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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Media brands with superfans most likely to succeed with digital subscriptions

March 9, 2017 | By Scott Bailey @TENenthusiast

Leaving this year’s Digital Content Next Summit in New Orleans, I was struck by how much of the conversation revolved around media companies moving from an advertising-supported model to a subscription-based model. There was a lot of healthy debate around the optimal types of brands and level of scale required to succeed in this transformation. Everyone wants to know what the best offering is and what types of content are best suited to capture subscription revenue.

One variable not discussed as deeply was the value of passion. Ask yourself: How passionate are your fans about the topics you cover. How passionate are they about the media brands themselves? The answers tell you a lot about your odds for success.

Passion Play

At TEN, we believe our passionate fan base is a key success factor in transitioning from a legacy publisher business model to a direct-to-consumer business with multiple revenue streams, including subscriptions and events. Let’s start with how we quantified how passionate our fans really are.

We partnered with market research specialists GfK to try to put a monetary value on our fans’ passion and influence. GfK’s proprietary study told us that our fans are two to five times more valuable than the national average in terms of buying power and buying influence across auto, action/outdoor, and home tech—our core content pillars.

We have built trust with these fans and through years of covering their passion and being a market leader in that particular space. Brands such as Motor Trend, Hot Rod, and Surfer go back decades as the respective bibles of their categories. Our job has been to leverage that brand trust and deliver great experiences on new and evolving platforms. In many cases, the business model is free with ad support, paid, or a combination of both.

Ready for Action

And now we are seeing it come together. Strategy is meeting up with execution. Looking at social, our auto reach is more than 106MM with an average age of 27. They are the greatest collection of millennial automotive fans in the world—an unexpected position to be for a legacy publisher reinventing itself in the new media landscape. Passion produces engaged fans. And that engagement provides a bridge to monetizing these fans in a variety of ways.

When we talk about original content and digital video, the story is even stronger. Our Motor Trend YouTube channel is ranked number one in the U.S. by Tubular Labs in every category they track, from subscriber monthly views and cross-platform views to engagement rates. This translates into revenue through pre-roll and ad-supported sponsorships and integration into our programming.

In our events business, we’ve gotten 30,000-plus fans to attend Roadkill Nights, an extension of our original video series of the same name. This past summer, Roadkill fans got to drag race down the iconic Woodward Avenue in Detroit. The show’s host, David Freiberger, is now (much to his chagrin) a genuine social media influencer, mobbed by autograph-seeking fans at every event, some bearing Roadkill tattoos.

That kind of success is what created the optimism around our original content and our SVOD service, Motor Trend OnDemand, which we launched in 2016. Today, you can find our shows and SVOD service on Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Roku, Apple TV, iOS, Android, and Chromecast. Hundreds of thousands of people engage with us there each month on top of the millions who watch us on YouTube and Facebook Live. Most important, they care enough about this content to pay for it.

The Passion Grows

This passion and viewership is further amplified through our existing media footprint. We use our social channel, sites, magazines, and events to drive viewership, subscription, and engagement—often in real life. Moving forward, we expect to add more affinity models, where we bundle the SVOD, print, events with exclusive experiences to surprise and delight our fan base.

All this leads us to encourage our media peers to monetize their consumers directly. This means focusing on the brands and properties with the highest engagement metrics, most passionate level of fandom, and the kind of content opportunities best suited for today’s consumption platforms of choice: on-demand digital video and social. If you do that, passion will beat scale every time.


Scott A. Bailey serves as President, Automotive, for TEN where his primary responsibilities include enhancing the relationship between the Automotive Group’s brands and its audience, leading the continued development of TEN’s digital businesses, and improving its customer offerings by expanding its media platforms. Scott is a two-time nominee and Emmy Award winner for his work in advanced media technology and brings decades of digital and publishing experience to TEN .  He came to TEN from Synacor, Inc., where he served as Chief Operating Officer and was part of the management team that took the company public in 2012. Before Synacor, Scott served as Senior Vice President at Comcast Interactive Media, and prior to Comcast, he was the General Manager for Turner Sports Interactive, a division of Turner & Time Warner.

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