Content Creation that Powers Growth and Digital Transformation: PBS Digital Studios Webinar

GBA Webinar with PBS Digital Studios

Quarantine means video consumption is on the rise, but how do you cut through the noise? It’s time to forget clicks and views. Video success is all about engaging your audience in a relevant way. If you want to up your video content and increase organic growth, look no further than the digital transformation of PBS Digital Studios. 


In this webinar, hear from the Head of PBS Digital Studios, Brandon Arolfo, on how to keep viewers engaged and activated and how online communities can help your content grow organically. Learn how to identify new audiences, balance what platforms want and what your organization needs, as well as how to serve audiences during COVID-19.


FEATURED PANELIST

BRANDON AROLFO is the Head of PBS Digital Studios. He is a Grammy-nominated, Webby and Telly-winning creative leader with deep experience developing and producing content that entertains, informs and grows massive audiences. At PBS, Brandon is at the helm of the team responsible for over 2 billion lifetime views and original programming across streaming/OTT, YouTube, Facebook, IGTV, podcasts, and Oculus.


EPISODE TRANSCIPT

Andrew Whipp:

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us. We know that your time is valuable, especially with the current state of things. So we appreciate everyone choosing to spend that time with us. And above all else hope everyone is staying safe right now. My name is Andrew Whipp, and I’m the lead creative and editor at Green Buzz agency. I’m also joined by my friend and colleague, Tod Plotkin, the founder and CEO of Green Buzz Agency. Tod, how goes it?

Tod Plotkin:

It goes very well, very well. I’m very much looking forward to Brandon’s presentation today.

Andrew Whipp:

Ditto, ditto. And today’s webinar is the fourth in our Green Buzz Agency webinar series which was created to connect our community with industry experts who can help us break down top line strategy, best practices and advice during these tough times. So today we’ll be covering content creation that powers growth and digital transformation during COVID-19. So if you’re looking to break out of the box, bring some new ideas back to your teams, then you are in the right place. To walk us through all of this and much, much more is the multi talented thought leader and PBS Digital Studio head Brandon Arolfo. Brandon is a Grammy nominated Webby and tele-winning creative leader with deep experience developing and producing content that entertains informs and grows massive audiences.

Andrew Whipp:

As the head of PBS Digital Studios, Brandon is at the helm of the team responsible for over 2 billion lifetime views and original programming across streaming YouTube, Facebook, IGTV, podcasts and even Oculus. So thanks Brandon for sharing your time, wisdom and experiences with us. Today, we are really excited to kick this off with you.

Brandon Arolfo:

Thanks, Andrew. Thanks, Tod.

Andrew Whipp:

And last but not least, we have a number of webinars coming up. So keep an eye out for those. Next week, I believe we have Carter Hansen, the VP of content and programming at VidCon, as well as Gregory Littley, who’s the VP of social strategy and content at Elite Model World. And there’ll be talking about virtual events and viral activations on trending platforms like TikTok so don’t miss that. It’s going to be a super informative webinar with tons of hands on takeaways. So we hope to see everybody there. So with all that out of the way, let’s jump right into the good stuff. Brandon, would you mind kicking us off?

Brandon Arolfo:

No, thanks, Andrew. Thanks, Tod for the invitation again. So today I’m going to speak a bit about PBS. Think the original programming that we develop and the types of audiences that we’ve grown across multiple platforms. Along the way, I’m going to discuss sort of these four topics, how to identify an audience or gain a growth through online communities, keeping viewers engaged and how we’ve served audiences during COVID-19. I think that in a way, a lot of what we are doing now, a lot of the ways that we’ve been able to change from a digital perspective PBS to doing COVID-19 programming is really because of the way that we were sort of operating before. And we’ve got crews all over the country doing content, we’ve got multiple producers everywhere. And we’re already set up in a remote fashion, like I mean, I’m in DC, obviously. But then I’ve got producers all the way on the west coast. Sometimes we’ve got producers shooting in other countries.

Brandon Arolfo:

So an institution like PBS is concerned, we kind of had a good foundation for how to be nimble and adapt our content. So just for context, these first few slides I’m going to talk a bit about PBS and our different priorities and our different audiences. This is just to give some context and then I’ll go into a few best practices around audience development and like I was saying before how to keep people engaged, and that sort of thing.

Brandon Arolfo:

So for context, just about PBS Digital programming, we along with our member station partners continue to increase the reach and relevance of public broadcasting by developing original digital programming and engaging new communities across multiple platforms. It’s sort of our mission, we see it as sort of our duty to ensure that PBS and member stations reach new and diverse and expanding audiences online that broadcasts can’t always do. Everyone knows there’s a lot of video platforms out there. And look, if PBS thinks that there’s potential for audience growth on a particular platform, if we feel as though we’re going to be able to utilize our core values and sort of springboard off of what PBS holds as far as our mission is concerned on these different platforms, then we’ll give it a go and we’ll see what we can do as far as audience growth is concerned across different platforms, but as far as everyone knows, it’s a constantly evolving space. And it can be really, really hard to grow audiences on a platform and then before you know it, you start to grow an audience there and that platform is no longer in vogue.

Brandon Arolfo:

That platform is no longer getting investment, the platform has become a different thing. And for an institution like PBS, who sometimes does react a bit slower, who does sometimes it takes a bit longer to fit all the pieces together in order to start producing content by the time you’ve gone through all of that. The platform may or may no longer be around like Facebook Watch, for instance, we got on the bandwagon a couple of years ago, whenever Facebook watch launched, thinking that great, we’ll get in early, we’ll try and control our destiny.

