Content is King

When Google took aim at content farms last February with the release of its Panda algorithm, traffic to those sites plummeted. But that new algorithm was good news for Studio One Networks, a content distributor that, according to its CEO, has more in common with CNN than it does with Demand Media.

“[The new algorithm] affected us positively,” said Studio One founder Andrew Susman, “We saw lift in all our programs. It generally favors quality content, as defined by things like how long a person stays in that content, focusing more on user satisfaction.”

In fact, the Studio One model turns the traditional content-farm model sideways. It avoids creating websites that draw consumers based on content that is search optimized, usually at the expense of quality, value and sometimes comprehensibility. Instead, Studio One is commissioned by brands — its customers include Honda, Nestle, Proctor & Gamble — to create content in 40 categories that it then places on a network of 2500 websites. “We distribute content,” said Susman, “the way ad networks distribute ads.”

The way in which the content is distributed is not the only thing that distinguishes Studio One from content farms. Susman says that, unlike farms that commission poorly paid freelancers to write about topics with which they have only a passing acquaintance, Studio One has long-term relationships with what Susman characterized as “nationally known editors and authorities.”

He said that, for example, if the company has been commissioned by a brand to create an automotive program, it is overseen by Jack Narad, the former editor of Motor Trend magazine. The company then places that sponsored content, which includes a simple sponsorship message.

The company creates regularly updated, sponsored content across all formats — text, audio, video and applications. A quick search of the company’s “Your Family Today” programming reveals that the company’s content can be found on many of the websites of network affiliates and on AOL and Yahoo. When Pantene wanted to engage consumers with the brands using a mobile app, Studio One created the Haircast, which enabled users to type in their zip codes and receive information about how they should treat their hair that day, based on the local weather.

The company is structured much like a cable network, with ad sales, programming, distribution and administration. “We are programmers,” Susman said, “not producers.”

Susman said that ever-increasing fragmentation requires that brands find new ways to reach consumers. “If you look at the top 10 players in the vertical-content categories every month on Nielsen or Comscore, very few players, even the leader, have more than 1 to 2 percent of that targeted content-consumption category,” Susman said. “Where is all that other activity?  And how can all those sites afford to create quality at scale? That’s what we’re offering to them.”

Susman says that the company is constantly generating metrics that enable it to refine its content and demonstrate its value to brands. “We have studies that show that sponsored content versus paid media was twice as effective in the areas of awareness, consideration and purchase intent,” said Susman. “More recently, we’ve had media mix modeling done by Nielsen that has shown that where paid media is delivering around $1.64, our programs are delivering in the $3 – $5 area.”

The company has recently moved from being exclusively consumer facing to creating business to business content for Symantec and Intel with which the company partnered on a program called Visual Adrenaline that explores developer culture. Although the scale is much smaller, Susman said, companies still need to engage their customers with content that is valuable.