Inside the mix

Recent endeavors by both Yahoo and CBS remind us of the mantra that content is king

Recent endeavors by both Yahoo and CBS remind us of the mantra that content is king

While one of the classic clichés of the marketing industry is that media companies are notoriously poor at their own marketing, there are nevertheless some strong media brands out there that are doing just fine.

But doing just "fine" isn't good enough in an age in which the media scene is being swollen by upstart new brands that are savvier at positioning themselves in the marketplace and connecting with their customers.

It's not just the popular blogs that are a threat here. It's the fact that the market is making room for media properties that already have huge brand power behind them. Consider Yahoo. As PRWeek wrote in its Editors' Choice feature (January 2, 2006), Yahoo is now setting agendas of its own in the cutthroat search market by focusing on content. That report's timeliness was in evidence last week with the news that Yahoo was preparing to revive a failed ABC reality TV concept on the web as a combination of an entertainment property closely related to a traditional TV show and an online game and community. The Runner for Yahoo has been in development for around six months, according to The Wall Street Journal, and has secured the assistance of reality TV guru Mark Burnett.

Yahoo has a patchy record of success with its content endeavors, and it is a gamble to take on a project of this magnitude. But what sets this project apart is that the game format (essentially, a "fugitive" played by an actor will run around the country while viewers/players attempt to find him or her) will showcase a lot of Yahoo's other products, such as its instant-messaging product, maps, and, of course, search. Burnett's presence, too, will likely bring some product-placement heft to the project.

Up until recently, CBS would have been deemed about as far away from Yahoo as a media brand could get. But the erstwhile "geezer network," having made up some ground in certain important dayparts (not least its Thursday night dominance), is also understanding the importance of extending what it can do with its properties and platforms and is embarking on a seven-episode original series that will run during ad breaks for about 60 seconds at a time. The idea is to train viewers to expect something exciting in the ad breaks, so they don't fast-forward through them while watching on their DVRs.

In some ways, this is a fairly radical event, which somewhat blurs the lines between advertising and content, especially as it is sponsored by GM's Pontiac. And rarely has the US produced an ad campaign that had viewers scouring the breaks for the next installment, unlike many other markets. The novelty could be CBS' downfall - and its saving grace, all at once. If viewers start looking forward to any property during a commercial break, advertisers may once more renew their faith in the medium.

But what this experiment also gives CBS, like Yahoo, is a chance to show off what it does best: showcase original content. Get that right, and the advertising - and viewers - will come.

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