from THE NEW YORK TIMES
STUART ELLIOTT | 12 NOVEMBER 2014
PART of the lore of CBS is how William S. Paley, who built the company into a communications empire, became its president in 1928: Commercials for the family’s cigar business on a station that was part of the struggling CBS radio network increased sales so much that Paley realized what a powerful advertising medium radio could be.
Fast-forward decades later to a kind of Paley counterpart in the new media, Jason Harris, the founder of the Design Network, a website specializing in online video series and clips about home design, décor and furnishings. Mr. Harris learned how well video could sell as an executive vice president for Furnitureland South in Jamestown, N.C., which proclaims itself “the world’s largest furniture retailer.”
“Video is by far the most powerful medium,” said Mr. Harris, whose parents, Darrell and Stella Harris, opened Furnitureland South in 1969. “And with broadband coming in, the future of television is apps, smart TV, cord-cutting, so my goal is not to become a big network in the traditional sense.”
Mr. Harris traced the genesis for an online video network devoted to “all things home” to “a round-table discussion with C.E.O.s of the furniture industry” almost two years ago, when, he said, “it dawned on me that our industry — manufacturers, retailers, designers — was not connecting with the consumer.”
Although “we’re not pretending to know everything about this,” Mr. Harris said, it is apparent that “the consumption of video is changing.”
Mr. Harris said he asked Furnitureland South’s top 50 vendors to collaborate with him on the Design Network, and four initially agreed: Baker Furniture, Four Hands Home, Harden Furniture and Serta. Among the others that have since joined in, he added, are Century Furniture, Hooker Furniture, Sunbrella fabrics and Surya home furnishings. In addition, he said, “we’ve a big deal coming up with Home Depot, which signed up to be a significant sponsor.”
Andrew Gross, senior vice president for marketing at Serta Mattress in Hoffman Estates, Ill., said: “We need to reach our consumers where they are and we’re moving more spending into environments where context and content are relevant. Television is still the dominant medium because it still works for us, but we’re shifting upwards of 30 percent of our spend into digital.”
“We think more and more of ‘television spend’ as ‘video spend,’ ” he added, “deployed on traditional networks, full-episode players like Hulu or an environment like the Design Network.”
Austin Rothbard, president of Baker Furniture in Chicago, said: “People like to interact with and get their content in many different ways. We are making sure they can find out about Baker in the way they choose.”
The Design Network particularly appealed to Baker because “what we’re finding is that people are researching companies and products online first,” he added. “Jason’s vision for the Design Network included an entirely interactive experience that allowed Baker to put our content on there and combine it with the Design Network’s content.”
In producing content for the website, Mr. Harris is recruiting people who are already successful in the realm of video, whether on television, online or on social media platforms like Vine and YouTube. (There is also content created by advertisers as well as user-generated content.)
Online video facilitates “a two-way dialogue” and “gives viewers all the control over what they’re watching, which is what they’ve been after all along,” said Sara Lynn Cauchon, a television host and producer who created “Neat Freak,” a web series for the Design Network that began last month.
“We did five weekly episodes, each between four and six minutes, which I think is the sweet spot,” Ms. Cauchon said. “With digital video, you don’t have to fill 22 minutes in a four-act structure like you do in traditional video.”
And there is more ability than in traditional television to integrate advertisers into episodes “if the right sponsor came along and it made sense,” she added, “which is why you see advertisers migrating over to broadband video.”
For all the opportunities that online video offers, Ms. Cauchon noted that viewers were developing “higher expectations.”
“The audience is getting savvier,” she said, “and they’re on the hunt for quality stuff with higher production values.”
And online video networks, like traditional networks, need not only programs deemed worth watching but also viewers to watch them.
ComScore, the Internet analytics company, does not track the Design Network because the website does not meet its minimum reporting standard of around 50,000 unique visitors a month. Nielsen also does not have reportable data for the Design Network because the number of panelists who visit the website do not meet its minimum threshold, a figure that Nielsen does not disclose.
Still, Mr. Harris said he was in it for the long term because “big brands are saying, ‘You know, you’re right.’ ”
“We feel we’re skating to where the puck is going,” he added, referring to a remark by Wayne Gretzky that Steven P. Jobs often cited.