How to produce value and revenue with digital video
Digital video has become a market imperative — something every publisher must understand and do well, regardless of one’s history.
Consider three statistics:
- More than 62 billion videos were viewed online in December 2014, according to data measurement company comScore.
- Digital video advertising continues to skyrocket, up 56% in 2014 to reach $5.96 billion, according to eMarketer.
- Cisco projects that video will account for 79 percent of all consumer internet traffic in 2018, up from 66 percent in 2013.
David Plotz, former editor of Slate Magazine, says video is now “a necessary condition for almost any brand advertiser we’re working with.”
This “necessary condition,” however, is not so easily achieved, even for those whose professional roots lie in visual journalism. Like every new medium that’s come before, digital video is unique and evolving. It shapes technology and is shaped by technology. We’re learning as we go.
This Strategy Study collects the thoughts of some of the best journalists and executives working in digital video today. It is the result of dozens of interviews and hundreds of hours of research culminating with a day-long Thought Leader Summit hosted by the American Press Institute. More than 50 editors, producers, reporters and managers gathered at NPR’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. to share their insights and experience.
This paper covers four main areas and concludes with a checklist for publishers:
- Understanding the digital video economy
- Knowing, growing and measuring audience
- Good video content: What’s working, what isn’t
- Building the organizational capacity for video
Understanding the digital video economy
The internet has blurred distinctions between print and video-based organizations and undermined the geographical divides that once structured the print news landscape. It has created the conditions that allow a startup like BuzzFeed to amass a digital audience rivaling a legacy operation like The New York Times.
Along the way it has disrupted the traditional relationship between publishers and advertisers.
Most online content is accessible to nearly everyone everywhere. Yet only a few companies hold the deep knowledge of consumer behavior that large advertisers covet. In other words, local organizations are essentially competing in a global, digital marketplace without access to the same global advertising dollars.
Other challenges abound as well: Video advertising commands higher prices than print advertising but video is more expensive to produce and requires scale to be monetized effectively. Despite video’s promise, video advertising prices continue to drop.
This suggests video should be considered as part of a broader strategy rather than a standalone solution.
This section explores:
- The new competitive landscape
- Three forces contributing to the downward pressure on video ad prices: scope, technology, and programmatic
- How large publishers are attempting to protect video advertising revenues and what smaller publishers can do
The new competitive landscape
As everyone knows by now, a Google search is more than a search. It’s an evolving collection of information about your interests that is sold to advertisers looking to target potential customers with pinpoint precision.
The breadth and depth of this consumer information has become so valuable that five companies, led by Google and Facebook, control more than 50 percent of the online advertising marketplace. Publishers are competing for the remaining 50 percent, without the depth of customer information Google and Facebook offer advertisers or equivalent investments in technology and platforms.
The competitive disadvantage for traditional publishers is clear, according to Allen Klosowski, mobile vice president at online video advertising platform SpotXchange. “It’s like they brought a tricycle to a Nascar race.”
The financial goal of digital video advertising is to create a one-to-one connection with an audience member. The more content that’s available, the greater the likelihood of making a mass of one-to-one connections. These connections are sold in bundles of one thousand. Using the Latin “mille” meaning “thousand,” this advertising unit is referred measured by a CPM or cost-per-thousand.
The Washington Post learned first-hand the demand for scale.
The Post launched a series of TV-like shows in June of 2013 on their website, at the time its biggest investment in more than a decade. The shows were received favorably. Three months later they were gone. While the shows averaged a respectable 2 to 3 million views a month, the Post needed many times that viewership to generate consistent CPM revenue and cover the cost of production.
The need for scale has created new revenue models too, as new aggregators and distributors enter the space once occupied solely by distributors like AP and Reuters.
NDN is a 6-year-old Atlanta-based distribution platform that offers 4,000 videos to clients each day across categories as diverse as “Animals” or “Sports” or “Parenting” or “World News.” NDN supplies the technology for free. At the core of its model is a revenue sharing agreement. If a publisher shares content with NDN or distributes the content of other NDN clients, the ensuing revenue is shared.
This model has turned former competitors into allies.
“We’ve helped advance the mindset that your neighbor isn’t your competitor — [your neighbor] could be a source of revenue,” said Stephen Bach of NDN.
As the market for digital video advertising becomes more efficient, it will lead to price compression. SpotXchange is a platform for video advertising, a marketplace for publishers and advertisers. It markets billions of video opportunities each day. The vastness of this market means advertisers can scan billions of “impressions” to select the million they want to buy, forcing prices down.
