CES: Can Media Companies Capitalize on Influencers?

When it comes to reaching younger audiences, celebrity pitchpersons are being usurped by what marketers call “influencers”—internet celebrities with hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of followers. Brands have sought to leverage this via sponsored content and integrated marketing campaigns. Seeing the shift, large media companies have also sought to incorporate influencers into their strategies with mixed results.

“A lot of these early premium video-on-demand services have basically made poor content with big influencers hoping that will bring people to the other side of the table, which hasn’t quite happened” said James Heath, who serves as director of analytics and audience development for Univision’s Creator Network. “But there is definitely overlap for influencers in digital to start moving into traditional spaces.”

UCN is a collection of influencers aimed at the young Hispanic community that brands can leverage to reach that audience. Heath during a Monday panel at CES in Las Vegas said Univision is working on a project to leverage UCN’s digital influencers to promote music programming on the company’s TV and radio properties.

Viacom is another example of a traditional media company looking to digital influencers. “A company like Viacom, their power base has been historically access to screens—it’s distribution,” said Evan Weiss, a former TV talent exec who now runs digital talent agency Red Sun Entertainment. “We look at things as every single client who’s creating content on, let’s say YouTube, is their own distribution empire.” Earlier this year, Viacom inked a deal with Snapchat star Shaun McBride—better known as Shonduras—to serve as a consultant for branded content campaigns. McBride has also appeared as a “social correspondent” from MTV’s Woodies awards.

The key to a successful transition from digital influencer to mainstream media figure seems to be the ability to maintain authenticity despite working for the man. Edelman US head of influencer strategy Sybil Grieb defined the appeal of influencers as a combination of notoriety and relatability. “As soon as you try to put them into a scripted show, you lose a lot of that authenticity,” she said.

There’s also the question of whether influencers need or want to partner with traditional media entities given that they can distribute their own content. Weiss suggested that any of Red Sun’s clients could potentially have their own OTT app for smart devices and even suggested YouTube star Casey Neistat “could be bigger than YouTube in a way.”

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