Brandon Arolfo:

So far we’ve got good engagement across our Facebook Watch pages. We are definitely growing audiences there, we have a windowing strategy to Facebook from some of our more popular YouTube shows, but it still changes all the time. And tomorrow before you know it, it could go away. So there’s always that, there’s always that sort of risk that you take when it comes to developing audiences across different platforms and new platforms especially.

Brandon Arolfo:

So I think the mainstay for us, obviously, has been YouTube. It’s always been there for PBS ever since Digital Studios, or PBS, I should say, started to produce digital content 2012, 2013. YouTube is one of the first platforms and it’s always been a constant. Like I said before, we tried other platforms. And we are still on other platforms. But YouTube has always been the behemoth. And just for context, I’m sure a lot of people on this call or on this webinar know this, but there are 500 hours every minute of content uploaded to YouTube at 720,000 hours a day.

Brandon Arolfo:

And 90% of internet users 18 to 34 across YouTube, this qualifies them as active users. And for this age group, it’s the most used social YouTube network according to certain sources. And obviously, when there’s 720,000 hours of video content uploaded every day, it’s really hard to kind of cut through the noise. So you’ve got to make sure that you are doing what’s right for your organization as far as your priorities, but you’ve also got to do what’s right by the platform that is your primary platform. So YouTube is your primary platform, and you’ve got to do what’s good for you balancing out. What is going to be good for YouTube and how to sort of gain the algorithm and make sure that you are utilizing all the products that YouTube has to offer or that platform has to offer in order to not only create really good content, but also to get that platform to recognize your content and be willing to take a chance to surface that content to other subscribers or to other users.

Brandon Arolfo:

So when it comes to all the different platforms, I would say, here are our most popular platforms as of now, like I said before, each platform has different audience potential. And each has its own set of optimization techniques to ensure audience growth. If you’re an organization that prefers to window content on multiple platforms this can make that a challenge. Because really, in a way if you have a strategy, okay, great. Well, I’m going to produce this web series or this digital series, it’s going to cost a lot of money. I’m going to want to make sure that I’m using all parts of the buffalo sorry, from Texas, I’ll use that term, but also to be able to maximize this content to other places. You just got to be prepared that it may not always translate from YouTube to Facebook Watch to your owned and operated platforms like we had pbs.org, PBS OTT, Apple TV, and Roku TV.

Brandon Arolfo:

So you just got to make sure that you are prepared to sort of select that primary platform and how to optimize that piece of content or that series or whatever it is for that platform. And then have in mind also, your secondary and tertiary platforms where that video might go. So it might be good to build in with your production partners, we typically build in with our producers, our member station partners, and people who create content with us. Well we’ll consider multiple versions, a version that’s for our primary platform, which is YouTube, which bows down to the YouTube algorithm that drinks a YouTube Kool-Aid, and really allows us to have a successful piece of content on that platform.

Brandon Arolfo:

And then we may create another version that is Windowowable, if I can use that to other platforms like Facebook Watch or somewhere else. But right now, we’ve got across YouTube, we’ve got a network of 21 active YouTube channels. We’ve got seven Facebook Watch pages, we have two apps in Oculus which 360VR and then we’re also creating content, original content for like I said PBS OTT, like Apple TV and Roku and what we refer to as sort of our SVOD play, which is passport. I shouldn’t say SVOD because it’s not necessarily a subscription based service but there definitely is a membership. It’s a membership perk. When you become a member you get access to passport.

Brandon Arolfo:

So these are the four primary platforms that we’re producing content for. But there are other platforms in our universe that we’re also creating content for but these are the four primary ones. When it comes to let’s say different formats and different types of content, digital content that PBS does. And look it, this is just the way that we refer to it. It’s a way to keep it clean internally. If you’re from a funding perspective, from a underwriting perspective, and just from a format perspective. So, on one side, we’ve got our ongoing programming, which is sort of what I was referring to when I was talking about our active PBS YouTube channels.

Brandon Arolfo:

So these channels, they’ve been around for multiple seasons, some of them produce between 20 and 45 episodes a year. We’re continuously adjusting for audience data and feedback. This is really original content that’s optimized for those platforms. So most of it, like I said is YouTube based, some of it though is straight up made for Facebook Watch. And some of it’s made for other platforms. But it’s really, it’s platform-specific content. And it serves large audiences by engaging really in these communities within these overall audiences. Typically, a lot of this content is host driven, and I’ll talk about this more later on. Not all of it, but typically, it’s host driven, we find that in this space it is in a way building a show. A series around a subject matter expert, it gives us PBS, it allows us to be more bona fide because a lot of our experts are subject matter experts in their field and then what this series is created around so some of our experts or some of our hosts have got PhDs, some of them are music or musicians if they’re on a musician show or whatever it might be.

Brandon Arolfo:

And we also find that marketing and promotions is easier when you’ve got a host involved because they’re able to typically their of their digital natives and their of social media and they know how to promote their show across other platforms as well as engage with other hosts or other shows that may not be within our network itself. And then the other bucket of content that we have is what we refer to, for lack of a better way to say it, and I wish that I could hire like an agency to help us figure out these terms, but like we refer to our other bucket of content as multi platform.

Brandon Arolfo:

And these are more like limited run series or miniseries that typically connect to larger PBS events. So for instance, I think there’s a thumbnail there from our digital miniseries called Stellar. This is a six-part miniseries that was inspired by PBS’s summer of space that happened a couple of summers ago or maybe it was last summer.

