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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Who’s winning (and losing) the online video boom?

May 18, 2017 | By Mark Glaser, Founder and Publisher – MediaShift@mediatwit

As the NewFronts wrapped up, there was a growing feeling that online video wasn’t just a precursor to the Upfronts and broadcast that were coming next. The NewNew Fronts are becoming the main event.

Traditional TV networks are losing their audiences as competition from non-linear, streaming programming is rising — everything from Netflix and Hulu to Facebook and Snapchat. Digital ad spending overtook TV ad spending for the first time last year ($71.6 billion versus $71.2 billion, respectively), according to eMarketer. A new report commissioned by the IAB found that spending on ads around original digital video programming has doubled in the past two years.

These inescapable trends are creating a new frontier for publishers trying to reap the benefits of the video ad boom. Broadcasters and newspapers are trying to figure out how to allocate more resources for video, while digital-native publishers try to keep up with demand.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of some of the winners and losers in the online video explosion.



NBCUniversal, the digital offshoot of the traditional broadcast network, earns major points for having invested $500 million in Snap (think long-term, not just the first earnings report!), $400 million in BuzzFeed and $200 million in Vox, thereby creating partnerships that benefit both traditional and new media players. When Conde Nast joined the NBCUniversal and Vox Media advertising network, the digital conglomerate announced it’ll reach 200 million consumers online, including 99% of all millennials in the U.S. And these three entities are together developing two new ad products around mobile video and branded content.


If there is a behemoth winner in the house, it’s surely Facebook. The world’s largest social network has pushed its news feed to prioritize video, and publishers have to post videos there if they want to reach Facebook’s nearly 1.3 billion daily users. Recode’s Kurt Wagner reported last month that Facebook is planning to pay publishers to create more produced video on the platform, to help push its new mid-roll ad products (the new deal will replace the one Facebook struck with publishers last year to use Facebook Live).

Facebook will offset the cost of paying publishers by earning the money back from the mid-roll ads, and then splitting whatever revenue remains with the publishers. While some publishers are hesitant to embark on such a deal with unproven benefits — no one knows how the ads will fare yet, and earning returns on Facebook video has long been a frustration for publishers — many others will give it a shot.


Like Facebook, Google’s YouTube is riding the benefits of the online video boom. YouTube may have stumbled earlier this year when advertisers found their content showing on extremist videos, but it’s still the world’s most popular video destination. And now the world’s most popular video website is planning to produce six different ad-supported original series and develop more than 40 original shows and films over the next year. It’s also investing more resources into its ad-free subscription service YouTube Red (and the YouTube TV skinny bundle), pushing YouTube into a tier of competition that includes Hulu, Amazon Video and Netflix.

Google earned more than $24 billion in advertising sales in the first quarter — more than that of the entire TV industry – even in the face of boycotts over brand safety. The tech giant is betting on high-profile YouTube stars and celebrities to bring viewers to these advertisers, and has made changes to improve controls for advertisers. If it continues to cultivate a wide audience around its original programming, it can certainly demand higher rates from advertisers even in the face of setbacks.

New York Times

The Gray Lady may have been a late bloomer to the digital boom, but its adaptation strategies are certainly catching up. Its subscriber growth is the highest its been in its history, thanks in large part to the post-election bump — as well as wise investments on digital offerings. If you haven’t noticed, many articles online now feature video content alongside it. In February, the Times announced it’ll feature fresh daily content on Snapchat Discover. Alongside pushing VR video as an editorial decision, it’s also been publishing VR branded content.

And at this year’s NewFronts, the Times announced “Times Story[X],” which will launch this summer and serve as a powerhouse for creating strong visual, technologically forward narrative journalism that both the newsroom and its marketing unit T Brand Studios can use.


Traditional TV networks

The four major broadcast networks lost 8% of their audiences this TV season, adding to a four-year trend of declining TV ratings. TV networks have also increased their ad prices in these last four years in an effort to offset declining viewership — which doesn’t necessarily bode well for marketers. The ad-buying agency Magna has announced it’s shifting $250 million of its budget originally allocated for TV toward YouTube.

The Walt Disney Company, which owns the ESPN cable network, missed its revenue target this past quarter and announced in April it’s laying off 100 people to cut costs and better adapt itself for digital distribution. Time Warner and Viacom have also reported that second-quarter advertising revenues are likely to decrease. It’s no wonder: Viacom’s MTV, once the go-to network for younger audiences looking for information and entertainment catered to especially for them, is losing its viewers to Snapchat and YouTube.

Advertisers sticking to TV (and not diversifying)

Advertisers know that they can guarantee audience reach with the time they have with television advertising. Traditional TV has also benefited from the brand safety issues marketers have faced when their content has inadvertently popped up against extremist propaganda on YouTube. Networks touted their reach and reliability for serving up mass audiences, in a New York Times story, but they also face tough competition from targeted ads on social platforms and the explosion of choices on streaming services. But it’s still a question of when, not if, those ad dollars will move to digital video.

In the end, the winners of the video boom will be those publishers, platforms and brands who embrace the power of video, but make sure it fits with their mission – and serves their intended audience. Native video publishers like NowThis and Hulu might have an advantage, but legacy publishers and broadcasters still have a chance to shine if they can evolve quickly.

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