Your neighbor isn’t your competitor — [your neighbor] could be a source of revenue.”
“We’re not creating it — it’s the fact that there is that much. The internet is that big,” Klosowski said. And the technology is that good.”If you look at these ad tech companies they’re saying stuff like … ‘We’ve got 50,000 algorithms making decisions within microseconds’ — and that’s true. It’s robots hunting humans.”
Another factor leading to price compression: the increasing use of programmatic advertising. Simply stated, programmatic is an automated auction that sells residual inventory at discounted prices. (In this case, “inventory” refers to views or impressions.)
Programmatic helps publishers monetize every last impression. Many fear however, that the discounted rates that advertisers pay for programmatic will exert downward pressure on other, more valuable “tiers” of advertising.
The best way for publishers to protect premium prices for their own video ads is to gather first-party data about their audience, Klosowski said, and use that data to communicate the special value of that audience, particularly on programmatic exchanges where data is the key factor in ad purchases.
Protecting ad revenues across platforms and through partnerships
CNN.com’s former General Manager KC Estenson talked in terms of “protecting CPMs.” CNN.com has more than 200 million video views a month.
“We believe we can cordon off and protect video CPMs. So 18 months ago we re-prioritized video in our infrastructure and began mirroring and mapping that to mobile and social.”
Meaning that CNN advertising sells at a uniform CPM across all platforms.
Building a mass of scalable video is critical for smaller publishers.”
The Wall Street Journal has taken a similar approach, according to News Corp senior vice president of strategy Raju Narisetti.
“We are very agnostic about where you watch WSJ Live because wherever you watch it, the ad model is still in our hand,” he said.
For smaller publishers, revenue strategies include:
- Build partnerships to maximize video content, viewership and CPMs
- Focus advertising strategies on small to medium-sized businesses
- Protect advertising inventories
Building a mass of scalable video is critical for smaller publishers. Two years ago Gannett created a video center in Atlanta, accumulating material from 46 TV stations and sharing it among various Gannett properties, including USA Today.
When it comes to advertising strategies, local publishers should focus on small to medium-sized businesses, where they still retain an advantage.”
Dave Callaway, the editor of USA Today, said the paper publishes 50-60 pieces of video per day and “we haven’t even begun to approach the saturation point.”
McClatchy is in the process of creating a similar video sharing service among its newspapers. Newspaper chains can increase their video inventories and attract more viewers by aggregating assets and partnering with other distributors.
Allen Klosowski of SpotXchange believes that when it comes to advertising strategies, local publishers should focus on small to medium-sized businesses, where they still retain an advantage.
“They have the existing relationships with the advertiser in their marketplace — that’s something that Google is not focused on right now, really solving those problems for your small to medium-size businesses. They’re worried about solving problems for people who have giant budgets.”
Mike Donoghue, vice president of Advance Digital, warns against “commoditizing” inventories. In other words, publishers need to make sure that premium ad inventory retains its integrity and value for clients in relation to other types of advertising.
“You need to distinguish very carefully what inventories clients receive, what levels of audience targeting, what ad types. Transparency, reporting and optimization are key,” Donoghue says.
Advance Digital is a sister company to Reddit and Conde Nast and owns 13 digital properties across the country. According to Donoghue, offering well differentiated advertising solutions has helped Advance Digital monetize video.
Although success stories exist, most executives seemed more enthusiastic about the future of digital video than the present day reality.
Rahul Chopra, the global head of video for News Corp, said that in his opinion “50 percent of our revenues should be coming from video in the next 5 years.”
Video may offer financial promise but it’s not easy, said Bruce Headlam, the managing editor of video for The New York Times.
“If people jump into video thinking this is a way to quickly grab a lot of ad dollars they’re going to be disabused of this notion very, very quickly. It’s hard to do and it’s expensive to do and there’s a lot of competition,” Headlam said.
That is why The Atlantic’s general manager Kim Lau believed that ultimately video advertising is only one part of the answer. The full financial picture might include a combination of paywalls and partnerships.
“There’s no way you can make video content production succeed without having multiple monetization strategies,” Lau said.
Knowing, growing and measuring audience
We have never had more information about audience behavior than we do today. In the past a newspaper measured its success in part by circulation numbers and daily sales. The publisher didn’t know which part of the paper was read or whether the paper was read at all.
