World Cultural Change: What's Next?

By Dawn, Randee | Variety, October 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

World Cultural Change: What's Next?


Dawn, Randee, Variety


PRATFALLS AND GOOFS CAUGHT ON CAMERA made Vin Di Bona's career. But that doesn't mean the creator of "America's Funniest Home Videos" is an ideal videographer.

"When my daughter graduated from high school, I panned over the stage and she'd already walked by," sighs the onetime documentary filmmaker. "I got a great picture of my grandson's first birthday, where he's singing 'Happy Birthday,' but I was on pause. They don't let me near a video camera any more."

Fortunately Di Bona's facility, or lack thereof, with a camera has nothing to do with the way he's been able to make - and keep - "AFV" a success. The show, which starts its 25th season Oct. 5 on ABC, is a remarkable example of the way an old-fashioned clip show concept can evolve in the new millennium whirl of digital platforming, social media and the Internet.

It's easy to think that a show of amateur-shot clips would have begun its slow decline the moment the first cat video was uploaded to YouTube circa 2005, but "AFV" retains enviable stats: It is the No. 1 show for family co-viewing on broadcast TV; summer 2014 ratings were up 11% over summer 2013; and 93% of its viewership is live, an unheard-of number outside of sports or special events programming.

Many of those things would not matter in the long run, however, if "AFV" hadn't been able to update with the times. During much of the show's lifespan, tech advances had been to its advantage: Shrinking cameras and the option to record digitally meant more people could record more footage for less mon- ey - and thereby capture more classic moments for "AFV."

But once videos that at one time would have been ripe for "AFV" viewers bypassed the show by appearing online - and worse, when classic unlicensed "AFV" moments appeared on YouTube - technology no longer seemed the show's ally.

"Vin fought it," says Lisa Black, exec VP of content, revenue and business development for Vin Di Bona Prods, and FishBowl Worldwide Media (another of Di Bona's companies, which focuses more on original transmedia production). "He hired all these lawyers and had takedown notices on YouTube. But he got with the program relatively quickly; I have to give him credit."

Di Bona admits: "There was a time when my blood would boil at the mention of YouTube. But it's not going away, so we may as well use it to our advantage."

By turning "AFV" into a brand and not just a TV show, new worlds opened up. Di Bona and Black took back ownership of the show's digital platforms from ABC, whose focus had shifted to more longform programming in the digital space, and made their own Web page a hub for submissions and content.

Next, they branched out into social media, with significant success: Since 2013, "AFV's" YouTube channels (AFVOfficial, AFV Kids, AFV Animals) have seen a 14% growth in subscribers (to 16 million), a 1,000% growth in impressions on AFV.com (which sees 1.5 million monthly views) and "AFV" is regularly one of the most talked-about TV shows on Facebook.

A fourth YouTube channel, AFV Approved, launches in October.

"AFV" recently inked a partnership with image-hosting site Imgur to feature content from classic episodes and the current season packaged into looping GIFs, which will also be promoted on air.

Meanwhile, "AFW mobile app has been downloaded more than 1 million times, and allows for streaming of thousands of videos; in November an Android app will include customizable playlists and the ability to send "AFV" content as part of a message to friends.

It's a classic example of not just thinking outside the box, but of re-envisioning the box itself: Over 24 seasons, the show has taken in thousands of hours of content, so why not repurpose that content to fit a modern, younger audience that wants to do more than just watch videos?

"We live in a creator culture today," says Black. "Why not put the content out there for people to do what they want with it? There's such a strong desire these days for people to touch the content; even if that person doesn't tune in, they're touching the brand and that's meaningful. …

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