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How People and Entertainment Weekly grow audiences with video

November 14, 2019 | By Caitlin Kelly, Independent Journalist @CaitlinKellyNYC

It’s a brand people have known and loved for four and a half decades – as a magazine. Now People is focused on video, determined to grow the brand and bring its content to new, and larger, audiences.

“The most important thing is that the brand has to have a voice to begin with,” said Will Lee, SVP of Digital for the Entertainment Group of Meredith Corp., a role he’s held for two years, which coincides with Meredith’s acquisition of Time, Inc. “People has a very strong brand voice that it’s cultivated over 45 years. We know what the consumer expects from us. We have a very well-developed playbook for how the brand should sound and look.”

People’s emotional DNA

That means sticking to the brand’s core emotional DNA when showing work on Snapchat, for example. “We don’t say snarky, mean things about celebrities. It’s not what we do.” So, even if Snap viewers prefer things a little salty, People stays true to its own style, regardless of medium. “We get a lot of data from Snapchat,” Lee said, “and that audience has evolved. It’s very different from what it was three years ago.”

People’s video content focuses on what Lee called “the three R’s, the content their readers just can’t get enough of: reality TV, the British Royal family, and the red carpet. “Streaming is a different level of engagement. The really passionate audience comes from reality TV.” So, Lee’s team of 60 to 80 staffers produce a reality-based video show four nights a week and a Royals show once a week. “Reality TV is a conversation starter,” said Lee, of the genre’s powerful appeal.

Reality check

The numbers back him up. “We’ve done 100 episodes of ‘Reality Check.’ And after four episodes, we already had the second most viewed show on people.com, with 2 to 3 million views of show clips in a week. That is a pretty good debut for us.”

Pivoting constantly is key and Lee knows how hard his team works to keep up. “All the parts of video work closely together because we’re constantly iterating product on a daily basis. It’s a very special kind of producer who can do three or four formats and keep it all together.”

“What’s interesting about our model is that we’re not tied to 26-week orders so we can adjust. We have a lot of flexibility which differentiates us from cable. We can iterate and improve the product.”

Brand building

But, when deciding which next steps to take, “we have to be very thoughtful, as a media brand with a history and the brand equity we’ve built,” Lee added. “Where is the growth? How do we amplify the brand and move into new markets?” Newer platforms like TikTok , he said, are “the solar power. That’s where the future lies. We have a great brand, but that is no guarantee of future growth.”

However, Lee feels confident that streaming is essential to their success. “That’s why we’ve made such a big bet on it. If we’re not in that space, we’re going to be left behind.”

Lee’s team also partners with Meredith Local Media Group , which has 17 TV stations across the country, which Meredith will leverage when it launches a new daily syndicated television show in September 2020. “That will be the centerpiece of our overall video product.” Lee acknowledged how ambitious this new product is: “Thirty minutes of daily broadcast level TV is a huge amount of work.” The magazine-style show, with “all new and original material really represents a pretty important next step for this iconic brand. It brings us more markets, and more audience. There aren’t a lot of media brands that will have this as part of their media ecosystem. In a company already producing print, digital and video, “this is going to be another evolution of how we all work together,” he said.

Entertaining audiences

When it comes to his other responsibility, Entertainment Weekly, Lee says a new launch is imminent as well. “We’re really trying to amplify the brand. We want to go to where the audience is, in local markets. It’s important for us to reach those audiences.”

EW has announced that it will be working with Jeffrey Katzenberg’s short form mobile video platform Quibi, slated to launch in April 2020. The morning show, which will recap late-night TV, will take a similar strategic approach to the Lee he employs with People. However, he emphasizes that the brands are quite distinct, and that EW is “known as a cultural curator.” That should play well on Quibi, which offers a new audience that Lee is excited to reach.    

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