The Brave New World of Enterprise Television

4/21/11

Successful businesses take pride in knowing their customers, listening to them, and exceeding their expectations. They evolve their products, services, pricing, terms, and distribution based on what the market is looking for and how the landscape is changing—not on what worked in the past. This quality has never been more important than in the past two years of jarring recession and slow recovery.

Yet most businesses are not prepared for a momentous shift in their customers’ behavior, one that transcends any particular product or industry. This shift affects not only customers but employees, suppliers, partners, and investors—in fact, every audience companies need to reach, motivate, influence, and satisfy in order to survive and thrive.

We are changing the way we consume information, more profoundly and rapidly than most of us realize. The explosion of online and mobile video is the catalyst, and the future of corporate communications clearly will hinge on the ability to exploit this shift smartly enough to gain and keep the attention of the people whose impressions, decisions and behavior determine a company’s fate.

“Enterprise Television” will be the 24×7 media identity of successful businesses. With video as the dominant vehicle for nearly all communications, Enterprise Television can significantly increase the ability to:

• Market and sell products and services;
• Increase employee engagement and commitment;
• Build and enhance brand identity and loyalty;
• Project and protect corporate reputation and image; and
• Pro-actively manage and contain all forms of crisis.

The numbers are astounding. In November 2010, 172 million Internet users in the U.S. spent an average of almost 30 minutes per day watching online video. That’s 40 percent more time per day than in 2009. Also during November, Americans viewed 5.4 billion online video ads, which reached 49% of the total U.S. population. YouTube, the most popular online video site, is experiencing more than two billion playbacks a day (150 million of those through smart phones and other mobile devices), as 35 hours of new content is uploaded to its site every minute. The number of people watching video on their mobile phones is growing at a 40 percent annual clip. As broadband pushes rapidly into even more homes, businesses and wireless communications networks, these trends will only keep rising. Cisco, the leading provider of the communications gear that keeps the Internet humming, estimates that within four years, 90 percent of the traffic moving across the Web will be video.

The opportunities for business leaders and marketers may sound familiar: reaching audiences on their terms, targeting them more narrowly and efficiently, and reaping the benefits of interacting with them constantly. Sounds like the call of the Internet, right? The dominance of online video will enable these benefits, to be sure, but also will introduce an entirely new level of possibilities—for good or ill.

Consider GE. An iconic brand with a history of polished marketing campaigns, GE wanted younger audiences (its future customers, investors, and employees) to relate to its Ecomagination green initiatives. Rather than producing slick ads and buying expensive spots on traditional 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 businesses that can articulate their strategies and explain their products and services in compelling, believable, visually interesting ways. Humor, sincerity, and physical action make great video. Mundane products and undifferentiated messages can no longer be glossed over with high-definition sunsets and background music. Rapid and candid responses to negative situations will be expected by all audiences. Top-down messages, whether from the brand to the consumer or the corner office to the troops, no longer work the way they always have.

A business embracing Enterprise Television will need to enact policies that enable and empower employees as brand ambassadors (but not before training them on expectations and boundaries). Company leaders will need to become more involved in delivering messages and stories in compelling and authentic ways. PR and marketing communication professionals will need to think more like advocacy journalists and operate in newsroom-like environments that are in synch with our 24/7 viewing habits. Lawyers will have to weigh in on risk tolerance with more open minds. IT departments in companies will need to focus on a digital infrastructure that is flexible, scalable and robust.

Further complicating the challenge, user-generated video content now flows to the same audiences, sometimes with far greater impact than the company’s messages, which quickly are transformed into collateral damage. Is there any question that the explosion of online video will only intensify this challenge?

The lessons of how much company pain can be inflicted so quickly were exemplified by a memorable 2009 crisis management situation, when a Domino’s Pizza employee posted a homemade video on YouTube showing another employee putting cheese in his nose and blowing mucous onto a sandwich. The company’s awkward, delayed response suggested they were not prepared for such an unforeseen incident. Had they already implemented an Enterprise Television strategy, the top executives and their communications team would have sprung into action more quickly and televised online a much more credible and sympathetic response.

Fortunately, the power of user-generated content has far more potential to help companies than harm them. The wisdom of the crowd is more valued than the official line. How many of us today, in choosing a restaurant, trust the unfiltered online customer reviews more than the seductive menu on the web site?

While it may seem advances in technology have created this new wave, the appeal of video has its roots in basic human nature. Chris Anderson, Curator of TED.com, a leading online video site, believes this megatrend is nothing less than “the reinvention of the spoken word.”

“Reading and writing are actually relatively recent inventions,” Anderson said at the TEDGlobal 2010 Conference last July. “Face-to-face communication has been fine-tuned by millions of years of evolution. Five hundred years ago, it ran into a competitor with a lethal advantage, the printing press. Print scaled. The world’s ambitious inventors and innovators now could get their ideas to spread far and wide, so the art of the spoken word pretty much withered on the vine. But now, in the blink of an eye, the game has changed again. It’s not too much to say that what Gutenberg did for writing, online video can now do for face-to-face communications. So that primal medium, which your brain is exquisitely wired for, that just went global. Now this is big. We may have to reinvent an ancient art form. Today, one person speaking can be seen by millions, shedding bright light on potent ideas, creating intense desire for people to respond.”

Seen in Anderson’s context, we are in the very early stages of a new age of face-to-face communications. For businesses, the promise of Enterprise Television is sure to become transformed as a critical source of competitive advantage. Those who are able to organize and execute a company-wide strategy that mixes technology, cultural awareness, content and style will be in the best position to reach their multiple external constituencies.

They will enhance brand identity and corporate morale, and be poised to respond effectively to the inevitable crises that arise when random uploaded videos reach a global audience overnight. And those who are thinking smaller and narrower—“it’s just video”—risk betting their company’s future by denying the powerful inevitability that online and mobile television will have on how a business is perceived in our collective minds.

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