Brandon Arolfo:

There were several massive’s last summer, there were several massive broadcast shows that had to do with space, the 50th anniversary of the moon landing or whatever it was. So because we wanted to extend that, for lack of a better way to say it campaign of summer of space to other platforms, to other PBS platforms, we created this miniseries, asked three of our YouTube hosts to be a part of this six-part miniseries, we set them off on a cosmic road trip around the country to visit some of the most important space research facilities that America has. And this is a miniseries, sure it use these other YouTube hosts from their own shows, but it was a miniseries onto itself, and we try and do that as much as possible and these miniseries are distributed in multiple ways.

Brandon Arolfo:

So we may tailor a couple of the episodes to fit that particular host’s channel and their series but then also, that miniseries itself might be windowed onto other PBS owned and operated platforms. It may be on a Facebook watch page. It kind of depends on the KPIs and the goal of that content, the content is also used. And the last thing I’ll say about this, we also use this content for like CTA integration like calls to action. So for instance, a miniseries that we did called It’s Lit was tied to this massive event that PBS had a couple years ago called the Great American Read, which is basically asking Americans to vote on their favorite book, it was a larger campaign that over a year’s time, almost a year’s time, it asked Americans about their favorite book.

Brandon Arolfo:

So this show this It’s Lit show was episodes onto itself, it was a series onto itself, but it also was encouraging its fans and its viewers to go vote on their favorite book. So you’re able to not only create a great show for a great miniseries inspired by PBS, larger PBS events, but you’re also able to weave in marketing capability to create awareness about broadcast shows, and you’re also able to integrate things like CTAs into the episodes and for us obviously the value is creating good content and engaging audiences across different platforms, but also to add value to PBS.

Brandon Arolfo:

And for funding purposes as well we will use this as marketing potential as well. So across our original content, across our multiplatform content, as well as our ongoing series, right now we have across YouTube and Facebook, we’ve got 26 million plus subscribers, and we’re averaging around 53 million views a month, between all of our content and I think that one of the important things and that’s all great, great, neat, neat, neato you’ve got a good audience and you’ve got a great amount of views. Super great. I think that the thing that YouTube especially likes from our content is the retention rates. Plus it proves to us that great, we’re doing a good job. People are actually watching the majority of the content that we put up there when I say that not just per video, but they’re also watching the majority of the content all the way through, let’s say.

Brandon Arolfo:

So 55, we have a 55 to 64% retention rate on YouTube. And this varies depending on the channel, depending on the series, but this is a really good thing compared to other PBS content or other platforms, and compared to other content in the YouTube universe, this is a good healthy retention rate that we’ve been told proves to YouTube that obviously, we’re keeping people in platform and when YouTube sees that sort of thing, they’re more likely to help you out when it comes to maybe pushing people to your next video, even though you’ve got a bit of control over that.

Brandon Arolfo:

But also, when surfacing your videos to people who may not be subscribing to your channel, they’re more likely to do that if the retention rate is higher. So this is just for more context. This is just some of our popular ongoing series that we have renewed for 2020 and beyond 2020 a bit. You’ll see it, some are member station partnerships, so some of the digital programming that PBS develops and produces is produced in partnership with member stations. But also we’ve got what we refer to… And again, it’s I hate to say this what we refer to as national producer partnerships. So these are a series. This is content that isn’t necessarily produced by PBS entity or member station. These are production companies and producers or host or whatever it might be around the country. And we’ve got some incredible producers and production companies that some of them had been with PBS Digital Programming since the beginning. So we got really, really lucky there.

Brandon Arolfo:

So getting more into the best practices part of the conversation, I think that… So I’m going to talk a bit about researching vibrant communities, making a community plan and how to get your audiences involved in the next few slides. But I want to say that and I kind of touched on this earlier that okay, great. Look, especially those of us who have been in the business for a while now, creating content, like be it a traditional content or be it nonfiction TV programming, or YouTube videos or whatever it is. I think a lot of people who are successful and who have been around long enough, they understand how to make good video, and they understand how to make a good video series be it the combination of a great post or great narrative or storytelling or whatever it might be. But when you’re dealing with digital platforms, it isn’t enough just to do a really, really great video series. It’s a lot of it. But it isn’t enough.

Brandon Arolfo:

When you’re going into the development of a new digital series, obviously, you’ve got another platform you want to be on, obviously, you’ve got to know the different tools that you can utilize to make your show really good, all that kind of stuff. But it’s really important that you’re using everything on that platform to make your show and to make your series the most successful it can be and that’s everything from recognizing the different products you can use. It recognizes that you can’t just put a video up there but you’ve got to have the engagement. You got to have people commenting on it. You’ve got to have people sharing it. You got to have… The retention rate has to be up.

Brandon Arolfo:

If you’re on Facebook, it’s got to be thumb stopping, if it’s on YouTube, it’s got to be etc, etc. So there’s all this stuff that goes into it. But there’s also having the conversation with your audience and with your community. And the more that you show the platform that you are having a conversation, that you’re using the tools again, the more likely that platform is going to support you better, to surface you to people that it might not be surfacing or just to give you some more love from a marketing perspective.

Brandon Arolfo:

So identify your audience and research vibrant communities. So what this means is, this is basic stuff. We begin to develop a new show, we might know broadly that there’s a need for a show about math, or that we think that a show about art pop will be popular or that we think that a new physics show is going to be, is going to be popular. It’s really good though if you are and everyone sort of knows this, but digital is massive and there are massive communities. And it’s not enough just to say, “Okay, we’re going to make a show about space. So we’re going to make a show about, I don’t know math.” Like I said before, you’ve got to really drill in deep, especially in the beginning of who that audience is that you’re going to be serving so that when you launch your show, there’s organic growth at first, there’s an audience that, that show attaches to that people recognize themselves in this show.

