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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

How far can the video push go?

May 5, 2016 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift @mediatwit

Seems like everyone wants video these days. Facebook is paying publishers and celebrities to be part of Facebook Live, BuzzFeed is handing out two-year contracts to top video creators, and Twitter has had to pay its Vine creators to keep them happy. Not to mention Mashable recently laying off staff while pivoting more strongly into video.

But while the video gold rush continues, will there be enough gold to go around? Will all these bets pay off? While video advertising continues to grow—and pay more than ads around text—not all video content is created equally. And not all of it will pay the bills for quality video productions.

Live-streaming craze
Live-streaming video has gone through a number of boomlets, from the Ustream days to Periscope and on to the recent push for Facebook Live. The promise is that anyone can point and shoot live video from their bedroom, or out at a protest, or out in the field from a reporter. Following in the footsteps of Meerkat and Periscope, Facebooks Live is bringing live-streaming to its 1.2 billion users.

“Live is like having a TV camera in your pocket. Anyone with a phone now has the power to broadcast to anyone in the world,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced on his Facebook page. “This is a big shift in how we communicate, and it’s going to create new opportunities for people to come together.”

To give the service a boost, Facebook has been paying influential celebrities and media properties like the New York Times, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, Vox, and food and travel publisher Tastemade to use Facebook Live. BuzzFeed’s Alex Kantrowitz reports the social media giant has offered publishers “around $250,000 for 20 posts per month over a three-month period” and “six-figure checks to celebrities who agree to use its live-streaming product.” Twitter also recently announced that it will spend millions to stream 10 NFL games during the 2016 season, and Snapchat has also scored a deal with NBC to showcase highlights from the 2016 Olympics on its platform. And AOL just announced that it will join the fray with live “TV-grade” video.

But all the talent going toward video also presents some of conundrums that publishers and platforms will have to sort through. The first has to do with content. As the Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern put it, most of the mainstream media efforts seem to be as lo-fi as the do-it-yourself content, with poor production value. “Much of the content feels pointless,” she wrote. “BuzzFeed’s infamous watermelon-bursting video hit nearly a million live viewers. Fortune had reporters try protein bars made from dead insects.”

Beyond live-streaming
Live streaming isn’t the only kind of video filling up News Feeds. Mic’s daily video series “Mic Check” attracts the bulk of its mostly millennial audience through Facebook, where it has 1.7 million likes. And BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, based in Los Angeles, produces “videos that routinely rack up millions of views in the span of hours,” as Gawker’s Jordan Sargent wrote.

But some missteps have occurred along the way. BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, for example, released a video titled “27 Questions Black People Have For Black People,” that was widely criticized for perpetuating stereotypes, leading BuzzFeed to release an apology on Twitter. Not only that, but as more and more people start using video, the competition for what’s considered “good content” becomes much more fierce — which means that creating a sustainable financial operation becomes much more difficult.

BuzzFeed has been offering two-year contracts that “bind the creators to the company while also allowing their work to flow out and away from BuzzFeed,” Sargent wrote. Vine stars have also demanded they be paid for their work, according to BuzzFeed’s Kantrowitz. “Three and a half years is a long time to have us posting on your platform for free,” one Vine star said, while noting he could move elsewhere, such as Facebook or YouTube.

Whether these video endeavors are financially sustainable in the long run is still a question mark for digital-only outlets that have recently undergone corrections (although BuzzFeed certainly has assets behind it). But for now, the video push has scrambled the equation, with platforms paying publishers, publishers paying creators, and anyone with video skills sitting in the cat bird’s seat.

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