Standard TV ratings are similarly crude. Sara Just, a former Deputy Bureau Chief at ABC News, said when TV news ratings fluctuate it could be because “it rained in Chicago or Oprah had a good lead-in.”
Compare that to online metrics. The number of visitors can be tracked, how they arrived, where they traveled on the site and how long they stayed — all valuable clues in helping publishers build audience.
When it comes to video, the metric most prized by advertisers is simple: completed view rates, according to Allen Klosowski of SpotXchange.
“They’re not looking at the number of impressions, they’re not looking at the number of clicks — they’re looking at how many people actually watched my ad and how far did they watch it?”
This section will cover:
- Audience data you need to know
- The biggest mistake many publishers make
- Amortizing the cost of video
Publishers should know the Who, When, Where and How of audience behavior
Understanding the demographics of a city or state is second nature to most regional news organizations. The digital environment demands that publishers know a new dimension of their communities: audience behavior.
Rebecca Howard, the general manager of video at the New York Times, explained that home page traffic is in decline for many publishers.
“We need to be paying attention to, where is [the video] being shared? How are people coming to the site? What is the first entry point? That’s what we look a lot at.”
Another consideration: how video is consumed.
Today’s audience consumes content across four “screens:” mobile, desktop, tablet and TV. Screen use shifts throughout the day. CNN.com is the second largest national news site. KC Estenson, CNN.com’s former General Manager, said they track device usage throughout the day.
“People are reaching for their phones first thing in the morning … our web prime is between 11 a.m. eastern and 2 in the afternoon and then we’re seeing another mobile phone spike in what would be called ‘fringe,’ the 4-to-6 commute hour, and then we’ve got a tablet spike in prime time.”
Mobile is the entry point for more than 50 percent of CNN’s customers, Estenson said. Ooyala, a video analytics firm, sees similar trends. They report that between the first quarter of 2013 and the end of the first quarter 2014, mobile and tablet viewing increased 133 percent year over year.
Information about device usage can shape content, inform publishing schedules, reveal strategies for growth and allow sales teams to more effectively monetize inventory with advertisers. For example, the smaller screens of mobile phones suggest that content should be bolder, cleaner, stronger. NowThis News uses simple bold words across video for exactly this reason; they assume many people in their audience are watching on small screens, and not necessarily with the volume on.
Mike Donoghue of Advance Digital says device data can shape advertising strategies.
“If we knew that individual was going to be accessing that ad on a mobile phone, how could we allow them to touch one button and map themselves via the phone’s GPS to that advertiser, with turn-by-turn directions?”
Estenson said that CNN uses a variety of analytical tools, “from Omniture to Outbrain to nGage to look at traffic flows and patterns across all of our devices, to test headlines, video placement, iterative testing.”
“Increasingly the folks who are most successful are the ones who are willing to let the data inform a lot of those decisions,” said Andrew Forrest, then Upworthy’s director of audience development.
At nearly 3 years old, Upworthy draws monthly audiences that measure in the millions. Upworthy mostly curates rather than creates online video. The company is known for its extensive “A/B testing” of headlines, determining the most effective of two options. It’s a process that has its roots in the political world, where many of Upworthy’s staff began their careers.
“I A/B test anything and everything,” Forrest said, “from headlines to the color of a button.”
“The key is determining as an organization how far you’re willing to go with testing and how much you’re willing to let the data guide you in what you are doing,” Forrest said.
Most journalists would agree that data is a useful adjunct to one’s editorial mission, but not a replacement for it. And metrics need to be viewed in context.
“We’re metrics-focused but not metrics-obsessed,” said Steve Elfers, USA Today’s managing editor of multimedia. “We temper metrics with other information in the spirit of dynamic analysis.”
If video fails to generate adequate views, there are many considerations, Elfers said. “Was it a promotion failure or a content issue or just a bad headline?”
Not paying enough attention to distribution is the biggest mistake publishers make
Upworthy’s Forrest said that not paying enough attention to distribution is the most common mistake legacy publishers make. “They put so much time into the production of video,” he said, “and the distribution is an afterthought.”
Less so at startups whose very existences are predicated on their audience sharing video. Some of these organizations, like Mashable, publish the number of “shares” alongside their video.
Ashley Codianni is the former executive producer of video for Mashable, now a digital correspondent for CNN Politics. When OK GO, the band known as much for its videos as its music, released its latest music video it was a notable pop culture moment. Codianni produced a video for Mashable, then began work on distribution.
