Video could kill the TV star, says AOL’s video chief (video)

7 Nov 2014

Dermot McCormack, AOL president of Video and Studios

“No amount of technology can make a bad story good, but the right application of technology can make a good story great,” says Dermot McCormack, AOL’s new president of Video and Studios.

Dublin native McCormack has just joined AOL from Viacom where he ran non-linear brand property initiatives for MTV, VH1, CMT and Logo. Prior to that he was a leading executive at US cable giant Cablevision.

McCormack will oversee a workforce of 200 people between New York, Beverly Hills and Tel Aviv, and will report to the CEO of AOL Platforms, Bob Lord.

Asked about his plans for AOL’s video group, McCormack said it is an exciting time.

This great explosion of video

“We are in this great explosion of video and it’s really the golden age of video content. It’s almost impossible to not find a screen today that doesn’t have some sort of video running on it, even in the elevator when you go to work there is a screen or if you are pumping gas.

“It is exciting what we are looking to do but also challenging, there is so much competition for people’s attention and so many people making great content. From YouTubers all the way to Netflix, which not long ago was sending DVDs in the mail and is now producing House of Cards. It’s exciting but definitely challenging because everybody in the world now is a video storyteller.”

McCormack said AOL has two focuses.

“We think the opportunity is to create an aggregated network. The AOL On network has 1,500 publishers and we aggregate the best premium content out there today from ESPN to Fox Sports.

“Everyone from Condé Nast to Hearst is making great content, so we are aggregating that.

“The second part is can we create our own originals? Can we create really a white space out there today in earnest storytelling? This year we did 16 originals with people like actors Steve Buscemi and Zoë Saldaña and we got two Emmy nominations only two years into originals.

“We definitely don’t have the budgets of Game of Thrones – at least not yet – but we think there is a middle ground between high-end scripted drama and short-form cat-on-a-skateboard video.

“We think there is something in the middle. We think there are new formats that interconnected to the social graph will change the way people tell stories and we will hopefully be at the forefront, not competing with making television but maybe going forward with new kinds of content.”

McCormack explained that every time a new platform comes along, eventually endemic content shows up – a sitcom for broadcast TV or MTV or CNN for cable. “What will be the MTV of the internet generation? Hopefully we will be at the forefront of refining what that could be and new shows will emerge.

“MTV created reality shows and as we look forward we think the YouTube generation are going to process stories in different ways, that’s the interesting part of my job and what I’m excited to find out. How we tell stories in different ways.”

Life in Technicolour

In this world of screens everywhere, McCormack warns that the danger is lack of focus. “There is so much technology and we can get blinded by that.

“I try to go back to fresh principles – no amount of technology can make a bad story good, but the right application of technology can make a good story great

“Think about what Technicolor did for black and white movies. Technology is our friend but it doesn’t make a great character or a byline or a great story arc so when I get up in the morning I try to find great stories and that’s what we are going to try and do.”

However, he believes that the traditional TV business faces hurdles.

“I spent many years in TV and TV is a great business, it’s a big business and it’s not going anywhere soon but it’s not growing.

“They face challenges in that there are people with smartphones to kids coming out of college making great content for cheaper and quicker and so television is fundamentally an advertising powered business so the advertising landscape is changing too.

“Not only has the creation been democratised the distribution has been democratized, you don’t need a cable pipe in the ground to get content.”

McCormack warns that also the fundamental business model of television is changing, and programmatic digital platforms like AOL are poised to take advantage.

“Advertising is moving from a linear, non-targeted medium to a programmatic, targeted medium and that is where the digital world is happening.

“The combination of new story telling in digital spaces with a new ads operating system is what is happening to TV.

“If you look at how TV is distributed in the states – cable and broadcast and not built on a digital platform – the advertising in a Google type world is evolving which is why AOL is in a strong place. They have built this amazing advertising machine and it is my job is to take premium content and plug into the advertising machine

“That’s why TV is weak today, because they can’t target.

“You watch the Late Late show in Ireland, that’s all they know about you. But think about all your iPhone knows about you. That is the future of advertising and that is the challenge that the big television industry faces.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years