In Search of the Right Video Mix

Tech companies are investing big in series and movies—but, Korn Ferry’s Michael Distefano asks, would local content work best?

In a shifting economy and corporate world, agility has become a key predictor of success—yet studies show only a fraction of the global workforce is considered highly agile. In this regular column, Michael Distefano, Korn Ferry’s chief operating officer, Asia Pacific, explores the concept of agility: who has it, who doesn’t, and what companies can do to mold it.

Tip O’Neill, the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, so frequently employed the motto “All politics is local,” its construction has become a staple of the American language. All sports are local, for instance. All news is local, according to the title of a 2007 book. And now, there may be a sequel that should be written: All video is local. (Or perhaps it should be.)

Across the world, attention has focused on the big video bets technology giants from Alibaba and Amazon to Facebook and Tencent have made on original and licensed video content. For all the agility these companies have shown, though, there may be a lesson here in the “pivot-to-video” movement, namely that companies still need to keep those content eyeballs wide open. In other words, NFL games, Hollywood movies, or serial dramas may be fun to watch—but are they attracting enough engagement?

In O’Neill’s case, “local” politics means realizing voters are most concerned with issues that affect their personal or home lives. With content, it may seem counterintuitive, but programming for the largest possible general-interest audience doesn’t work on a platform with billions of users. Rather, as Netflix, YouTube, Tencent’s WeChat, and others have proven, content built around communities generates high engagement. Japanese audiences aren’t as interested in “Orange Is the New Black” or “House of Cards” as US audiences, obviously. But through local content, Netflix has been able to attract about 2 million subscribers in Japan to its service.

As one official at Tencent Online Media Group put it, Chinese audiences demand content that “looks and feels local.” So when Michael Jordan visited Shanghai a few years ago, the company not only live streamed an interview between the basketball legend and a Chinese sports broadcaster, but also created a highlight reel with interviews with Chinese basketball stars to deepen audience engagement.

And the examples go on. Despite its massive global reach, YouTube announced last year that for the first time ever it was developing an original show for European audiences. Moreover, the world’s largest video site said it “wants to bring the same opportunities offered to American creators not only to Europeans, but to talents throughout the world.” Put another way, YouTube wants more local content on its service.

Tech companies, or any company for that matter, in the business of streaming video should ask themselves a simple question: What would be a cheaper and more efficient way to increase lasting engagement: buying the streaming rights to the Super Bowl or developing content that serves 10 niche communities of 10 million users each? My money would be with the latter. After all, the Super Bowl is a one-time annual event. The niche viewers, by contrast, are recurring.