10 Takeaways From Variety’s Entertainment Marketing Summit

Marketing professionals from across the industry gathered in virtual form on Aug. 26-27 for Variety‘s annual Entertainment Marketing Summit, presented by Deloitte.

The summit focused on the pandemic’s impact on entertainment marketing and data tracking the growth of the online entertainment universe. Here are 10 takeaways from the two-day event.

Be Patient and Nurture Your Audience

Keynote speaker Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson detailed the growth story of “Power,” the Starz drama that has now yielded no less than four planned spinoffs. The rapper-turned-actor-turned-producer told the summit that he has been carefully invested in the marketing for each season of the original series, which wrapped its six-season run in February.

“The gradual process of the show growing in audience each year — with different marketing campaigns to allow it to grow to a different demographic and a bigger audience every time — is, I think, a huge contribution to it,” Jackson said. “My core audience is not going to the nightclub anymore, they’re grown. Mary J. Blige and Method Man are in that boat — like, those are my stars. I’m looking at them and I’m excited about music, culture and art… to be able to have them participate and be a part of it now is almost a dream sequence.”

Be Generous with Partners

Actor and entrepreneur LL Cool J discussed the genesis of his Rock the Bells content hub, which was born as a SiriusXM channel dedicated to classic hip hop. As he recognized the depth of the demand for the curated music channel, he realized that he needed to partner with fellow legends to enhance his offering. He even gave small equity stakes to make sure they had the right motivation.

“I went out and gave Big Daddy Kane a piece, to have some equity, and now Run-DMC has equity and Salt-N-Pepa has equity. And Roxanne Shante has equity and Eric B has equity. Just all of these different people, Fab 5 Freddy, Risk, Crazy Legs, B-Boy has equity,” he said. “I felt like there were a lot of people out there who had been in the game a long time, but never really got the chance to have a piece of a major company. … It makes me feel good about what I’m building, knowing that it’s not just LL taking advantage of the classic hip-hop community, but I’m actually sharing this venture with them.”

Listen to Your Audience

“The Hills” star Lauren Conrad has prospered as an author and entrepreneur with a line of apparel and other products in the years since she gained fame on the MTV reality series. Social media is a godsend for business owners, she said.

“That’s one of the really beautiful things about social media and running a business is that when you create that relationship with your customer, it’s really great because they’re telling you what they want and then you’re making what they want and you have a better chance of making a sale,” Conrad said.

Virtual Production Tools are Here to Stay

Necessity is the mother of invention. The sudden shutdown of TV and film production around in the world in March forced the industry to innovate on virtual production techniques. Netflix production executive Girish Balakrishnan marveled at how quickly they were able to regroup and make progress with remote tools. The advances developed under duress over the past six months are here to say, he asserted, because the benefits are so clear.

“It enables filmmakers and production designers, art directors, storyboard artists, animation professionals, to iterate a hundred different designs and a hundred different shots before making those choices on set. And (to do so) while it’s cheap and easy,” said Balakrishnan, director of virtual production for Netflix.

When it Comes to Podcasts, the Sky’s the Limit

Just as radio opened up the world of mass media a century ago, the storytelling possibilities of podcasting are limitless.

“There’s really no formats beyond that it’s audio on demand. And beyond that, it’s up to you to tell the story, how you want to tell the story, whether you’re Will Ferrell or Shonda Rhimes or Under Armour, you also get to put it in front of audiences at scale,” said Conal Byrne, president of IHeartMedia’s IHeartPodcast Network. “It’s not like you’re talking to five or six niche people interested in that one particular topic. You can actually scale the amount of listeners and audience.”

Embrace Data to Adjust on the Fly

One of the hardest adjustments in the digital era is being flexible enough to respond to data and feedback that flows in almost in real time.

“I feel like we’re watching as media companies are becoming technology companies,” said Josh Kovolenko. “And all of us have these data science groups now inside. Now with our campaigns it’s like you have EKGs of the the campaigns. You’re one day into it, two day into it. And all of a sudden you’re really adjusting on the fly. And I think truthfully for media companies that are transitioning, we’re learning as we go, right. So we’re not always getting it right.”

Know Your Job, Know Your Platform

Don’t be intimidated by the rising prominence of streaming and on-demand platform. The principles of marketing and motivating consumers don’t change radically whether the mission is getting moviegoers into multiplexes or getting them to press “purchase” on their home screens.

“It’s really about that nimbleness because the job is still the same job, right? Get the audience to choose our product over somebody else’s,” said Dwight Caines, Universal Pictures’ co-president of marketing. “While we were used to creating the event to make them leave the house. The pivot for us was now we’ve got to make them say, this is worth my time and money to watch at home. … We’ve had to figure out that the campaigns can be shorter because we’re competing with so many choices that we’ve got to make enough noise in a very concentrated, concentrated period of time.”

Youth Must Be Served, Online

The quarantine conditions of the past few months have pushed Gen Z consumers to live online even more than they were before the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s not super surprising, but we found that Gen Z has really shifted heavily online, particularly in mobile, in response to COVID and done it in a way more dramatic rate than we see in older generation,” said Kenny Mitchell, chief marketing officer of Snapchat parent Snap. “They’ve increased time spent and increased time on streaming, gaming, shopping digitally at a much, much higher rate than older generations. One good example of that is that seven in 10 purchases of new products for the first time happened digitally during COVID-19 for this generation, which is almost twice that of older generations.”

Entertainment Must Be Served, Online

Kevin Westcott, vice chairman of U.S. telecom, media and entertainment leader for Deloitte, presented research data indicating that consumers are embracing a wide array of streaming options amid the quarantine. The average number of paid entertainment subscriptions per household stands at 12, but for younger consumers it’s close to 17. Some 32% of people surveyed said they’ve added at least one new service during the pandemic period.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in streaming music subscriptions, as well as gaming subscriptions,” Westcott said. “It definitely shows a diversity of the type of content that people have access to. It also shows that people are continuing to add new and more subscriptions to their home entertainment bundle. So what did we see during the COVID-19 crisis? Thirty-two percent of the consumers that we surveyed said they added at least one new page streaming video service. We do see some dropping as well as a substitution, but across the board, we’ve seen adds.

Follow Your North Star

Thai Randolph, executive VP and general manager of Kevin Hart’s LOL Networks comedy platform, said the business was built on the founding of Hart’s strong connection to his fans.

“Kevin really is the North Star of the company. This was his baby, but I think in so many ways, he sets the tone in terms of comedic standards, work ethic for us, and all of our partners, and his social media footprint and his ability to engage audiences all the time, whether on the stage or on the go, it’s his morning workout,” Randolph said. “Constantly being connected really was the foundation for our distribution strategy. He thinks about where his audience is, where the people are who he wants to connect with and he goes to them. So we didn’t want to take a ‘If you build it, they will come approach.’ We said, ‘Let’s think about the consumer who has an appetite for this content, and then let me go set up shop with them.’ “

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