Male-skewing digital publisher Joe Media is making eight weekly long-form video shows this year. All but one has an exclusive brand partner and will be distributed on third-party platforms like YouTube, IGTV and as podcasts.
By creating a brand-sponsored editorially led video series, the publisher can generate revenue from brands in the millions while also being able to finance its editorial video ambitions. As publishers work out the best way to drive video revenue for their business, this model of producing for the right partner has proven a popular one.
This week marks the debut of its sixth show, “Liquid Football,” a talk show on the sport, hosted by Sky Sports TV presenter Kelly Cates, featuring former professional players like Jonathan Walters and Wayne Bridge dissecting the latest on the game. Like its other shows, “Liquid Football” will run between 45 minutes and one hour.
Irreverent bookmaker Paddy Power has partnered with Joe to sponsor the show. The brand’s logo and colors pepper the set, along with other brand integrations, but the publisher maintains the editorial control, a model it replicates for its other shows. Because these partnerships are exclusive, Joe does not run pre-roll or mid-roll ads around the shows on third-party platforms. But to make them as successful as they can be, and to pay for top talent, Joe wants to partner with brands for investment. It’s currently pitching two other talk shows in its slate to potential clients.
“It’s better for us to focus and work with one commercial partner,” said Gavin Johnson, managing director at Joe Media. “It’s always a balance, and it can be hard. Advertisers want to push boundaries, and editorial has to be careful because the audience will see through it if it’s too prominent.”
Revenue from these shows, which it classes as branded entertainment, has grown from zero to more than 20% of the company’s total revenues in the last 18 months, but Johnson wouldn’t share specific figures. Cumulatively, these partnerships bring in revenue in multi-millions of pounds. Overall revenue is due to double this year compared to the previous year. The majority of Joe’s revenue comes from branded content campaigns; every three months it works with 25 or so brands like Warner Bros., Coca-Cola and Microsoft Xbox.
Joe’s pitch to advertisers is that it can pull in regular, loyal audiences. Take “House of Rugby,” which launched last October, Joe’s most popular talk show presented by former English Rugby Union players James Haskell and Mike Tindall, with Sky Sports presenter Alex Payne. Guinness, which has just renewed its contract, partnered with the publisher on the series. On YouTube, the average watch time of the show, which often runs over an hour, is 24 minutes. On Apple iTunes — the platform that hosts the bulk of podcast listens for Joe and the wider industry — “House of Rugby” has a 90% completion rate. The team is now working on a range of “House of Rugby” T-shirts and extending the show’s intellectual property through events.
This is part of Joe’s wider goals to make shows accessible in multiple formats across many channels. Naturally, talk shows translate well to audio, but during more physical segments, like the regular bowling challenge for “Swanny’s Cricket Show,” host England Cricketer Graeme Swann gives a running commentary of events, as radio sports broadcaster would.
“Podcasts are a good distribution channel,” said Johnson. “We create a show for people to listen to on their commute in the morning or to watch on YouTube on their smart TV in the evening. The show is the omnipresent thing. Then it’s whatever the distribution model is that’s needed.”
Football, more so than rugby, has always been a core part of Joe’s coverage, so the success of “House of Rugby” has been a promising sign, said the publisher.
Other shows include “TKO,” a boxing show hosted by World Champion Carl Frampton and “Boys Don’t Cry” hosted by comedian Russell Kane. All are shot in Joe’s 3,000-square-foot studio in London, which has space for seven separate sets. Currently, the publisher is keeping the schedule to one show a day but will be able to scale up to two as it grows. Next up to launch is a show on mixed martial arts, one focused on video games and another across sports, but the publisher couldn’t share details. There are others in the pipeline.
Joe’s approach shares elements with a “built-if-sold” model, where shows are only made if financed by a brand, an approach that’s been popular for digital publishers investing in video. Joe has honed this over the last three years from early Facebook Live shows. Now, publishers like BuzzFeed are committing to a set slate that can be self-financed through ad revenue from platforms, but are also open to brand partnerships.
Over the last year, Joe has hired 25 people across a range of disciplines and has two more job posts live on LinkedIn for creative and production roles. Currently, the company has 70 staffers. The editorial team is now 30 people but each works across video and text. Hiring more editorial staff has helped the publisher gravitate away from the quick-hit, short news-text publishing it has been known for, to longer-form videos and articles.
“The written word is very important to us, but we’ve left that news churn a little bit to the side,” said Evan Fanning, head of content. “Everyone can produce, present, shoot, edit and write, [but] we’ve left some of the rigidity of the news beat behind.”
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