Brandon Arolfo:

So by starting off, while you’re developing the concept for this show, while you’re developing, you know what this is going to look like, even which platform is going to be your primary platform of distribution, it’s really good to start asking questions about the audience, to really sort of get an audience first perspective and that’s basic stuff. So that’s age, location, gender, education, that’s all pretty easy. But then moving to the next level, that’s where these people congregate. So if I had to show X, where might this audience about physics, diving deeper into physics, about black holes, diving deeper into black holes, is this show about gravity or episode’s going to be about gravity, physics gravity or some episode’s going to be about the gravitational pull of love?

Brandon Arolfo:

What makes this show different? And who is the audience there that’s going to watch a show. And then where does this audience currently sort of congregate, even if you’re making it up in a way, you’re still sort of figuring out, “Okay, well these group likes this, this group is talking about this, across this blog, or cross this publication, or whatever it might be.” So you’re getting a sense of where they congregate and where they speak to each other.

Brandon Arolfo:

And then what are these people interested in? And this part’s really good from a competitive analysis sense. So while you’re doing this sort of exercise, you’re also looking at other shows that these people might be interested in. So common hobbies like what other television programming are they watching? What are they watching on IGtv? What are they watching on YouTube? And how is our show going to be different than what they’re already talking about? And what they’re already listening to, and how’s it going to capitalize on their hobbies and how’s it going to capitalize on closely related content that they’re watching.

Brandon Arolfo:

So during the development process and before launch, what we’ll typically do is and this is just what we typically do to keep everyone on the same page, we will create an audience targeting statement. And that’s for everyone from internal partnerships for people like corpcom’s to promotions to social media, to people who are on my team, like the programming people, to the ops people, to the producers, to the hosts, to everybody, we just we create an audience statement for internal purposes to really keep everybody on the same page. And then all of his work that you’re doing ahead of time be it the audience targeting or be it stuff like this you can reuse this later on when it comes to descriptions for episodes, when it comes to show descriptions, when it comes to your press release.

Brandon Arolfo:

So as you’re doing this, it’s not like all of your work is just going to evaporate. All this is going to be used not just during the development of the show, but also during production and in publishing. So just real quick this was a show that we launched a couple of years ago called Monstrum, seriously y’all it’s like one of my favorite shows, I can’t say my favorite but one of my favorite shows that PBS Digital does. It’s a unique from a competitive analysis. There wasn’t much else out there like this, but we did a survey, just speaking of data or qualitative data. We did a survey a few years ago. And one of the questions that we asked is, “Well, what kind of show would you want PBS to produce next?” And in a weird way we got thoughts about monsters.

Brandon Arolfo:

So we were like, well, how the hell do we make a show about monsters so we kept thinking about it, kept doing the kind of analysis, kept seeing who the audience might be for this show. Then we reached out to a producer, we ended up finding an amazing host called Dr. Emily Zarka who is a subject matter expert in the field of folklore and monsters because she got her PhD in [inaudible 00:23:54] but Victorian literature and folklore I believe so she’s like the perfect host for this show. So the audience statement for this show is this is a show for comic book geeks, horror buffs and fans of Netflix, more monster movies and Stephen King.

Brandon Arolfo:

They love the mythology unit in elementary school. They may feel a special connection to Wednesday Addams and Tim Burton and other ghoulish icons, they probably wear more black than most. There’s a lot… It’s funny. Sure, great. But there’s a lot in there that allows us to sort of keep going in the right direction when it comes to this show and launching this show. So make a community plan. Similar to what I was saying before it’s important. Where else do the audiences congregate? Where else do the viewers like have a conversation?

Brandon Arolfo:

And if you start to monitor these different, let’s say conversations in these different areas, and you can actually sort of find out A, are they talking about you? Are they talking about your show, which does happen and if you’ve done your research ahead of time properly during your community plan, sort of strategy you’re really able to branch out from the kind of videos and content that you may have slated to be up first. And to be able to start branching out into other subject matter. I mean, I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve seen that episodes have come to mind, because we’re following our audiences across another social media platform. For instance, we have a great show that just hit 2 million views this morning I think. Not 2 million views, 2 million subs. It’s called PBS Space Time.

Brandon Arolfo:

And a couple of years ago, we were following a few subreddits that we knew that our audience congregated on. They were having a conversation about LIGO. And I don’t know if many people on the webinar know about LIGO but gravitational stuff I’m not going to go into because A I’m not such a matter expert, and that’s not the point. The point is, is that we heard people talking about LIGO, we knew that there was a ravenous group on subreddit that was discussing LIGO. So we didn’t know when LIGO was all going to go down. So we went ahead and we banked an episode and stored it away for when the LIGO happened and Einstein’s theory came true, then we were going to publish that episode.

Brandon Arolfo:

So what we did was when it did happen, we were able to put a sneak preview of this episode into this subreddit and people went nuts over it because they knew we were listening to them. Some of them were already fans of the show, but it converted. I don’t have the exact measurements, but it was able to convert several people over to space time and the share rate on that episode was nuts because sure it was a good episode. It was timely, but also because we did our time, instead of spending money on paid socials and paid media, which doesn’t really always work. We found out a way to do it organically through having a community playing, knowing where people are congregating and knowing how to speak to them in different ways. Now that all said there’s a lot of different other platforms out there that you could be following across your community plan.

