The Brave New World of Enterprise Television

4/21/11

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broadcast and cable networks, GE went to 15 of YouTube’s most popular independent video producers (“cewebrities”) and created a “Tag Your Green” contest to encourage them to express the message in their own ways about living green. GE exceeded its goal of 10 million views, two months ahead of schedule, and the campaign became #1 among viral videos the month it premiered. The cost was a small fraction of a traditional ad campaign.

GE is of course large enough to see and seize trends before others. Without question, the sheer scope and speed of developments in online video have caught most businesses flat-footed. From marketing and branding to employee and shareholder engagement to being prepared for unexpected crises, companies need to become broadly proficient in creating and delivering their own television experiences on multiple media platforms.

For decades, television has been a medium for entertainment, news, politics, and education. As a vehicle for businesses, it has long been the province of elite consumer brands. Online video is democratizing television to such a degree that virtually no business of any size or type will be able to effectively communicate in the future without it. Its advantages are repeatedly demonstrated, as viewers spend more time and are more deeply engaged in video-based content than any other form.

The technologies enabling this trend, from the explosion of bandwidth, massive-scale storage, social networking, devices like Flip video cameras, sites such as YouTube and Hulu, and numerous mobile delivery applications, are arriving as other, more human factors magnify their impact. Consumers were already spending less time reading established publications and paying less attention to traditional advertising. The hours they spend watching conventional TV are more diffuse, distracted and impulsive. Employees are more stretched, less loyal and more jaded. Everyone is developing more sophisticated information filters, well before most companies have figured out how to reach them effectively in this new paradigm for television.

While many companies have pockets of activity-–-adding video to certain areas of their web sites, streaming a CEO speech, or posting videos they hope will “go viral” on YouTube-–-very few have undertaken the transformation at an enterprise level. Too often, individual efforts sprout up like weeds, leading to inconsistent quality and messages showing up in the marketplace. Well-intentioned silos in the public relations, marketing, human resources, investor relations and customer service areas create their own approaches at the expense of the enterprise as a whole, which impedes the overall effectiveness of the company’s efforts.

Enabling Enterprise Television will not be simple, but it also won’t be as daunting as one might imagine. The fact that audiences today place less trust in highly-produced, slick messages, along with their more discerning attention span, opens the door for low-cost methods of reaching them. Hand-held minicams, no studio lighting, no rehearsed script have rapidly become hallmarks of authenticity that resonate with today’s audiences.

So the bar is lower, yet in many ways it also is higher. The biggest winners will be … Next Page »

Stuart N. Brotman served as President and CEO of The Museum of Television & Radio and currently teaches at Harvard Law School and in the Executive Education Program at Harvard Business School. Mark Fredrickson is a marketing and communications consultant and former Vice President of Corporate Communications at EMC. R.D. Sahl is an Emmy-award winning television journalist and former prime time anchor at New England Cable News. Follow @

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  • http://www.harriscom.com Anita Harris

    Interesting post. As consumer and former TV journalist, I hope you’re wrong: It would be terrible if enterprise TV becomes powerful enough to compete with or replace “vetted” TV–especially news–for viewers. Plus, who has time/patience to watch informational video as opposed to skimming written content? But as a communications consultant…I agree that there’s huge promise for companies in being able control of the messages they convey to mass audiences–at much lower cost than current TV advertising.

    Anita Harris, President
    Harris Communications Group
    Cambridge Innovation Center
    1 Broadway
    Cambridge, MA

  • Mark Fredrickson

    Anita, I think we agree completely. The diffusion and splintering of audiences for traditional media is a fact of life and well under way. I believe the most compelling and informative content will always win in the long run, and independence and authenticity are natural advantages for the professional news media. Our challenge to companies is to learn how to become good at television, the way they’ve become good at text-based communication. Not to replace text or traditional media, but to augment them. It is no longer cost-prohibitive to become your own network and control your own messages in a way that some audiences prefer.

  • Eric Woodman

    Very interesting subject and take. I will disagree with the characterization that giant firms like GE are better able to spot trends, however. In my experience the bigger the organziation the slower they are to recognize &/or react to real cultural shifts. Still, a thought-provoking piece.

  • http://www.e-sagacity.com Ellen Hassett

    This is an extremely timely and valuable piece; thanks to Stuart, Mark, and R.D. for its development. To me, enterprise television is not as much about controlling the message as it is about ensuring the most effective communication channel is open–and two-way. That’s the key difference between the Gutenberg/written-word parallel with online-video/corporate communications. Enterprise television must enable the conversation inward and outward, internally and externally, among staff, customers, and partners, even competitors. Therein, in the two-way conversation, lies both the greatest challenge and the greatest benefit.

    Ellen Hassett
    Principal, e-sagacity
    http://www.e-sagacity.com