LONDON, United Kingdom — Today, British style bible i-D, which was acquired by global digital media and publishing group Vice Media in December of last year, is overhauling its online presence with an innovative video-driven experience. The move will be swiftly followed, next Monday, by the launch of Dazed Vision, “the in-house video arm” of Dazed Group, independent publishers of Dazed & Confused, DazedDigital.com, AnOther Magazine and AnOther Man.
In recent years, the media habits of young fashion consumers have changed dramatically. And the new launches — by two of fashion’s most respected youth-focused media brands — reflect a media landscape that’s being radically re-shaped by the dynamics of the Internet, giving rise to new approaches to content, platform and monetisation.
Both launches are heavily centred around video. Driven by the rapid spread of broadband Internet, the proliferation of powerful post-PC devices and the popularity of video-sharing sites like YouTube, online video consumption continues to explode. By 2017, online video will account for nearly 70 percent of all consumer Internet traffic, with users viewing the equivalent of 5 million years of video every month, according to Cisco, a network equipment company.
“Video is the future. We’re living it and it’s our way of telling stories,” said Jefferson Hack, founder and editorial director of Dazed Group, who brought in Ravi Amaratunga, previously a commissioning editor at Channel 4, a British television broadcaster, to lead Dazed Vision.
Monday’s launch will kick-off a year-long “video strand” called “Visionaries,” featuring weekly video takeovers on DazedDigital.com, authored by the likes of James Franco, Björk, Warp Records, Rankin and others. Dazed Vision will also be commissioning on-going video programming across style, art, music and culture for DazedDigital.com, which currently attracts 525,000 monthly active users.
“Just as the magazine broke a whole new generation of designers, artists and photographers in the 1990s and 2000s, we're now aiming to do the same for this generation of videographers,” said Amaratunga.
“Video is the storytelling medium of the world,” said Andrew Creighton, president of Vice Media, which has enjoyed spectacular success with a network of video-driven platforms focused on music, art, technology and sport, and, earlier this year, sold a 5 percent stake in the company to Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox in a deal that valued the company at $1.4 billion. “With video, you get more depth, more engagement and more time with people when you tell a story — and it’s a story that’s traveling all around the world right now on all types of devices.”
But fashion has largely failed to harness the potential of online video. Most fashion films struggle to attract meaningful audience numbers due to a debilitating mix of underfunding, poor distribution strategies, on-set politics and uncompelling content, often created by photographers with no experience directing films.
“In fashion, it's been fairly one-dimensional in terms of how people use video. Fashion film is very artsy, which isn’t really about telling stories that people can share and talk about,” continued Creighton, who oversaw the acquisition of i-D and has been instrumental in developing its long-term strategy.
i-D, which aims to grow its audience from 200,000 monthly active users to over 1 million — a 500 percent increase — in the first month, recently hired Danielle Bennison-Brown, previously at LVMH-backed content site Nowness, as head of video and plans to create a range of short narrative films, documentaries and episodic content.
“The video we’re going to be doing is narrative-based and it’s using film directors rather than fashion photographers, because obviously film is their medium. It’s not going to be about bringing a shoot to life; it’s going to be about real stories,” said Holly Shackleton, editor of i-D.
“We think video will be a differentiator, because it’s difficult to do well. It’s costly to do well. And there’s a fear of getting into it. That’s from the biggest fashion media companies in the world to the very smallest,” added Creighton. “On the big end, it’s more about protectionism — protecting the magazine business. And on the smaller end it’s more about cost.”
Vice Media operates some of YouTube’s most popular channels and, overtime, i-D too plans to integrate the video giant into its strategy. “I think they’ll be part of the distribution mechanism,” said Creighton. “Our play with YouTube has always been an addition to our core business, which is where we own and operate and control the messaging and tonality more. But the traffic is there, so when we have the volume of video that we want, next year, we’ll bring YouTube into the architecture and start to have a subscriber strategy there.”
Branded content and distribution deals
Both brands and traditional media players are eager to reach young consumers, thirsty for the kind of compelling online video content i-D and Dazed Group aim to create. And both companies plan to monetise through a mix of branded content and content licensing deals, in addition to traditional online advertising.
“[We will make money] by being creative visionaries and through making great, memorable programming that genuinely connects on an emotional level with our audience; by working with brands to create video and film collaboratively; and by selling advertising against our content,” said Hack.