“There’s a video, there’s a text post, there are two Vines and three Instagrams and there’s a Snapchat story. So the benefit of doing that is my Snapchat audience is brought back to my video and my post, my Instagram is brought back to my video and my post and so is my Vine audience … and each of those is catered to that platform. So I think it’s really beneficial and helpful in building audience.”
This was one of Mashable’s custom promotional videos for Vine based on the OK GO video:
Can audiences be cultivated on other platforms like Facebook and YouTube without “cannibalizing” one’s audience? Most agreed that Facebook and YouTube offer exposure to wide and different audiences.
“Push it everywhere,” said Rahul Chopra, former senior vice president for video at News Corp. “What these opportunities on different sites allow you to do is … introduce yourself to one more fan of your website or subscriber to your product.”
The magic of what we have [online] is, if we create something good and shareable we can actually go find the audience where they are.”
Video on these sites can be used as laboratories, said Christine Delargy, executive producer at Politico. She considered Facebook a place to find those who “aren’t on your site everyday.”
“If a video is connecting with them, maybe it’s worth pursuing,” Delargy said.
Finding audience on the internet offers efficiencies over television, according to Ed O’Keefe of CNN.
“This is the incredible part of the internet versus TV, right? [With TV] we spend hundreds of millions of dollars in marketing to try to get people to tune in at a particular time … the magic of what we have [online] is, if we create something good and shareable we can actually go find the audience where they are.”
Publish and re-publish: Amortizing the cost of video
Video is more expensive to produce than text. Video advertising rates, though higher than print, have not risen as fast as print rates have fallen. One method to hedge against these realities is simple: Re-publish video when appropriate.
Rebecca Howard, the general manager for video at The New York Times, said a robust “recommendation engine” is a necessity for her organization.
“You can make as much evergreen content as you want,” Howard said, “but if you can’t re-surface it in the future … then it’s kind of moot.”
In the video age, abundance has become an expectation.
“When Netflix can flight an original series and run 22 episodes of ‘House of Cards’ all in one shot, it changes instantly consumer expectations and behavior, and drives consumption,” CNN’s Estenson said.
Advertisers are equally susceptible to shifting audience expectations. A new generation is growing up who have never watched television in conventional ways. Their tolerance for advertising will be very different from the current generation.
Advertising executive Allen Klosowski has watched the change first hand.
“My 3-year-old, when he was a about 2 years old, saw his first TV commercial and freaked out. He was like, ‘Get this off! I don’t want to watch this — get it off of my cartoon!’ So I think we’ve got a generation coming up who’s got very, very different expectations.”
Satisfying those expectations will likely mean creating video ads that are as engaging as the content they frame. Or giving consumers more control; by letting them choose the ads they watch, allowing them to watch silently unless they choose otherwise or to opt out of watching ads after a certain amount of time — all current practices today — with a multiple variations to come.
My 3-year-old … saw his first TV commercial and freaked out. He was like, ‘Get this off! I don’t want to watch this — get it off of my cartoon!’ So I think we’ve got a generation coming up who’s got very, very different expectations.”
The abundance of video options has made audiences more powerful than ever. They vote with every click. Navigating that landscape effectively holds both promise and the peril for publishers and advertisers.
Good video content: What's working
Media scholars note that new media imitates its predecessor before evolving into its own distinct form. Early newsreels imitated movies. The first television news shows drew heavily on radio. It’s no surprise that early attempts at digital video mimicked television.
Watching online video however is a different experience than television viewing.
For one, watching digital video is more likely to be a solitary experience. The physical proximity to the screen makes the experience more intimate. Both facts influence the form.
Ed O’Keefe, a vice president at CNN, said that means “there’s little room for pretense.” Online video “needs to be authentic, you certainly can’t talk down to the audience — you need to be smart and straight.”
Listening to leading thinkers on digital video, we identified seven concepts on how to produce content effectively:
- Drop TV conventions like putting reporters on camera or creating “shows”
- Find the video “part” of your story
- Get to the story quickly and keep it short — mostly
- Find content unique to your organization
- Understand the differences between video forms
- When possible, build to platform or device
- Experiment, experiment, experiment
Today’s digital video environment offers dizzying choice. At one end of the spectrum are startups like Mashable, Upworthy, BuzzFeed and NowThis. The oldest of these organizations is 9 years old. On the other end of the spectrum, are the legacy media standard bearers like the New York Times , the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post or networks like NBC, ABC or CNN.
