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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Behind the YouTube video strategy at The Washington Post, Fusion, and The Atlantic

November 9, 2017 | By Ron Miller—Independent Technology Journalist @ron_miller

Video has become an increasingly important delivery medium for media brands. Given the investment, it might seem like they’d want to keep this video traffic firmly on their own sites. However, as with other types of content, most publishers have developed a distribution strategy for multiple platforms. Because YouTube offers such an efficient way for viewers to find, view, and share video content, it has become a de facto video distribution channel for many media outlets.

Undoubtedly, YouTube has become a primary video viewing destination for internet viewers. And media companies need to go where the viewers are. This is true regardless of platform – desktop, mobile, or OTT. It makes little sense to make a significant investment in video exclusively for your site if the video audience is off watching somewhere else.

So, it follows that companies investing in video content are giving YouTube a hard look. Of course, as with every content distribution decision, there are always trade-offs. However, many believe that reaching the sizable YouTube audience is worth the effort. While he described the evolution of their  YouTube strategy as “a work in progress,” Jigar Mehta, SVP, head of video at Fusion Media Group believes it is well worth the effort. Topping the list of priorities is making Fusion’s video more discoverable on what he describes as “the second largest search engine in the world.”

Establishing a YouTube strategy

Each company will need to develop a YouTube strategy that suits its resources and objectives. However, some may want to follow the Washington Post’s lead. They think of YouTube as a distinct content delivery channel that attracts viewers who might not normally visit their website. That provides an opportunity to introduce your brand to an entirely new audience, an exciting prospect for any content producer.

“YouTube is a space with a great deal of audience and revenue potential that we have only begun to tap into. We see it as the primary place to build a diverse audience that will think of The Washington Post as video-first and engage with our visual journalism,” Nadine Ajaka senior producer for video platforms at The Washington Post explained.

She said that they have separate strategies for how they approach video on the Post’s website and what they deliver on YouTube. “The difference between what we choose to publish on washingtonpost.com and what we publish to YouTube is that for YouTube it must stand alone. On the site, there are times when video will lead the story, but often we are plugging in and embedding clips and social video that are meant to add to what has been written,” Ajaka said.

Although they share the Post’s desire to build an audience that might not frequent their site, Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg executive producer for The Atlantic says her company has taken a different approach. YouTube is central to their video distribution strategy.

“We recently switched to YouTube as our primary video hosting service. Now, we host all our videos on YouTube and integrate the player throughout TheAtlantic.com. This decision was motivated by a desire to build audience beyond our owned and operated platform. YouTube’s subscriber features, search functionality and recommendation algorithm all help us do that,” she said.

Long form anyone?

While audience development seems to be the be a primary driver behind using YouTube, it also offers a place to hone and deliver longer form content. This is because people see it as a destination where they can stay for a while and watch – if the content is compelling enough.

“YouTube emphasizes watch time over clicks and encourages viewers to watch with the sound turned on. We’ve seen amazing engagement. A recent 15-minute documentary has earned an average watch time of eight minutes,” The Atlantic’s Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg said.

Mehta pointed out that this emphasis on watch time correlates with better performance for Fusion’s long form content on YouTube. He said that they approach YouTube as a specific content destination (and not a competing channel for their own sites). As such, they specifically optimize their videos for the platform.

Ajaka from the Post emphasizes that you have to really present video people want to see on YouTube, or you won’t build a subscriber base for your channel. “With YouTube, there’s a real opportunity to hone your video inventory and create a coherent body of work. For some news publishers, video can be a churning out of quick-turn clips. Luckily, we have editors and video journalists who are continually working on long-form reported visual stories, that tell a cohesive story. These are perfect for YouTube as a platform,” she explained.

Monetizing content

YouTube offers more than delivery tools and audience engagement. It also provides a means for monetization, which is certainly welcome given that producing quality video can be expensive.

In fact, Mehta finds that YouTube offers better monetization options than Facebook or Twitter and he  is optimistic about YouTube’s long-term roadmap. “We are currently utilizing AdSense on YouTube which is their programmatic option. YouTube also has other products including YouTube Red and YouTube TV that as they become more mature will be interesting options as well,” he said.

Ajaka said the Post is talking to YouTube about direct-selling of their ads, but it hasn’t yet come to pass.

At The Atlantic, Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg said that they are “primarily focused on direct sold sponsorships and pre-roll, both on our domain and off. Our main challenge month over month is keeping up with the demand,” (which is a good problem to have).

As with any external platform, there are going to be trade-offs, but YouTube offers companies a way to distribute video that puts it in front of an engaged audience with a good search engine and monetization tools. “Our YouTube audience is seeking video first and foremost, and will have an easier time surfacing our videos than someone searching the site,” Ajaka said. That seems like a compelling reason for any media brand to build a YouTube presence.

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