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The Hook shifts focus from 'vanity' views to loyalty as it ups original comedy sketches


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

August 16, 2018 | 7 min read

Entertainment and comedy media brand The Hook has built a following on Facebook by creating original sketches and funny videos since 2014. Years later it is moving away from “vanity metrics” like views to instead sell advertisers on audience loyalty.

The group's co-founders claim its success is being driven by original series, especially after the Facebook news feed algorithm started clamping down on homogenous 'viral' content.

At 7.2 million Facebook followers, The Hook lacks the scale of rivals LadBible (33 million) and Unilad (38 million). Nonetheless, its partner and co-founder Andy Fidler told The Drum he is unconcerned. Apparently, for its size, The Hook has been “punching above its weight” for years.

The London-based group is currently fundraising to swell its ranks beyond 25 members of staff. The aim is to scale up a strong media brand inspired by College Humour, Vice and Complex. Its comedy shorts include Amazon Alexa savaging its owner, David Attenborough narrating Love Island and editing porn music over hammy The Walking Dead dialogue. Like a lot of comedy, Fidler admitted, the sketches may not be for everyone, but they have real fans out there too.

Although "vanity metrics" will be put to the side, they remain the best way to measure the group's prominence. It claims to reach 500 million people a month and receives an average of 1,500 likes, comments or shares each minute. But the focus will soon be on a loyalty-based metric. In 2017 it saw a 400% increase in original content output from 2016, a total of 760 original videos or around two a day. 100 or so boasted brand partners too, marking a year where the company doubled its revenue.

Fidler said: “All our main competitors in the UK are hooked on this drug basically of having to be at the top of the video rankings where they post out 20 videos a day. These are videos of cats and dogs that they put out just so they can say they’ve got millions of views. We are going in the opposite direction.”

The Hook has weaned itself off the third-party licensed content favoured by some rivals in the space. Fidler is of the belief that the cats and the dogs that fill (or infest) the news feed may serve the pursuit of views. However, he is sceptical that they could build a brand that would be missed.

“We are creating less content and focusing more on quality. What’s important is building a genuine loyalty with the public and brands that like us.”

Fidler acknowledged that attention is fleeting in the quagmire of social media. That's why it is important to build a strong and trusted brand. “I might sit through a few episodes of a Netflix original, even if it is crap, because it is Netflix and seven times out of 10 the content is great. With our audience, we believe if people see something that is good, they will watch future videos knowing that they will deliver.”

The purported benefits of loyalty aids The Hook Labs’ branded content work. To date, it has worked with more than 100 brands. It name drops Lionsgate, Samsung, Hyundai, giffgaff, Voxy, Warner Brothers, Namco, Sony Pictures, Bethesda and Studio Canal among them. Many are in the entertainment space, particularly gaming and movies. For Bethesda, it showed how Wolfenstein henchmen enjoy their downtime in the pub, to promote the Blairwitch it reimagined the series in 360 video and for Saw sequel Jigsaw it forced influencers to sit through a gruelling VR experience.

At the start of 2018, the Facebook algorithm change canned numerous viral video publishers. Their content was deemed surplus to requirements and was, without warning, hidden from followers in favour of friend and family posts. The Hook cites Tubular Labs data in saying its views actually increased after the news feed purge, and it said that this was all down to its original content.

So the business is weighed upon the quality and performance of the content on The Hook. To handle these responsibilities, the hiring practice has always been to bring aboard multi-skilled people, some of whom have exercised their comedy chops at the Edinburgh Fringe or ran successful YouTube channels. In house, there’s a frequent comedy night too. Here material, sketches and concepts can be tested before being committed to film and sent to millions of people.

Having been built on Facebook, The Hook is now intent on diversifying its distribution. The eggs-in-one-basket approach could still hinder it so the founders are taking no chances. With Facebook under fire for its head of news partnerships allegedly claiming that Mark Zuckerberg “doesn’t care about publishers,” the time to expand couldn’t be more timely. As it stands, The Hook is creating formats for Instagram's IGTV and YouTube Red, and it is also in talks to create long-form for linear and subscription TV. These discussions are in early stages but Fidler underlined the core talent is there to deliver numerous formats of Hook-branded videos.

The Hook co-founder and partner Gordon Bennell also opened up on the new distribution strategy. Internally, it has been branded Fisty in reference to Facebook, Instagram Twitter and YouTube. “Historically we’ve been Facebook-led, we were a small company and we had to focus where our audience was. Now we are scaling up and are doing new formats across all these platforms.”

To do this, it will develop repeatable formats that drop with regularity. Content that may even bring fans to its site on a weekly basis. Bennell said: “We are creating content that sits on The Hook site. Users have bought into us because of the content we create, it's not just any random third-party stuff that we've scraped and shared. We've built up a genuine audience that we have influence over because they've liked us for the right reasons and they love what we do.”

And if love and loyalty is part of the pitch to brands, then The Hook is going to have to alter its thinking on what success is.

Bennell concluded: “Our key metric is based around building a genuine loyal audience, if you want views, you can easily get them. This is a metric we’ll be building around. We need to scale on that as views are a vanity metric.”

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