Whether their founding was in this century or two centuries ago, they all now share the same goal: Getting people to watch their video.
Mashable’s former director of news video Ashley Codianni maintained that producing online video is more difficult than producing pieces for television. She’s done both.
“My responsibility in creating online video is not just to captivate an audience … That person has to watch the video, that person has to stop, they have to go to their Facebook or Twitter and share it. So our challenge is so much greater than television.”
Just because a company has its roots in video doesn’t necessarily mean it has figured out the online video world, said Bill Smee, NBC’s executive producer for digital content.
“What NBC has done extremely well for decades on television doesn’t necessarily translate … the digital side of NBC News is embracing the idea that we can take risks, do things a little outside the lines.”
Drop TV conventions like putting reporters on camera or developing online ‘shows’
“I think a lot of publishers assumed early on that the fastest way to make video, the easiest way to make video, was to put your editors and writers in front of a camera and make them talk. And a lot of them looked really unhappy,” said Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg, the executive producer of video at The Atlantic.
“It didn’t really make for super shareable, compelling video,” von Baldegg added. “Our focus has been on visual storytelling.”
For example, this Atlantic video about life in Green Bank, W.Va., inside a “national radio quiet zone.”
Many outlets have traveled the reporter-on-camera route, including the New York Times. Senior Producer Zena Barakat said the Times has since become “very picky” about who appears online.
At Politico though, putting reporters on camera is still a video mainstay. For example, this piece where Politico’s Anna Palmer and Manu Raju preview Jeb Bush’s visit to Washington, D.C.
Politico faces a unique challenge. Its topics are niche and not necessarily video rich, making visual story telling difficult. Yet it faces the same advertising demands of more mainstream outlets. Politico says that they’re still finding their way.
“We don’t feel we’ve cracked the code that would give us confidence in going gangbusters into video,” said Rick Berke, Politico’s former executive editor.
The second most common imitation of television is developing online news “shows” similar to TV shows.
Putting together a visually compelling, editorially consistent show is harder than it looks. As Business Insider’s Henry Blodget famously said of his company’s foray into online TV shows, “We could get as good as we possibly can get it and we would still be bad CNBC.”
The Wall Street Journal has reduced its show-based programming from “a dozen or so” to about six but Raju Narisetti, senior vice president at News Corp, maintains that the WSJ’s show-based programming is effective. The financial markets, he said, provide a natural daily narrative.
“It fits in with the rhythm of our existing audience and what they do at a particular time,” he says. In addition, the Wall Street Journal’s shows generate video-on-demand clips.
“We’re able to edit the show into four to five video-on-demand clips, and it’s those clips that attach to the relevant stories that actually then have a long tail and generate a lot more views in the next 24 or 48 hours,” Narisetti says.
Find the part of the story that works on video
Storytelling differs from medium to medium. A print piece follows certain conventions. So does a video piece. Telling stories with video means finding the visual parts of the story and weaving them together into a new creation.
“Videos do not have ‘to be sure’ paragraphs,” said Bruce Headlam of the New York Times, referring to standard parts of print stories that offer qualifiers and cite exceptions. “They operate on a different, more visceral level and I think you have to find out what’s the part of this that’ll work on video.”
For example, the NYT’s Sunday column Modern Love has become equally popular on video. The Modern Love videos are not direct “video translations” of the column. Instead Modern Love videos extract elements from the column, mix them with other elements like the voices of the subjects and create a unique experience. You can read a Modern Love column and then watch a Modern Love video like the one below, and have two different, if related, experiences.
Get to the story quickly and keep it short — mostly
Unless your video is inherently compelling or emotional, keep it short — which means a few minutes or less. And get to your point quickly.
When Ed O’Keefe was the managing editor of NowThis News, he developed a list of practices common to online video. “Ruin the ending” was one. O’Keefe said that unlike in the typical television piece that builds to a conclusion, online audiences want that conclusion up top.
“You might have a 7- to 15-second lead-in to the story and you’d watch the graph just precipitously fall off as people were bailing until the story started. So that influenced us early on in terms of editing — you know, get to the story quickly,” O’Keefe said.
“Our research would suggest that our consumers, interested in news and information, want a shorter video,” said Steve Schiffman, the general manager of video at the Washington Post.
The exception? “Emotional” video.
