From the NAB SPROCKIT Stage: Creating Watch ABC Product

Ken Williams, executive director and CEO of ETC@USC, moderated a Disney/ABC Television Group panel at NAB called “Creating the Watch ABC Product.” From the SPROCKIT stage Monday in Las Vegas, the panel included Albert Cheng and Skarpi Hedinsson of the Disney/ABC Television Group, Ralf Jacob of upLynk and Doug Knopper of FreeWheel. The discussion focused on content creation, advertising, distribution workflow, technology integration and vendor relationships.

In 2005, Albert Cheng understood that Disney’s primary competitor for content delivered over the Internet was piracy. He, along with Skarpi Hedinsson and the Disney team envisioned a world with multiple platforms, formats, and devices, and worked to develop the content creation and distribution workflow to realize that vision. Early on they decided to integrate the best vendor solutions for the various components of that vision, rather than build them internally. Skarpi understood that technology integration was a complex problem, so he worked to standardize their content file format in order to smooth the workflow process.

Two vendor partners — upLynk for cloud-based encoding and adaptive streaming, and FreeWheel for video ad serving and monetization management — participated in this panel discussion.

When asked how vendors should approach Disney for deal discussions, Ralf Jacob, CEO of upLynk, described how his company developed a proof of concept implementation and worked with Disney over three years tuning their solution and building the personal relationship before they announced their business deal.

Doug Knopper, CEO of FreeWheel, described his relationship with Disney as a slow build. Skarpi echoed that personal relationships and persistence are the paths to deals with Disney. Albert added that identify problems that need to be solved, and then solving them in partnership with Disney, is the way forward. Vendors that try to sell solutions and have one-sided pitch meetings don’t get very far, he said.

Moderator and ETC CEO Ken Williams asked if Disney had security concerns when considering a cloud-based solution. Skarpi responded yes, but he was happy to offload those concerns to a vendor who would allocate resources to them so he could deploy his limited staff elsewhere.

The discussion then turned to advertising and analytics. Albert said that the number of commercials in a single break has grown from one commercial two years ago to three-to-five commercials per break now. Disney’s research has found that consumers don’t mind more commercials as long as there is variety. The audience does not like seeing the same commercial over and over. Doug commented that the number of ads in long-form content (over half-hour) has doubled in the last two years to 10 ads per program.

Working with FreeWheel, Disney can now offer consumers targeted ads. Albert said that Watch ABC has “the power of TV with the targeting capability of the Web.” The technology is there for targeting, but the market isn’t ready for it.

Ralf noted that viewers click off the page when they get the spinning wheel caused by an ad loading slowly. UpLynk’s technology avoids that problem.

Disney is working with Nielsen and others to develop the technology to measure ads on mobile devices, as well as to get the advertising industry comfortable with distribution to and metrics from mobile devices, said Skarpi.

The needs of local affiliates are integrated into the Watch ABC app, Albert stressed. That means that Watch ABC is branded to the local affiliates, and the affiliates can sell and gain revenue from ads for local businesses.

Ken moderated the panel as part of the ETC’s association with SPROCKIT, a program that works in partnership with NAB, entertainment companies and others to “showcase today’s media and entertainment entrepreneurs to the industry’s iconic companies.”

Panel: Creating the Watch ABC Product

  • Ken Williams, Executive Director & CEO, Entertainment Technology Center @ USC
  • Albert Cheng, EVP and Chief Product Officer, Digital Media, Disney/ABC Television Group
  • Skarpi Hedinsson, SVP, Technology and Video Products Digital Media, Disney/ABC Television Group
  • Ralf Jacob, Co-Founder and CEO, upLynk
  • Doug Knopper, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, FreeWheel