Feb 14, 2019

By Nicole Bitette
What clicks with digital viewers and how they are investing in the future.

A YouTube video called “Vanessa’s Quinceañera Highlights” has more than 28 million views on the platform — and while that might not mean much to someone who doesn’t obsess over quinceañeras, Awesomeness saw it as an opportunity.

The company launched My Dream Quinceañera on YouTube in 2015 and discovered a passionate and loyal audience. The series garnered more than 160 million lifetime views and is now more than 200 episodes deep, with two spin-off series and two more in the works. That’s just one example of how each brand under the Viacom Digital Studios arm—which includes Awesomeness—is tackling digital content in recent years.

Kelly Day, president of Viacom Digital Studios (VDS), announced at the Spark panel “The Social Frontier: Connecting with Audiences Across Next Gen Platforms” on Wednesday that Viacom is investing heavily in digital platforms and has made incredible gains. Across brands and networks, Viacom has roughly 860 million followers on social, generating about two billion video views a month and consuming three billion minutes of content, an increase of 200% from last year.

“Being a leader in the digital landscape requires us as a company to develop a whole new skill-set in how we think about developing and producing content to how we distribute content,” Day explained.

VDS now produces hundreds of hours of original content across every platform and is partnering with talent such as JoJo Siwa, Lauren Elizabeth, Annie LeBlanc, and the Merrell Twins and more.

“It’s not enough now for us to just serve up behind the scenes footage and clips,” Day said. “We have to really develop original programming that allows fans of our shows to dive much deeper both into the characters and personalities they really love.”

Day attributed the momentum to finding what really resonates with audiences by not only considering what they are interested in but also leaning into trends and discovering what talent and celebrities are talking about.

On Choosing Content That Resonates

Rebecca Glashow, co-head of Awesomeness, said her team really liked the idea of using real girls for the series My Dream Quinceañera and chose a narrative format, despite that it wasn’t very common YouTube at the time.

“It’s really delivering for us,” Glashow said of the 7-minute-long series. She explained that the audiences loved the girls on the series so much that they decided to follow the characters after the big day in additional spin-off series.

Lars Silberbauer, head of MTV Digital Studios, focused on the how the brand tapped into existing IP with the series, Singled Out, a dating show that formerly aired on MTV in the ‘90s. The show capitalizes on the talent featured in Wild N’ Out, has 3.5 million average viewers on YouTube, which Silberbauer notes is pretty impressive, as it’s four to five times more than MTV’s YouTube channel.

David Wilson, who started as SVP of BET Digital two weeks ago, spoke about how the brand is stepping into early 2000s nostalgia with the series Finding, which follows music artists who have dropped off since their success, like Tweet and J-Kwon.

“It’s very important to learn from our audience and constantly build on what works and try to figure out what works and improve on previous formulas,” Wilson explained. “We noticed our audience had a strong sense of nostalgia.”

Nostalgia also benefits the Nickelodeon Digital Studios team, since their young audience isn’t active on social media. Samantha Meiler, SVP of digital and social media at Nickelodeon, noted that her team has focused on appealing to “former Nick kids” with an investment on Facebook Watch with series like Nick Upgrades, On This Day and Remember When. This week, Nick Digital Studios launched a SpongeBob channel on YouTube and, on March 1, will debut a Nick Rewind channel for the nostalgic, young at heart.

Comedy Central also took a look at successful IP and decided to launch some spin-out channels, according to Jen Danielson, SVP of digital for Comedy Central.

Danielson said the network was surprised at the results. The fear was that by launching individual channels on YouTube, it would take away viewers from the brand channel, but it actually made a positive impact. “When a network’s IP is identified as having a strong YouTube community, IP-based channel spin-outs benefit both the audience and also the brand by clearly supporting our goal to increase digital share.”

Comedy Central launched both a Comedy Central Stand-Up channel and a Key & Peele channel, which ended up driving traffic back to the Comedy Central YouTube page, increasing views from 3.5 million to 5 million. Next month, Comedy Central will also start launching originals, Danielson revealed.

Day explained that each studio is approaching content on a per-platform basis, while still keeping each specific audience in mind.

“Social media platforms remain the go-to destination for young audiences in particular as they want to consume more and more content, and we see consumption of our content on every platform continuing to go up at incredible rates,” Day explained.

“Consumers today have a tremendous amount of choice, so beyond just creating great shows featuring popular talent, it is critical that we really think about each platform we are developing shows for individually, so we can ensure we are connecting our great content with audiences on those platforms.”