“Some of our biggest, most viral pieces were really long actually,” said Andrew Forrest at Upworthy. “We’ve found in our more emotional pieces that the length doesn’t necessarily matter.”
For example, Upworthy featured this 22-minute SoulPancake piece about a 17-year-old with cancer has been viewed over 13 million times:
Screen size also contributes to time spent viewing. Basically the bigger the screen, the more time spent watching. According to a report from Ooyalah, viewers spent 65 percent of their time watching videos 30 minutes or longer on TVs connected to the internet. On tablets, viewers spent 23 percent of their time watching video of 30–60 minutes in length, more than on any other device.
Know what content is unique to your organization
Most media organizations consider themselves unique. Mission, location, demographics, geography, talent — when defined, those characteristics can suggest ways one can differentiate themselves with video.
Politico won its first Emmy for an 8-minute mini-documentary called “Dukakis and the Tank.”
The story focused on one moment of the failed campaign, the photo-op that helped derail Dukakis’s bid for the presidency. It’s a story that perfectly fit Politico’s strengths.
“What that means is focusing on video that’s relevant to the coverage areas we care about, that doesn’t duplicate but gives added value and enhances the coverage in a way you couldn’t do through text,” said Rick Berke, Politico’s former executive editor.
Started in 1996, Slate is among the oldest digital-only publications. Slate has developed a video style whose edginess and humor mask serious social issues. In addition to its original videos, increasingly Slate uses video embedded in its text, like this article about New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton.
“If you’re writing about a particular movie scene wouldn’t it be better to be able to see that scene? Yes it would,” said David Plotz, Slate’s former editor in chief.
Differentiate between different forms of video
There exists a natural spectrum of video possibilities within any news organization, driven by available resources and talent.
Zena Barakat, a senior producer at the New York Times, explained: “I’m thinking about 2 things. Quick relevant news items that people are really interested in, and higher quality thought-out pieces that are going to be really shareable and interesting to people. Everything in between is the thing we struggle with most.”
Drake Martinet from Vice News agreed.
“We’ve stopped thinking about the news video we produce as all one lane,” he said.
When possible, build to platform or device
Back in the early ’60s, Marshall McLuhan claimed that the medium itself shaped the content it carried, which in turn shaped society. For publishers, this translates into practical advice: If possible, shape the video to the medium on which it’s most likely viewed.
CNN.com is in the unique position of having both scale and an abundance of content. Former general manager KC Estenson says his staff is developing a shared understanding of what video works best where.
“We’re going, ‘Does a 7-minute piece work here? Do we need a quick bite? Is this a social play, a mobile play? That’s the type of craft that comes out when you have the scale…we can play with different formats in different ways.”
Most publishers won’t have the abundance of resources necessary to make such decisions. Still the idea that the certain stories are best told in certain forms represents a natural evolution in online video.
Experiment, experiment, experiment
The biggest difference between TV and online video, according to Bill Smee of NBC News, is the variety of things his online teams try.
“Sometimes it’s an epic fail and sometimes it’s kind of good,” Smee said.
One of NBC Digital’s biggest hits so far is an online video titled, “Everything you Thought You Know about Packing is Wrong.” Smee was taken by surprise by the video’s success.
“It’s all about originality of thought,” Smee says.
Experiment quickly. Since good content is often shared and finds audiences, those who lag behind can miss out on opportunities.
Andy Pergam led video at the Washington Post. He now steers video strategy at McClatchy. He says, “You launch things not fully baked so it’s 80 percent of the way there … if you wait until everything is 100 percent done, you’re in trouble.”
The risks for legacy organizations are higher, according to Bruce Headlam, the managing editor for video at the New York Times. “If we do something that is not up to our standards, we get slaughtered. People really let us know. So you have to be aware of the value of your brand, what it means to people … you can’t violate the basic trust of your loyal audience.”
The Atlantic executive producer, von Baldegg, likens finding the “perfect” online video to skipping rocks.
“You can pick the perfect rock. You can put the perfect spin on it but at the end of the day there are conditions out there beyond your control. There’s wind, there’s ripples, there’s waves and sometimes it goes for miles and it’s awesome and sometimes it sinks to the bottom of the lake.”
Building organizational capacity for video
Despite the differences among the many organizations producing digital video, a consensus appears to be forming around three organizational best practices. They include:
- Create clarity around the role of video
- Develop a flexible work force that understands video
- Identify a distribution strategy that includes social, mobile and partnerships
Create clarity around the role of video
CNN’s KC Estenson believes that an organization needs to set its intentions about the role of video.