“We already work very closely with [Dazed Group’s recently launched agency arm] White Label, allowing the agency to upscale its video standard on both white label and co-branded projects,” said Amaratunga. “Dazed Vision's ability to nimbly work across branded content and editorial content is key to giving its output a unique stamp,” he continued. Current video clients include Diesel, Converse and London department store Selfridges.
“We've also worked with broadcasters such as Channel 4 and [Franco-German television network] Arte this year… We've got a growing list of partners from premium film festivals and major art galleries to international newspaper publications, broadcasters, cinemas and streaming services,” added Amaratunga.
As for i-D, “obviously, there’ll be the standard advertising,” said Creighton. “But fashion brands are also crying out to tell their stories in a way that’s relevant to young people, so we’re going to offer that expertise and a place where they can do it."
"Sometimes in the world of branded content, you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, but in the world of fashion, that problem isn’t there," he continued. "People love Chanel, people love Louis Vuitton, people want to hear that story. But to date, with a few exceptions, it hasn’t really happened. Brands are just not programming in the right way and I think, with the mix of i-D’s tonality and Vice’s expertise and infrastructure, you are going to start to see some really interesting branded content. Then, obviously, there are the non-fashion brands who want to come across as stylish, from drink brands to phone brands,” he added.
“So I think brands are going to be funders of this culture — it could be an article, a video, a form of technology… as long as it ties back to their DNA.” Launch clients include Mercedes-Benz, Nokia and Kenzo, with whom i-D is debuting M.I.A.’s new video for “Y.A.L.A.”
Like Dazed Group, i-D also plans to generate revenue by licensing its video content. “If we do our jobs correctly, the IP and the content that we generate will be valuable itself, so we can start looking at other platform deals with television or YouTube or whomever else,” said Creighton.
Over time, i-D plans to expand its global reach, starting with the US, where the company is set to open a New York office headed by Alastair McKimm. “We plan to offer localised video and editorial content in the core markets that we believe are commercially viable or content-viable, or ideally both. We’ll start in New York, because we have a lot of infrastructure there and there’s great talent,” said Creighton. The company is also looking at establishing new hubs in Paris and Milan, Brazil, Japan, China and Southeast Asia.
“With full-time boots on the ground in all these places, we can mine the content a lot quicker and better. It’s just being aware of the trends, aware of people, and aware of what’s happening faster, so we can do what i-D has always done, and tap into these trends, but use the network to get there. It should be self-fulfilling, because once the platform grows, people will start coming to us with their ideas.”
Indeed, perhaps what’s most interesting about i-D's long-term plans is the way the company aims to harness the many-to-many medium of the Internet and apply “platform thinking” to the way it mines and develops content.
Most media companies — including Vice — are essentially pipes, pumping out expensive, professionally created content for end consumers. Value is produced upstream and consumed downstream. Platforms, on the other hand, enable users to create value for other users to consume.
Traditional fashion magazines are pipes, while YouTube is a platform, where users create and upload content for others to consume. Very few companies have successfully integrated the two models, blending the power of user-generated content with professional editorship and a defined point of view. But this is exactly what i-D aims to achieve.
“The amazing thing about i-D is the contributors — the photographers, stylists, writers — we’ve always had such phenomenal people; it’s always been about family, so the new site has been built with the same ethos. We want to grow this global network or family and invite people to contribute,” said Shackleton.
"i-D is different to Vice in that way in that the core staff is quite small and it’s always relied on contributors, freelancers and other external people, so it’s really extending that ethos into the wider domain," echoed Creighton.
“There’s always going to be an editorial voice to everything that we do. It’s not going to be a totally open platform,” he added. “But we want to create a place where, theoretically, anyone who has a good idea has a way to publish with us. It’s about creating the workflows that makes that possible, because we want to make sure the best stuff rises to the top and in some ways the community has to become self-selecting.”
Critical to operationalising the approach is deploying the right technology platform. “I’m currently, on a wider level, investigating into technology-based architecture for all of our sites, so we rely on technology solutions to get that mix and help people discover and grow the kind of content that we want,” said Creighton.
“Everybody is self-publishing and some of the best photography is probably sitting on some blog or some feed that only a hundred people are seeing. If we can provide a platform, it’s going to be celebrated by the world.”
Editor’s Note: This article was revised on 14 November, 2013. An earlier version of this article misstated that Alasdair McLellan would head i-D's new office in New York. He will not. The office will be headed by Alastair McKimm. The article also misstated that i-D had recently hired Danielle Anderson Brown. Her name is Danielle Bennison-Brown.