“People these days want things that are smart and sexy,” says Carlos Watson, CEO of international media and entertainment company OZY Media. Communicate sat down with Watson for an exclusive interview to discuss how, in these times of content superabundance, companies can learn how to grab people’s attention.
What is your definition of good content?
There are various definitions, but I’d probably say something that I’ll learn or at least get a good laugh from.
How is content evolving?
There’s a lot of content right now. One of my investors calls it ‘infobesity.’ It’s everywhere but that doesn’t mean it’s all good. It means there’s a lot of it. I love the fact that there is more audio than there used to be, whether it’s podcasts or other forms of audio. Clearly, it’s also more interactive in some ways. People want to contribute to it in all sorts of different ways.
What are the new formats that you believe are the most innovative?
I think you’re about to see more innovation with podcasts. You’ll see more podcasts that will allow the user to determine how the story will end. There won’t be just one ending, but multiple endings – which will be very exciting. With video, we’re already breaking away from the half-hour or hour-long episodes. You’ll start to see more of both now: movies like The Irishman,which was three hours long, and also mini bites.
There’s an interesting company called Quibi that was started by [former Walt Disney Company executives] Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman. They have not launched it publicly yet, but they have said that they want to begin building a streaming service around 10-minute episodes instead of 30 minutes or hour-long episodes.
How do these formats cohabit with more traditional ones?
We’re in the midst of seeing a wholesale reset of the media business, just like what happened with smartphones. Once upon a time, there used to be brands like Blackberry, Nokia, Razer Phone and [others]. You’re about to see as dramatic a change with content in the next five years. Not only will the formats change, but the dominant companies who are providing them will also change. We’ll start to see more of audio, different kinds of video. Instead of the written word, you’ll see more visual storytelling and infographics.
How to address the diversity of content creators today?
It’s beautiful to have such variation, whether it’s podcast or film creators, or new kind of digital newsletters. Some of the dominant media brands of the future will play across different types of formats. So, it won’t be podcast-only or video streaming-only companies. We’ll be able to tell stories in lots of different formats.
Can we afford to remain restricted to only one format?
Today, some people do and that’s okay; take, for example, podcast companies like Gimlet or video companies like Telfaz11 in Saudi Arabia. But in five years’ time, the dominant brands will play across because you, as a consumer, probably listen to stuff, watch stuff, look forward to going to stuff, read stuff, etc., and you don’t necessarily think it only has to be one or the other; it’s natural for you to try all of them in a day or a week. Apple realized that when it came to your hardware: they realized that a laptop, a phone and a watch could all come from the same place. I think the same is going to be true with content.
Is there a hierarchy in content and if so, what are the criteria?
Yes, there is. It starts with something that makes you laugh, something that makes you think, and something that makes you love. I think it goes in that order.
What are the hallmarks of good content?
The best content is both smart and flavorful. Flavorful can mean different things. Flavorful can mean sometimes that it’s a little edgy, a little inappropriate. I think that sometimes, smart can be bland. Smart can put you to sleep. People these days want things that are smart and sexy. They want both, in their podcast, in whatever videos they’re watching, in the most interesting Instagram post they’re going to see. The best tweets have some of that.
Another one is having samples from all over the world. Because, increasingly, we don’t just want to know what’s happening in our own backyard; we’re actually kind of curious about what’s happening elsewhere in the world. So, the best content stream is a global stream and not just a local service.
What are the hallmarks of a good content strategy?
Firstly, the relentless drive to be fresh and original, and not just repeat stuff that shows up everywhere else, but really bring things forward that feel different. Secondly, the willingness to try different formats and different channels, whether it is audio, video, infographics, newsletters or social. Thirdly, the openness to be both smart and sexy. These are the three critical parts of a good content strategy.
What are the pitfalls to watch out for?
One of the things you have to be careful of is trying to do too much. There’s a real risk in prioritizing quantity over quality. Secondly, you have to make sure to diversify your staff in terms of age, interest, style, political persuasion; otherwise, it will be really easy to get narrowed into a bubble, and only end up with a handful of kinds of stories.
How to improve content longevity?
One way is to repackage old content. Sometimes, there’s a more immediate hook that you can tie an old story to – making it relevant again. For example, we had an interesting story we did years ago on impeachments not just in the United States, but also in other countries such as Brazil with Dilma Rousseff, South Africa with Zuma or South Korea with President Park Geun-Hye. [Now, we can retell those stories] in terms of what could happen to President Trump. It can give a really good context sometimes.
Another thing is to gather a lot of the best pieces from the past and put them in a special round-up newsletter.
What are the viewer’s expectations around content?
They expect to have a choice and they expect you to have the *clicks his tongue*, which is supposed to make them enjoy it right off the bat. Everyone is a little bit less patient. They expect that if they’re watching something, listening to something or reading something, they’re going to enjoy it right away.
How is today’s content ecosystem structured?
There are four parts to it. The first part consists of large multinational companies such as BBC, AT&T and others. The second part has the key regional players, for example, South China Morning Post, Globo Group in Brazil, etc. The third part is the really interesting group of new media players like Ozy; and the final part consists of the solo influencers, whether it’s on Youtube, Instagram or elsewhere.
Part of the beauty of this world is that, whatever ecosystem that exists, is constantly being creatively destroyed and replaced with another one. My guess is that over the next five years, the ecosystem will be dramatically reshaped and instead of four, we’ll have maybe eight segments.
What tools are out there that can help with content creation?
One of the things that can really help is reading books. Books can really ignite your creativity. It can really cause you to pause and think more deeply. Whether you listen to them or read them, it can really help refresh your creativity and help you make better content, whether it’s audio, video, text, infographics, photography, etc.
Sound design is another tool that you can use. Often, the whole feel you have around a movie or a television show can be completely changed, based on the music or sound they use. Having really clever sound design tools can allow you to draw people into your work.
How can organizations work better with content creators?
When you’re a big company, you don’t really have the time to work with small companies [or individuals]. So, creating an innovation group that consists of 5-25 people – whose role is to work not just on the things of today but on fresh ideas of tomorrow and collaborate with the new kids on the block – is a good way to work better.
How to monetize content the right way today?
The smartest way to monetize content is [through] multi-platforms. If people can make money not only digitally but via television, audio, live events, etc., it’s a smarter, better way to go – basically the same idea, but you have to allow it to live as a podcast, a television show, a digital piece, etc.