“For every organization, you’ve got to get really pure and clear on what you’re trying to do — who’s your audience? What are your goals? What are you trying to achieve?”
Estenson said such clarity leads to action.
“Once we set video as a priority, it drives how we program the homepage. It drives how we program mobile platforms,” he said.
Drake Martinet is head of platform at Vice News. “The internal goals in terms of viewership and growth are so clear and so high that absolutely everyone in the organization must pull together.”
Stephen Bach of NDN said the “human factor” in legacy organizations is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to increasing video views.
“Some organizations are still saddled with a non-digital mentality. Folks in the newsroom will say that they don’t want the video to compete with the text.”
Which begs the question: Is there an advocate for video high up within the editorial structure? Organizational structures reflect priorities.
The importance of video at the Wall Street Journal has been made very clear to everyone, according to News Corp executive Rahul Chopra. It’s an editorial and financial imperative. When reviewing the performance of his team, he looks for one particular metric first.
“How many stories or article pages have video embedded at the top of the page? One, it’s a sign that the reporters and editors and journalists are understanding the value that that video provides and two, there’s an incremental 5,000 to 10,000 more views we get on the video. There’s money to be made,” Chopra said.
Develop a flexible workforce that understands video
Early in the digital age, it was thought that the journalist of the future would combine four jobs in one: shooting video, recording audio, taking notes, and snapping still photos. Reality set in quickly. There are only so many things one person can do, and do well, at the same time.
Editors need to be able to say, ‘That video is really bad and that’s not going to go on our site.’”
Expectations for today’s journalists have shifted. They aren’t expected to do all these tasks at the same time, but many are expected to be multi-faceted and comfortable with video and its demands.
“At CNN we’re looking for people who can write, shoot, edit, produce and potentially go on camera, and many of them are graduating from J-schools with precisely those skill sets,” said Ed O’Keefe of CNN. “They don’t have a lot of experience … but these are folks who have grown up with the internet. They are digital natives in every sense.”
For legacy print organizations, video literacy is important. Andy Pergam of McClatchy said, “You need people to be able to speak the language of video.”
“In the same way you’d say to a print reporter, ‘Hey — that story’s not good enough for A1,’ … editors need to be able to say, ‘That video is really bad and that’s not going to go on our site.'”
Identify a distribution strategy that includes social, mobile and partnerships
Assuming your staff is video literate, and the role of video is clear and reflected in your organizational structure, distribution is the final key. Are you finding all the potential audiences that exist that can drive viewers back to your site?
ABC News increased the size of its social team to six people. “It’s all about social, ” says Sara Just of ABC News, “until whatever is coming next comes.”
Partnerships are another means of distribution, says Zena Barakat at the New York Times.
“We’re finding ways to display and distribute our content so that [the videos] have a longer shelf life.”
Extending the shelf life of news-related videos might be the unexpected upside of a digital ecosystem otherwise driven by speed and quantity: If you make something good, it can live well beyond the news cycle.
Digital video strategy checklist
Drawing from the best practices detailed in this Strategy Study, here is a checklist of factors to help you tell if your news organization is taking all the right steps with digital video.
How many of these 17 best practices can you check off for your organization?
Leveraging partnerships and sales
- Have you increased your available video content through partnerships with other news outlets, aggregators or distributors?
- If you’re a small-to-medium sized publisher, are you focusing on small to medium-sized businesses in your community for advertising?
- Do you have a programmatic ad-sales partner?
- Are you protecting your premium video advertising inventory by distinguishing it from how you sell other tiers?
Monitoring audience behavior
- Do you know how your customers are consuming your video content?
- Do you know your audience habits, such as when video usage spikes?
- Do you use audience data to guide your video strategy?
Producing good content
- Are you advancing beyond poor imitations of TV video conventions?
- Are you able to “find” the appropriate video angle to a story?
- Have you developed styles of video content unique to your organization?
- Do you build video content or versions of it that is device-optimized or at least, device compatible?
- Are you actively experimenting with new forms of video storytelling?
Adapting your organization
- Is the role of video clear in your organization’s structure and jobs?
- Does your organizational structure reflect video as a priority?
- Is your workforce flexible and capable of carrying out different multimedia tasks if needed?
- Is your staff literate in what makes for good and bad video?
- Do you have a thought-out strategy for how to distribute video after you publish it?