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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Pivoting to video: It’s not one size fits all

August 30, 2017 | By Clare Carr, Vice President of Marketing—Parse.ly @clareondrey

With more than one media company laying off staff to “pivot to video,” the move bears some scrutiny. Understandably, those in the “text” camp emphasize the power and speed that written content brings, while the other side sees dollar signs behind video advertisers. But these opposing storylines hide nuances that need to be considered, if you’re considering video at all.

First, the data. Yes, average time spent watching digital video is expected to keep growing and the prospect of television ad dollars ripe for the picking seems too good to not consider how digital sites can grab a piece of it. However, our research has also shown that video on media sites underperforms when it comes to content types: people spend, on average, 30% less with video posts than a non-video post.

Video is Not for Everyone

But all of that data ignores a crucial, but somewhat basic point: not all video is the same.

This summer, Parse.ly hosted a series of events in New York City asking publishers about this issue. Ryan Sager, Editorial Director of the Ladders, and Time Magazine, WSJ, and NYPost alum, took a stand against the pivot to video. He pointed to Facebook sharing inflated metrics and the uninspiring push for live video, but more broadly pointed out that the actual content of the videos people want to create matters. “What do people want to watch?” Sager asked the audience, “If you are a food brand, great. But if you are in a news space, it’s a much tougher sell.”

Even for publishers that fit into one of those spaces, like the home decor and DIY site Domino, the number show that video does better when paired with text. “Our video needs to come in tandem with content. There needs to also be text with it,” Tracy Cho, Executive Director of Marketing, Growth and Analytics at Domino told the audience.

The attendees agreed. We polled attendees and found 76% of them supported using a mix of content formats, while only 13% wanted to see a more sites pivot to video.

Video is Content Too

Some even questioned thinking about video in such a bifurcated way. “It feels foolish to categorize video as separate content,” said Andrew Littlefield, Managing Editor at Ceros. “If you examine your own habits, you don’t go on the internet and think, “Time to look at some videos,” or “Time to read some words.” It’s just all one hodgepodge.”

Sachin Kamdar, CEO of Parse.ly, emphasized that any company making a pivot to video out of desperation would face challenges unrelated to the format itself, including poor internal communication and a culture unaccustomed to producing this type of content. However, he also noted that the opportunity that video presents needs to be taken seriously in an industry struggling for monetization options. The intersection of consumer intention, market dynamics, the added incentives of the tech platforms, and the ability to monetize means that any company not considering what video could mean for their business out of sentimental value to the written word could be missing out.

So, what does make sense for publishers as the video conversation progresses? “Understand your audience and decide what products are going to best serve them, and potentially make you money,” Kamdar said. Melissa Gilkey, Vice President of Growth at Upworthy agreed, noting that when considering any choice that affected content that “data is a huge component of that. It’s a non-negotiable if you’re building a strategy.”

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