartland — perhaps a friendlier way of saying “middle America.” SeriouslyTV.com, a satirical commentary and comedy news site, will look to match late-night comedy vibe with daytime consumption habits of young adults. Just as Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel have become the draws for late-night tune in, Verizon and Hearst are placing bets on their own stable of on-air talent to do the same mid-day, when mobile video consumption peaks.
“There’s a lot of hunger for developing on these platforms because of the freedoms that they represent, whether in format or in speaking to a direct audience. So we are seeing great flow,” said Strickland on the volume of pitches coming in, noting that they aren’t winning everything. But video will be a blend of both daily quick-twitch video and premium programming.
In addition to premium content, RatedRed and Seriously will feature a myriad of videos from on-air talent, both established and what Hearst and Verizon hope will be homegrown talent.
“It is critical to us that there is an integrity to the product and the output that is reflective of the brand and the audience,” according to Strickland.
Among the talent is Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Todd Schwarzschild (CNN), CNN Headline News’ Daily Share producer Mark Somers, YouTube stars Abby Casey (“RealTree Outdoors”) and Richard Ryan (“FullMag”), for RatedRed. For Seriously.tv, Ethan T. Smith (“HBO’s Da Ali G Show”, “Billy on the Street”), comedienne Nore Davis (“Inside Amy Schumer”) and writer Delaney Yeager and producer Max Browning, both from the “The Daily Show,” among others.
Hand-picking Premium Development Teams Was Crucial to the Strategy
As VideoInk has noted on prior occasion,the online video business has suffered from not hiring seasoned development execs to run programming decisions, a mistake Khemlani and Strickland aren’t looking to replicate.
“As all of media is going thru disruption, Shawn and I have been able to attract people from Comedy Central, “The Daily Show”, “The Colbert Report, and CNN’s investigative unit and I feel lucky that we’ve been able to cherry pick,” noted Khemlani.
On the content team, Justin Killion (“Star Wars,” “Ice Road Truckers), pictured left, will head up premium development for both scripted and unscripted content, with Melanie Moreau, who has produced more than 30 original series for television, digital series vet Corey Moss, Brian Silbert, from TruTV, and Cory Stern (“Inside Amy Schumer,” “Broad City”) are also tasked with development.
On product, “60 Minutes” and “CBS This Morning” vet will head production while Hulu and NBCUniversal alum David Vogler will serve as Executive Creative Director, Head of Design. Theo Burry, who comes from NowThisNews, will serve as Chief Technology Officer.
“Part of these relationships that we’re building and the brand we’re building are tied to the distribution capabilities we’ve got at the Verizon and AOL family,” said Strickland. “For all of these brands we’re putting forward licesnses to develop premium content so from that perspecitve having a strong credible experienced development team was absolutely necessary for the vision we saw for thsese brands.”
And the teams above will be centralized, to eliminate redundancies, but each brand will have their own dedicated editorial teams dedicated to regular daily output.
RatedRed and Seriously Will Be Everywhere, But Not All the Time
As a brand-building tactic, RatedRed and Seriously won’t be judicious when it comes to distribution. Khemlani and Strickland note that the content will be created daily by on-air talent and the social video creative teams — a learning that could have originated with Huffington Post’s success with NowThisNews. The two tell VideoInk that Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and other platforms are all fair game with hopes that presence on those platforms will help drive audience and brand awareness. They each have their own media destinations where content will live as well.
Premium content, on the other hand, will be developed for Verizon, AOL and Hearst-owned brands first, with eyes on windowing content to other premium platforms and in windows, both domestic and international.
“The purpose of this project is to build programming that engages and builds strong, passionate audiences on both RatedRed and Seriously,” Strickland said with Khemlani adding, “We’re in the first innings of these new digital video brands emerging for a new generation and on new distirbution vehicles. These are two startup cahnnels. But they’re advantaged greatly by the assets of both of our companies.”