Brandon Arolfo:

But you can’t spread yourself too thin because well, hey, I know this because I work at PBS. And we’re resource strapped but no one has the resources to follow everything. So it’s about picking one or two platforms, other platforms other than your primary platform and then following those platforms, and don’t spread yourself too thin because what’s the point? Keep audience engaged and activated? I think along the lines of what I was saying before, it’s listening to your viewers. It’s figuring out ways to listen to your viewers, be it in platform, in your comments, or in community tab on YouTube or across other platforms as well. I would not like let’s say that you have gotten the budget from a network or let’s say you’re doing an ongoing show or whatever, depending on how many episodes you have. If the order is big enough, there’s danger in shooting all episodes at one time.

Brandon Arolfo:

And if a network or somebody says, “Well, we need to have all of these different shows planned out now and episodes planned out now.” That’s great and all but there has to be room for adaptation. There has to be room to adapt your content depending on what your first episodes or your first set of content is telling you. If you had to shoot out all 40 episodes in a couple of months, then you’re kind of screwed because it may not be relevant, you may not be hitting on… You’re doing what you assume is going to work on that platform instead of releasing something, listening, iterating and then adapting and then putting out more content later on.

Brandon Arolfo:

So there’s a way from workflow perspective, from economies of scale spread out that content production and development. And that’s great. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have an idea what you’re going to do, but you really need to sort of like respond in a way to audience behavior and what people are talking about in almost in real time, kind of collaborate other influencers and serious channels. That’s great. So if you’ve got like-minded friends, if you’ve got like-minded hosts, there’s nothing wrong with collaborating with them, do an episode on their channel, they’ll do an episode on your channel, it’d be great. It shows that you’re engaging with audiences, you’re trying to give them what they want on somebody else’s channel even as long as you’re sort of adhering to your own personality and your own authenticity.

Brandon Arolfo:

And then of course incorporate audience feedback and questions into your content as much as possible. Now, that’s not just within the video content, but that’s when it comes to comments and everything else. So just a really, really quick clip. It’s on the next slide, but let me set it up. Like I was saying before, we develop content, it’s okay to be smart for instance, it’s one of our older shows, it’s got 3 million subs. Dr. Joe Hanson’s amazing. I love him, I would go on vacation with him, we’d have a good time.

Brandon Arolfo:

This show really responds to audience feedback and data. And in a clip I’m going to show Dr. Hanson tells viewers that he’s making an episode because of their response to a previous episode. I’ll run it and then I’ll go on the next slide.

Joe Hanson:

“Hey, smart people. So a few weeks ago, we made a video about the pyramids and how while they are pretty hecking impressive, we can trace the evolution of their construction and see the ancient Egyptians using trial and error even making a few mistakes. Which basically tells us they didn’t need aliens to build them. They just needed science. You guys really liked that video, but a few of you were a little bothered that despite the fact it was called, who built the pyramids, I didn’t talk about how the pyramids were made. So let’s talk about it.”

Brandon Arolfo:

Great, thank you. And just a little bit more on keeping audience engaged and activated. Like I said before, creating videos based on viewer suggestions is great, like Dr. Hanson did in a way, feature your viewers on the show, it’s always a great way to do it. Even if the people who are recognizing that it’s not them, it’s still great that maybe next time I’ll get recognized. Shout out individual viewers on your videos, same thing and then ask viewers as much as possible to participate. Now all of this changes over time. So there’s different ways of doing this. But this is just sort of a baseline of how to do it. You can use different products available in Facebook or on YouTube or wherever the platform is to do this sort of thing. But it’s always a good sort of baseline.

Brandon Arolfo:

So just another clip. So I think that one of the things, and this might change over time, but it’s definitely in there now, I’ve seen some obviously amazing content, digital content that makes me cry, that makes me laugh that makes me get angry. It definitely can be likened to the same sort of subject matter that is on PBS broadcast that’s on other streaming networks, or whatever it is. But no matter how though, no matter how, what the subject matter is, or whatnot, it’s still delivered in a conversation away across digital platforms. I think that’s something that’s unique now at least, that might change but I feel like the more conversational you are, the more that a host feels like the friend of the viewer, the person that, that viewer might see themselves in, then I think it has a better chance of sort of resonating with different viewers, different communities considering this is a pretty… In a way it’s a personal experience.

Brandon Arolfo:

So this clip, I’ve used this before and it’s a bit older but I love this clip from one of my favorite shows the art assignment in one of my favorite people, Sarah Green. I won’t set this up too much because it’ll explain itself. But basically, she’s been incredibly conversational. And she’s basically explaining something from a previous episode, so please roll it.

Sarah Green:

“A few weeks ago, we got a question from Trey Willetto, who asked how we respond to people who say, “I could have done that. It’s so simple about art.” For example, Felix Gonzalez Torres. John and I answered the A, you probably actually couldn’t do it. And B, you didn’t do it. But some of you like Becky were dissatisfied. She said, “Doesn’t that imply that the artist has no merit outside of some guy thought about doing this first and now we care about it?” It just seems like a really lazy answer. Challenge accepted Becky, I’ll give you a less lazy answer.

Okay, if you’re looking at a work of art and feel compelled to say I could do that, or my kid could do that. The first thing you want to do is assess if you really could do that, take some hard edge abstraction like this painting by Piet Mondrian-“

Brandon Arolfo:

So I didn’t mean to cut it off, if you want to see more please go to the video I need your view. I love that example because A, she’s conversational, B she’s referencing another episode and C she’s incorporating someone’s comment into that cold open. And it really just hits on so many different points for me. Plus, I just like her, I love her delivery there. The algorithm, whatever the hell that means, right? I know it’s like, it’s the black box. We don’t always know what… We don’t always know what makes our content popular on different platforms.

