The online revolution is eclipsing traditional techniques of reaching audiences. Your own video may even be the star.
By David Irwin
If you hang out on social media, you may have caught a video last year of a whale in the South Pacific that seemed to be protecting a diver from a nearby shark. It came from the animal-focused publisher The Dodo and went viral, amassing more than 119 million views on Facebook, 8 million views on YouTube and generating extensive media attention.
Such videos constitute several of Group Nine Media’s mobile-first media brands that have placed the company among the vanguard of a booming digital marketing movement, with content driven by compelling storytelling and thorough audience feedback, primarily from the 18 to 34 age group. According to Nielsen, these young adults spent 47 percent of their media consumption time on digital platforms in 2018 — the most of any measured generation.
For Christa Carone ’90, a Geneseo communication major and now president of Group Nine, those statistics illustrate how important digital media have become in the corporate marketing mix.
“Just look at how college students are consuming content,” says Carone. “It’s through digital platforms — especially mobile devices — and advertisers are reallocating their budgets to publishers like us who deliver premium storytelling right into their digital feeds. Mass media marketing is now less about digital versus traditional TV and radio marketing, and more about bringing your message to all of the various media that consumers use that influence a purchasing decision.”
The Dodo, which appeals to those who appreciate the role of animals in society, is one of the media companies in Group Nine’s portfolio of digital brands. Others include Thrillist ( food, drink, travel and entertainment); NowThis (news for young people); and Seeker ( for those curious about how things scientifically happen in the world). Some of the stories produced by Group Nine’s brands are stand-alone videos, such as the protective whale example or the video of Beto O’Rourke discussing NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem that went viral. Others are part of episodic original shows such as The Dodo’s show “Comeback Kids: Animal Edition” or the NowThis shows “Seen” or “One Small Step.”
You might find videos from any of Group Nine’s brands on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook or YouTube or an increasing number of other networks and streaming platforms like “Dodo Heroes” on Animal Planet, Thrillist’s “Instachef ” on Amazon Prime Video, and the upcoming Netflix series, “Izzy Bee’s Koala World,” produced by The Dodo. The company generates revenue through advertising that is integrated into the shows, similar to traditional TV commercials, or the streaming service, like Netflix, will fund production of the show. Across its portfolio of media brands and production studios, Group Nine publishes about 40 shows during the year.
Generating content for all of the platforms, says Carone, is a combination of heart and science and often emerges from popular themes, such as animals or protagonists, such as someone advocating for a cause.
In some cases, staff members search for content by scouring the internet for interesting videos and then curating them for potential use on their platforms. They obtain permission from content owners to repurpose the footage for their videos and shows, but Group Nine also produces and publishes its own original content, like Thrillist’s pizza show, “Really Dough?,” hosted by Mark Iacono, the chef and owner of Brooklyn’s legendary pizza shop, Lucali.
“We want to produce content that draws and retains a loyal audience, and we do that through robust data that delivers insights into our audiences’ preferences — that’s the science,” says Carone. “But producing memorable and shareable stories requires heart and passion from our production teams.”
Carone says what goes viral is difficult to predict and emphasizes that virality is not Group Nine’s strategy. “We are focused on delivering compelling storytelling through all of our platforms,” she says. “If you have a smart content strategy and tell your story in an interesting way, you have a better chance of it becoming a hit. For me, the definition of virality is that everyone is talking about it.”
Carone, a native Buffalonian, had marketing positions at Xerox Corp. for 17 years, including five years as corporate vice president and chief marketing officer. It was during her time there that she experienced the shifting digital tide in marketing. She says tracking such trends of consumer digital preferences remains an important pathway to success.
“We’re always looking for the next influential place where we’re all spending a disproportionate part of our time,” says Carone. “I can’t tell you what that is now, but we’ll be publishing our content in all of the different places where young people in particular might be investing a fair amount of their time.”