By Sahil Patel
Publisher of the Year
In 2011, Conde Nast, the century-old publisher known for print brands like GQ, Glamour, The New Yorker, Vogue, and Vanity Fair, decided to make a big investment in video. So it launched Conde Nast Entertainment, a video production and programming division tasked with developing new projects for film, television, and digital.
But it wasn’t until this year that video truly arrived at CNE, which debuted original programming channels for GQ and Glamour in March, and then expanded its digital video network throughout 2013 to include channels for Style, Wired, Vogue, Teen Vogue, and Vanity Fair. Across those seven channels, CNE rolled out 50 original series and over 1,000 pieces of content, growing a network that combined for 22 million views in 2012 to over 500 million to date in 2013.
As promised when CNE was formed, Conde Nast’s investment in video has indeed been huge. And if you need even more evidence of that, just look at how CNE operates inside its parent company, says Fred Santarpia, CNE’s EVP and chief digital officer, who was hired in 2012 after spending multiple years at VEVO as part of the music company’s founding executive team. “Our goal is to try and make video a skill-set that is as endemic to Conde Nast as print is,” he says. This means having an organization that is capable of doing it all, from product and engineering to video operations and business development. It’s out of this structure that CNE was able to build its own video player, its own Roku app, and sign syndication deals with the likes of AOL, Dailymotion, Twitter, and Yahoo. It’s this structure, according to Santarpia, that helped CNE to a banner launch year and half-a-billion views for its original content.
Synopsis: “The Window” takes you on a tour of the world’s most extraordinary construction projects, factories, labs, and landmarks — seen through the eyes of the people who work there.
Total views since series launch: 14,432,762
When thinking of CNE’s digital video network, it’s important that you don’t view it as a singular entity. Outside of the company’s Roku app, there isn’t a central location where all of the network’s content is available. If you want to watch something from GQ, you can go to the magazine’s website, or its YouTube channel, or find the content on the AOL On Network, Yahoo Screen, and Dailymotion. In some cases, you can even watch video on the digital editions of new issues on tablets.
YouTube is — unsurprisingly — CNE’s biggest syndication partner, though Santarpia declines to disclose how big of a share the site accounts for. Instead, he points to how aggressive CNE has been in making its content available across multiple online video outlets, including its owned-and-operated platforms, which he says are responsible for a significant share of viewing. “Sometimes people forget that our web properties have over 30 million monthly unique visitors,” he says. “It’s a very substantial off-YouTube presence, and on top of that, we’re syndicating content into our digital editions, which reach many more millions.”
As the mantra goes in online video, CNE wants to be available everywhere and at anytime. “Our brands are iconic household names, but we have not been known for video programming,” says Santarpia. “For us to scale, we really needed to get out there and let people know that we are now in the business of creating daily programming for each of these brands.”
The strategy is part of an “always-on mentality” that Santarpia claims is top of mind at CNE. “I want people to come back every day and see new content there,” he says. “From an awareness perspective, it’s important for us to be part of as many conversations as possible. I think it increases our relevance.”
Synopsis: “Casualties of the Gridiron” documents the journey of retired NFL players who battle brain trauma, crippling pain, and drug addiction. With the support of one another and a dedicated team of medical professionals, these retired athletes struggle to heal themselves and find a better life.
Total views since series launch: 2,056,884
When CNE launched channels for GQ and Glamour in the spring, they consisted of shows like Glamour’s “Elevator Makeover” and GQ’s “10 Essentials” — short-form and service oriented. As the network expanded, the focus remained on this type of content, which is designed to drive views and shares.
But as CNE established its footing within the online video landscape, its other programming ambition began to surface. CNE refers to this as its “tentpole programming” — content that has a more sophisticated edge, and as a result, is longer than the snack-sized bits the organization originally rolled out with.
No series exemplifies this half of CNE’s programming strategy more than “Casualties of the Gridiron,” a documentary series on GQ that takes an in-depth look at the after-effects of head injuries at the highest levels of football.
“When you think of GQ, you think of smart guys looking sharp,” says Santarpia. “But if you pick up any copy of GQ, you’re also likely to see a 10,000-word feature on a topic that’s really meaningful to the modern, sophisticated male reader. ‘Casualties’ is our video equivalent of that.”
Going forward, Santarpia says CNE wants to focus on having a healthy mix of the bite-sized, “always-on” content that its viewers are becoming accustomed to, and the “big idea” shows represented by “Casualties of the Gridiron” and “Screw You Cancer,” a documentary for Glamour that followed a young woman as she underwent an elective double mastectomy.
Synopsis: Caitlin Brodnick, a 28-year-old comedian living in NYC with her husband, shares her life-changing decision to have a preventative double mastectomy after learning she’s BRCA1-positive. In Glamour’s docu-series, watch as Caitlin faces this journey with humor, honesty, and empowering determination.
Total views since series launch: 5,608,184
If 2013 was a landmark year for Conde Nast — and it was — what does that mean for 2014? CNE has no intentions of taking the foot off the pedal. A “series of channels” are scheduled to launch very early in Q1, though Santarpia declined to specify which ones.
But deeper than that, like any other content provider, CNE has been assessing its performance in 2013, and is ready to iterate for 2014.
When I ask him to identify which channels performed the best in 2013, Santarpia picks Glamour, Wired, and Teen Vogue. To a certain extent, you can see why: Beauty/fashion and tech are popular categories on the web. “You can certainly say that they have an endemic demo in terms of people who consume video content at a great clip,” says Santarpia. “But I would also say our programming for those channels was most focused out of the gate. For 2014, we are making sure that every show we create for each of our channels fits certain defined editorial filters.”
That’s not all. “The web is an interactive experience,” says Santarpia. “For some of our channels, I think the experience has been a bit too linear, and it’s on us to improve that. Our focus for 2014 is to add more of those elements that draw the viewer in.” And it goes beyond tried-and-true measures like commenting and social sharing. “It’s figuring out how to engage and invest the user in the programming we’re creating — how to directly involve them in the feedback-loop for the type of shows we create.”
Expect CNE to experiment in a lot of different ways. For example, now that it’s available on Roku, CNE is beginning to think about how content should be formatted to fit the screen it’s being distributed to. “You might see different versions of the same show on different platforms. A series like ‘Codefellas’ from Wired could have a short-form version for the web, but a longer version for those watching it on a connected-TV device.”
Overall, though, it all circles back to what CNE has been focused on since its inception. “I would like our video product to be held to the same high premium standard as our print product is,” says Santarpia. In the end, everything Conde Nast Entertainment does is a function of reaching that end goal, and why the organization is our Publisher of the Year.