Brandon Arolfo:

And one of the things that happens during the upload of a video is it takes time to process it. Sure, of course, it’s looking for indecency, it’s looking for things that may not be appropriate for that platform, but it’s also analyzing the platform, it’s analyzing. I’m sorry, it’s analyzing that video. And it’s also analyzing all of the other content and metadata that’s associated with that video. It’s assessing that video. It’s assessing… Overall it’s trying to give… It’s assessing a score, how likely that this video in this content is going to keep a person on platform, how likely it’s going to be to keep a viewer going to the next video, how likely is it that they can feel more comfortable about surfacing your video to other viewers that may not be in your channel or in another, or even if you’re on Facebook and a feed of somebody that normally doesn’t feature you even though you’re their friend.

Brandon Arolfo:

So when you’re creating the video content, it’s important, of course, make it audience first, make it a good video. But you’ve also got to think about the other content that goes along with that and that really, there’s several different, there’s metadata all over the place, but when we say content, I’m talking about not just the video content but the title, the thumbnail, the video and closed captioning and description, all of this meshes together and the AI of the platform is able to analyze your video, take it apart from its audio, take it apart from this video cells to see if those video cells and that audio matches up the look and feel of your thumbnail, and plus it’s also analyzing is this thumbnail representative of the video but also is it a good thumbnail? Is it the kind of colors that people respond to.

Brandon Arolfo:

The AI is going to be able to recognize different faces or different objects that are in the thumbnail so it’s going to know if your video’s about cars, your thumbnail may want to have something about cars in it and it’s scoring it there. The video and the closed captioning is important as well because the closed captioning is interned in SEO too and the description making sure that the description is good for SEO but also making sure that the description lines up with your video, making it all one cohesive sort of thing, just sort of like the flow of things and title, and thumbnail should tell a story together. So the accuracy of pick a title that is an accurate description of the videos content and the platform will know. Trust me, it’s going to know if that title is an accurate description of your video.

Brandon Arolfo:

Optimization, use recognizable and frequently searched keywords at the start of the title. Branding, include obviously consistent branding, such as episode numbers and that sort of thing, but that’s really on how you think your show should be represented. And then get to the point, stay between 65 and 75 characters and here’s the deal. When it comes to thumbnails and when it comes to titles. That stuff can be changed later on too. The video can’t be changed, the file can’t be changed, but you can adapt the title and the thumbnail and the description years later, for instance, there was a, forgive me, I don’t remember the exact timeline here.

Brandon Arolfo:

But there was a bunch of volcanoes that erupted like a year ago, I think. I don’t know where they were, but they were some where on the planet. And we’ve had a couple of videos about volcano eruptions and the science behind that. We went back in, we changed the thumbnails, we changed the titles, and we changed the descriptions, not completely separate from what we had originally done. But we just added a few key terms in there that we knew people had been searching for the last couple of days because of the recent volcanic explosions, and we changed a few things around to make it a bit more modern. Boom, it went nuts.

Brandon Arolfo:

Not only did the algorithm recognize that we were fiddling with the content, but also it became highly shareable. The content became a highly viewed and it spiked within a week I think one of the videos from our show Physics Girl went up a couple of hundred thousand views, it was kind of nuts. Serving audiences during COVID-19. During this strange time PBS has continued to adjust its strategy to serve the American public in a number stations. That’s kind of our responsibility, obviously, is to modify our programming to represent what’s happening in the world. But conventional production with PBS and other places, obviously, I’m sure there are producers on the webinar now, conventional production has slowed down due to social isolation and other things, but many of our digital productions have been able to remain operational, really because of a lot of what I have just now covered when it comes to being flexible, when it comes to already being able to respond to audience behavior quickly when it comes to being able to have a conversation with audiences.

Brandon Arolfo:

Bring some calm to things, some of our shows, we’ve got a handful of science shows, we’ve got a handful of DIY shows, we’ve got a handful of other sorts of content that are related to PBS, and we’ve been able to do COVID-19 related content within these individual series. But that still relates to their communities and relates to their theme. So for instance, it’s okay to be smart, which is all about biology and science, they were able to publish a video about fighting the curve.

Brandon Arolfo:

Another show, another one of my favorite shows is Two Cents, it’s a personal finance show. They’ve done episodes about the economy and about how you should spend your stimulus check. So it’s all about doing it in that tone and in that voice, and obviously your still connecting to what PBS is, but the ability of these different hosts and these different digital natives I hate to use that term because it makes me sound like I’m not and I’m old, but also they don’t necessarily need the green screen studio that we set up. They don’t necessarily need to be in the field on location, the research and the rigor of the information still remains. It’s just being presented differently. And considering we were already on that verge of conversational, and bloggie vloggie style, audiences are more accepting of the look and feel of the format considering they’ve already built a rapport with these different hosts and with these different channels.

Brandon Arolfo:

It is because we are already so digitally, like that’s our mentality that we’ve been able to have very nimble workflows. I mean our infrastructure that we use the most or is cloud based technology to transfer files from between editors, to transfer files between hosts editors, to transfer notes between us and in our different producers. It’s all remote cloud based, we definitely remain community focused. We don’t want to create alarm during this time, we want to get accurate information.

Brandon Arolfo:

And we are following the response that whenever we publish something via video or via a social media promotion and whatever it is, a comment we’re definitely monitoring the response to see okay, are we are we giving this right? Are we still adhering to our community and what they expect from us. We definitely are relying more on hosts for engagement not only on that platform, but also on other social media platforms that they may appear on, we’re definitely relying on them to help out to keep audiences let’s say hot or warm, because maybe we couldn’t publish a video this week because of social distancing or whatever. We’re utilizing hosts on other platforms to keep wanting to remind them that we are around and that more videos will be coming soon.

