To close out 2015, VideoInk is calling on some of the top execs in the online video business to give us their take on the industry’s most significant developments in the past year, and where it might be going in 2016.
Today, it’s Evan Bregman, head of original content for Portal A.
A digital creative studio with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles, Portal A is best known for the annual “Rewind” videos it makes with YouTube. The company has also crafted branded videos for clients such as Uber, Universal Pictures, Microsoft, Lenovo, NBCUniversal, Banana Republic, Benefit Cosmetics, L’Oreal, Waze and Ubisoft, and produced two seasons of “White Collar Brawlers,” which made the jump from digital outlets to Esquire TV in the fall of 2013.
Bregman joined Portal A from multi-platform production company Electus in September 2014. He’s currently shepherding a development slate of over 40 original projects for Portal A — including an original series featuring the Gregory Brothers for Maker Studios and Disney — with TV networks, digital distributors and brands all as potential buyers. Earlier this month, it released the third installment of “Game On,” its new gaming competition show for Google Play’s YouTube channel.
What was the most important trend in the online video industry in 2015?
It felt like this was the year consumers became accustomed to paying for digital video content, big and small, either via subscription or individual transaction. That and content creators figured out how to properly convey the value proposition of their content. I’m very encouraged by the success of the straight-to-digital film business on the one hand, and on the other hand, the success of smaller episodic series that were only available behind paywalls. Free-to-watch, ad-supported distribution is simply not able to support all content, as cable and especially broadcast networks are teaching us. At Portal A, we’re happy to have a variety of avenues get our original content projects off the ground and into the world.
What single deal, launch or failure in 2015 was the biggest game-changer for the industry?
Net neutrality regulation and the FCC’s classification of internet as a utility, which combined ensure the digital content business will continue to grow at the same rapid pace. We all love the digital space because it’s open and democratic with a low barrier to entry, allowing anyone to make the next cultural phenomenon. As an independent studio, it’s also in our best interest at Portal A for the internet to remain open, and for everyone to have equal access to it.
What surprised you the most in terms of hits or misses?
I really thought we’d see a lot more original episodic content distributed on Snapchat, not just from publishers but also from independents, via branded deals or just general experimentation. But I think we learned even as shows do well on Snapchat, it’s very hard to establish a cultural conversation when your episode goes away in 24 hours — even television is no longer just looking at L+24 ratings — let alone market it effectively.
What’s the most common mistake you saw this year in the biz, whether it was made by studios or individuals?
We saw a few publishers start original content divisions only to become intimidated by the investment and perseverance it takes to get it right. Starting a digital network is not very different from starting a cable network; it’s hard to gain traction, and early on, it’s still hit-driven. I think some expected it to be easier or cheaper online. They’re instead now choosing to take a step back and reconsider their place within the distribution ecosystem.
Is there a sector of the streaming industry that you feel is chronically undervalued or ignored?
We still need to establish a consistent business model around windowing content and format sales for digital-first content. A show that’s aired publicly worldwide on the internet still has value for other windows, including international linear distribution; remember the internet is a massive haystack, and even a big hit is still just a small needle inside of it. This value chain allows linear TV channels to keep their budgets high, and if we’re going to make bigger projects online we have to formalize it for digital-first content as well. Straight-to-digital movies are getting there, we need it for episodic series, as well.
Virtual reality/360-degree video — fad or future? Why?
I’ll call it the future once we figure out how to tell stories with it! I think that will happen, but maybe not for a few years. I’m very interested to see how well consumer adoption goes for VR in 2016.
Mobile-first distribution — overhyped or undervalued? Why?
Undervalued. I believe in mobile-first as much as I believe in internet-first; your phone is just another window into the world wide web. It’s not about the device, it’s about the App, the curator bringing you the content, and the user experience of finding it, consuming it, and interacting with it.
What do you think will be the big story for the streaming space in 2016?
Many of the SVOD channels that were announced this year will launch, and those that have already launched will have a ton of content releases. That will flood the web market with content in a way we’ve not seen since the first YouTube channel initiative, and we’re going to learn a lot about consumer habits because of it.=