On March 29, 2018, Condé Nast Entertainment posted a YouTube video (above), under the aegis of its Architectural Digest brand, that took viewers on a tour through deejay Zedd’s $16 million Benedict Canyon home overlooking Beverly Hills. Within a few days, it had more than 14 million views.
Dawn Ostroff, president of Condé Nast Entertainment, and her team wanted to know why. So they did what any reasonable new media executive would do: asked their kids. And all of them said they had seen the video and that they knew it was for Architectural Digest, known as AD among the younger generation.
“This allows us to take brands that people would never know to 12-to-40 year olds who wouldn’t have necessarily known Architectural Digest,” said Ostroff during Tuesday’s opening session at the PromaxBDA Conference in New York City.
“What we have found is you are able to attract a broad audience [on digital platforms by] creating shows that resonate,” she told interviewer Scott Rogowsky, host of popular trivia app Trivia HQ. “When we are able to bring in an audience with content that’s broader, we are able to make our brands, some of which are 100 years old, relevant to this next generation. We are speaking to them in a language that’s of interest to them.”
Overall, says Ostroff, “we’re definitely going through an entertainment revolution as opposed to an evolution. We’ve seen signs of this coming for some time. When I was running The CW and we targeted 18-34 year olds, it was clear to us that the younger generations were already migrating to digital ten years ago. What we’re seeing now is the continuation of that trend.”
Part of capturing those viewers’ attention is by creating content that resonates with them on whatever platform they’re on at the moment. At CNE, that means that producers who create content for Snapchat are different than producers who create content for Instagram or Facebook.
“You can’t be successful by taking what works on television and putting it on digital. It’s a different skill set and a different medium,” she said. “If you want to scale up and be a meaningful player, you have to understand what this media is all about. It is painful how closely you need to look at each and every way to satisfy the viewer on these different platforms.”
There’s more at stake than just reaching younger audiences: Attracting those younger viewers to legacy brands is vital to their survival, she said.
“The question is can you engage younger audiences with legacy brands? Our experience has been that if you can connect them with the brands themselves, you have a chance of connecting them to other content that the brand is doing. The challenge is that the brands are not relevant to these next generations. If you can’t figure out how to reach them, the brands will ultimately not be of value.”
While figuring out what content works best and how best to present it can be a complicated puzzle, Ostroff thinks “there’s a place for everything.”
“I would say content is queen. There’s a place for really high-quality award-winning content and there’s a place for popular content. Every platform can give you examples of that.”
Producing content for digital networks gives those producers and platforms metrics by which they can get to know their audience and give them more of what they want.
“The opportunity content affords you is to know your audience better. That is a huge advantage,” she said.
For example, CNE produces a supercar series called Fastest Car for Netflix that’s been in the streaming service’s top-ten most-watched shows since it’s been released, said Ostroff.
“They make that show knowing they have a specific car audience that is just insatiable. They knew a show like that would be a big hit and, sure enough, it was.”
While the Wild West of digital can be a hard road, Ostroff says she feels “really invigorated every day about what’s next. I have this insatiable appetite for what’s coming two to three years down the road and about what we can be part of.
“We’re only in about the second inning on the digital side and we haven’t seen yet where this whole journey is going to take us. But we have learned that we can grow it into a significant business from a financial standpoint. It is profitable.”