Brandon Arolfo:

Or even just to get, if we couldn’t publish a video, they may just do something on Twitter or whatever live sort of giving, sort of giving the same details that would have been in an episode, we’re partnering with other influencers. So we are collaborating with other influencers as much as possible to cross pollinate audiences still during this time. And again, audiences are rather forgiving during this time, as long as you know you are remaining authentic and you are serving them with content that they probably want right now. So that is the presentation. I think now we can do questions. I feel like I was on time. I feel like I did pretty well on time.

Andrew Whipp:

Yeah, no, you did phenomenally. Thank you so much, Brandon. And I mean, one thing I definitely am excited about is just all of the takeaways that you put into this presentation. I definitely will be coming back through the slides and taking notes. I mean, as a production company, we are in constant development mode, trying to come up with ideas for shows and working with media outlets like yourself. So it’s awesome to hear how you guys approach it and some of the techniques and insights that you have to making great content. And I guess I’ll just kick it off with the first question.

Andrew Whipp:

I feel like a lot of the content that I see on YouTube that’s successful is host driven. And you had mentioned that a lot of your content at PBS is host driven. And I’m just curious, on a platform like YouTube, that’s so big. Do you feel like you almost need to have a host to be successful if you’re trying to make entertainment type content?

Brandon Arolfo:

I do. And I’m going to sound hypocritical when I answer this because it kind of depends. And again, this makes me sound kind of weird, but it kind of depends on your goals on that platform. Like for instance, frontline, which is one of the most amazing PBS let’s say brands. They put their episodes… They’re folding feature, documentaries and such onto YouTube, and they have amazing engagement and amazing views. And so they’re just putting it straight from broadcast onto YouTube. But when it comes to making like a traditional, let’s say YouTube show, I do think you need a host, I really, really do. I think that, that is part of that universe. Now, I’m not saying that, that’s the only way to be successful, I’m really not. But it is something that those audiences are more used to. And it’s just about doing it in a way that’s going to be good for you and for the audience and for that host, it’s sometimes hard to have a host who is used to doing content in their way for their audiences on their own production schedule with their own workflow.

Brandon Arolfo:

That’s what makes the content so good and so unique. And then sometimes when they partner up with a network like us who had other priorities and who need to whittle in X, Y, and Z because of educational purposes or because of grant stipulations, or whatever it is, it can get a little hard sometimes for that host who’s been used to being on their own for so long to sort of adapt to, but that’s sort of the risk that you take, but I do think it easier strategy to build audiences on YouTube would be to use a host. I’m not saying that’s the only way to go though.

Andrew Whipp:

Awesome. So I’m going to jump into one of the questions here from the Q&A at the bottom of Zoom that Andrew was just talking about. It came about halfway through the presentation from Kevin and he was asking when researching communities, do you interview community members? And I think just as an additional layer to that how are you kind of going out there and analyzing and figuring out what your audience is and what they might want?

Brandon Arolfo:

That’s a great question. That’s a great question. And PBS in many ways takes that super seriously. It depends for us on the digital side. It depends on the show. It depends on our goals. We started the show recently with KLRU in Austin, Austin PBS called Say It Loud which is a great show. It’s about black history, black culture, it’s a show that needed to happen. It was a show that is funny. It is a show that is dealing with some heavy subject matter. And we knew that we didn’t want that show just to become a new YouTube channel, we wanted to actually be effective. We wanted to be representation of the community.

Brandon Arolfo:

So we held a few different, with the help of Austin PBS, we held a few different like, let’s say panels, and a few different community events to play the episodes, two to make sure that we were on point and to make sure that even during the development process, we were reaching out to different communities like black cultural connection and other communities to make sure that in developing the show, we were hitting on topics that were relevant and weren’t cheesy and and we’re actually going to be not redundant.

Brandon Arolfo:

Also PBS takes great care to do and we participated a few times in this as well different focus groups and focus panels, obviously, you’ve got focus groups whenever you’ve got the new season of Downton Abbey or whatever to look at, but we use focus groups a lot. Before we may publish a large miniseries on digital that it may be a kids oriented program or another show that may be sort of out of our wheelhouse. We’ll create a focus group derived from specific communities that are a part of the PBS universe to make sure that they were accurately doing that content. So it varies, but we do try and interview and talk to as many community members during the production and then during the at least the first few episodes after we launch to make sure that we’re on point and then we’ll check in every now and again.

Andrew Whipp:

Great. And I’m also going to take this next question from the Q&A section at the bottom of your Zoom, it comes from Andrew, said on YouTube, are you seeing growth in viewership on TV devices, as opposed to desktop or mobile and is that changing any of your strategy or content, and I will relay one kind of anecdotal factoid along this. I know when Quibi launched about seven weeks back, one of the biggest complaints was that you couldn’t have it on your television that you could only watch it on your phone. Saw a lot of coverage in the media about that. So I thought this question from Andrew jumped out at me.

Brandon Arolfo:

No, it’s great. It’s great. And I mean, like when I’m at home, I might be watching YouTube on my phone, but I’m definitely going to display it on my Apple TV or on a bigger device. But we see the biggest growth area when it comes to YouTube viewership specifically is in desktop and mobile. I don’t know for sure if it’s being projected from a phone or a desktop on to a television set, let’s say on traditional television set, but we see our most viewership increase on desktop and recently the last year or so it’s been on mobile devices.

Andrew Whipp:

Cool, cool. I brought up Quibi and I believe, I don’t know the exact dates. I know HBO Max is launching relatively soon-

Brandon Arolfo:

It launched today.

