Over the last decade, WVIA in Scranton, Pennsylvania, has produced a popular documentary series called Our Town. The member station serves a broad, diverse coverage area of 22 counties in northeastern Pennsylvania and the central Susquehanna Valley. For Our Town, residents of communities like Carbondale, Danville or Milford compile video footage and narration as a way to capture the life and character of the town.
“We use that as a vehicle for pledge,” says Chris Zellers, creative director of WVIA digital. “We would facilitate a meeting with the community and they’d go out and cover the topics they want to cover. Then they’d submit the footage to us.” Editors at WVIA would then put together a documentary about the town and offer it as a pledge premium.
The resulting DVDs for these micro-targeted documentaries had proven to be a pledge success. But with the emergence of Passport — and with the use of DVD players declining among audiences — WVIA began wondering if there was a way to start including digital downloads as a separate pledge level.
Adapting to the Digital Times
Zellers looked at the idea as an easy experiment. “We really had nothing to lose doing it. There are no overhead costs,” he says. The station decided to continue offering the DVDs for an entry-level gift of $50. Then WVIA added a level: another $10 would provide both the DVD and a digital download code. They selected three Our Town documentaries plus Peoples of the Susquehanna River, a film about Native Americans in the region, to serve as the first available digital downloads.
Zellers and team decided to offer the downloads through Vimeo, an ad-free video platform. “What’s unique about our station is we have a full-scale production facility and do a lot of client work,” says Zellers. “As a result, we’ve had a Vimeo business account for years as a way of sending approvals and rough cuts to clients.”
Experimenting with New Features
Recently, Vimeo had launched a feature called Vimeo on Demand that allows users to sell their videos directly to fans — a perk that came with those pre-existing business accounts. “When you upload your film, you get 500 unique, individual VIP access codes. These act like a digital download,” says Zellers.
The station uploaded the four selected films to Vimeo on Demand. Of course, these were not products for sale but premiums.“ As a technicality, you do have to put the film up ‘for sale,’” Zellers explains. “But we weren’t really looking to use Vimeo as a means for sales and we haven’t actually made any sales through it. We use it strictly to generate the download codes.” Once available, the station exports the codes to a spreadsheet. When pledges come in for digital downloads, Membership works its way down the spreadsheet distributing the unique codes to recipients. Using the code, the recipient then can download the film directly from Vimeo.
The station pushed this new add-on during its most recent pledge campaign. “We had slides made that explain the different levels and, at every break, they would push the fact that—for 10 dollars more—you could get the digital download,” he says. “But it wasn’t costing us anything because we already had the Vimeo account.”
The First Few Steps Pave the Way for More
While not yet an enormous financial success, Zellers sees the test case as an infrastructure win. “We’ve had 26 total pledges” for downloads, he says. Of those whose gift covered the download option, however, only half have actually downloaded the film. That tells him that some of those viewers who paid for a digital download really weren’t that interested in the feature. And given the station’s older-skewing demographic, Zellers says the selected films available for download probably weren’t the best match for the specific audience clamoring for digital content.
But when that perfect match presents itself, this test project ensures WVIA will be ready. “We came up with an idea and now everything is in place,” he says. “I feel like it’s an idea that’s just waiting for the right project.” In other words, stay tuned.