Andrew Whipp:

Today. Yeah. So today and you have Apple TV, you have Peacock is launching soon, or it already has launched from NBC. So there’s a lot of new entrants there, a lot more so than there was for years and years now. We’re in a little off topic here. But what are your thoughts on the streaming wars?

Brandon Arolfo:

Look, I mean, I think it’s harder and harder for… I think it was disparate before, I think it was several different things that we as audiences could select to view I think now obviously with the streaming wars and everything is sort of going back to the way it used to be in a way. It’s like we got away from being three or four massive or five massive networks or whatever it is. And then it became super disparate for years, and now I feel like it’s going back to conglomerates I feel like obviously Disney and Fox have obviously joined together for Disney Plus and that’s only going to get bigger and vacuum up more stuff and now with Peacock, NBCUniversal that is now several different things merge back together I think we’re going to have a return in a way to the way it was before when it comes to content being aggregated together and only coming from a few specific sources.

Brandon Arolfo:

And for PBS it kind of sucks because a lot of our content on the broadcast side is coming from, we can’t necessarily afford right now because the streamers are paying such big prices on Netflix or whoever might, may be Apple TV or Apple Plus, sorry, whoever it is, it’s harder for us to compete from dollar perspective because we’re probably, meaning we don’t always have the money to compete with those who may be just vacuuming up content right now.

Brandon Arolfo:

So yeah, that’s kind of my thought on that. And the good side on us on the digital side, our content is original so we’re still sort of doing our thing. But on the broadcast side, we definitely feel a little bit.

Andrew Whipp:

Yeah, I can definitely imagine that. I mean, one of the questions that I just saw in the Q&A to pivot a little bit, another great one from Andrew, that I think is super pertinent. And a question that we’re always asking is, do you find that there’s any benefit to regularity, to creating appointment viewing? So releasing at a specific consistent day and time? Or do you think that doesn’t really matter at the end of the day?

Brandon Arolfo:

No, I do. I think frequency on a platform if we’re talking about YouTube, or even Facebook Watch, or hell even even our OTT play, I think that there is a lot of value in frequency. I think that when you get all frequency, when you get off a publishing schedule, you should let people know, be it if you’re on YouTube in the community tab section, if you’re on Facebook, it is the first comment, whatever it might be, I think you need to let them know, “Hey, look, we’re going to be pausing for a while,” because there’s already just so much content. And there’s already so much out there and it’s not like a regular primetime schedule block, daytime schedule block, kids day block, it is all over the board.

Brandon Arolfo:

So the more that you can help organize your audience and get them organized as when to expect the next video, the better. And plus the platform realizes that you’re doing that too. The frequency part.

Andrew Whipp:

Cool, I want to talk about measurement a bit. And I’m curious, what tools, what software you use for that? How do you measure success, especially if you’re starting out a new show? What are some of the metrics that you’re looking at and what software are you using to analyze that?

Brandon Arolfo:

So it depends on the platform. So I’ll just talk about YouTube because it’s got what I think is the most robust set up in platform tools. You’re bowing down, obviously to what YouTube finds important when it comes to metrics. Obviously, like I said, you also got to get what you need as far as your organization is concerned. And then you’ve got the whole money part to deal with too. And I think when it comes to in-platform metrics, when it comes to like YouTube dashboard, it’s always important to be looking at, like I was saying, retention rate’s really, really important. Where your subscribers are coming from is important, how your videos are being watched is really, really important.

Brandon Arolfo:

And from a competitive analysis and I’ll say that we use, so when it comes to other YouTube videos, like if I’m looking at Eater or Vox or Viacom Digital Studios, we use software, we use software called vidIQ. I don’t know how many people may be familiar with that. But it allows you to sort of do a 30,000 foot kind of deep dive into what other YouTube videos are doing or to what other channels are doing as far as tagging. As far as their optimization is concerned, as far as what they’re using for, I don’t know, any other SEO stuff and vidIQ gives videos a score of how it’s doing when it comes to the title isn’t too long, or whatever it might be, so that you can sort of see what other like-minded or competition is doing so that you can sort of do something different or you can steal from them, and maybe use similar tags as to what they’re doing.

Brandon Arolfo:

I think it depends on the platform again, but like internally, we’ve got our own CMS system, we’ve got our own internal metrics that we find, that we look for, for success. One thing that PBS uses because so much of our content is windowed on the different platforms, we’re using an average minute watched sort of stat metric across all content. So if one of our shows that’s on broadcast is also appearing on OTT, it’s also simulcasting on to Facebook or on to YouTube or wherever it’s going. We’re going to use a data point that’s the average minute’s watched across all the different platforms with unique users. So it kind of depends on the platform. And it depends on what we’re trying to prove from the metrics?

Andrew Whipp:

Definitely, yeah to have that data has to be an enormous help in kind of curating your content, making sure it’s headed in the right direction, and it’s reaching the people that you want it to reach. So I think that that is all the time that we have for the webinar today. To everyone who joined us, thank you guys for popping in. We hope you had fun. I hope you learned a couple things along the way. I know that our team always leaves with ideas. And we hope that these presentations did the same for all of you. And finally, an enormous thank you to Brandon for sharing his time and his insights with us. Thank you so much, Brandon.

Brandon Arolfo:

You got it. Thank you for having me.

Andrew Whipp:

Absolutely. And once again, we have a number of webinars coming up. So keep an eye out. Next week we’ll have Carter Hansen, the VP of content programming at VidCon. And Gregory Littley VP of social strategy and content at Elite Model World who will be talking about virtual events and viral activations on trending platforms like Tik Tok, so thanks, everybody for joining and we’ll see you next time.

Brandon Arolfo:

Thank you.


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