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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Inside USA TODAY NETWORK’s strategy to ignite video growth with passion brands

September 24, 2018 | By Peggy Anne Salz, Founder and Lead Analyst—Mobile Groove @peggyanne

Brands and companies are well acquainted with the power of video to communicate stories and drive consumer connection, but the real growth opportunity is in virality. In a market where 92% of mobile video viewers share stories they love with friends and family, it’s a smart move to expand the creation and distribution of video content that is both effective and emotive. USA TODAY is doing both, organizing and leveraging its portfolio of content brands and experiences to deliver video content that moves and motivates audiences at scale.

Kate Gutman head of content ventures, USA TODAY NETWORK

Peggy Anne Salz – mobile analyst and Content Marketing Strategist at MobileGroove – catches up with Kate Gutman, who joined USA TODAY NETWORK, part of Gannett, Co., Inc., in July to head the company’s newly formed Content Ventures division. Gutman, who previously served as VP of Strategy and Digital Media at A+E Networks International, discusses her focus on revenue diversification opportunities and ambitions to extend the content and experiences offered by the media and marketing company’s niche brands.

PAS: You have just taken the helm at Content Ventures, a new business where you can draw from your expertise and experience at A+E — where you grew the company’s distribution and launched new digital products. What are your priorities and how will you measure success?

KG: I was quite fortunate in coming into this role because there is a lot of exciting work already in place here. My focus will be to put all this under one umbrella, and that’s a lot of what I’m doing right now. Over the next six to 12 months I’m also going to be focused on potential new acquisitions and investments that will fuel growth. We have strong organic growth, and video is an example of that. But then you have to go out into the marketplace and see what you do, or with whom you can partner, to get more scale and unlock the real potential of businesses that are growing fast. I’m reviewing our activities to find the opportunities to scale what we’re doing—where we can supersize growth to go 4X, not 2X.

PAS: You call out video. How does that fit in the content brands and experiences that extend the portfolio beyond USA TODAY and 109 local news brands?

KG: I oversee a portfolio of niche brands. However, I describe them as “passion brands” because they appeal to audiences who want to dive deep into the content. For example, the content group that runs our sports media division falls under me. This is a group that publishes 45 different websites — ranging from team-specific sites to sites about recruiting — targeted at the hardcore sports fans. Grateful and Reviewed.com, both of which were Gannett acquisitions. These are examples of passion brands.

Grateful is a site that aggregates content from food influencers, and also creates their own content, including recipes and videos. Overall, it’s a content vertical that is appealing because it opens up a new advertising category for us around consumer products and food advertising.

Reviewed.com provides reviews of products ranging from consumer technology to appliances. What makes Reviewed.com interesting and relevant to my team’s mission is the model. A significant amount of the revenue it generates comes from licensing and affiliate fees. In this way, Reviewed.com offers us a way to experiment further with affiliate revenues and models which are not a large part of our traditional business because that has been driven by ads and news subscriptions.

PAS: You could say you have a fascinating sandbox to play in, where you can explore content areas and monetization models.

KG: Yes, definitely. “Sandbox” is a good description of it. But it’s more of a “targeted sandbox” because I’m also very focused on our primary goals of revenue diversification and audience diversification. With Grateful, for example, there are more possibilities to integrate consumer brands into recipes and some of the videos that we do in the food space. With Reviewed we have the opportunity to explore affiliate marketing.

But there’s also the opportunity to go beyond this—and this is what we want to do in order to target specific passion groups looking for the niche content or niche information that matters. To engage these audiences, we’re exploring new kinds of subscription models and experimenting with monetizing live events.

PAS: Passion groups, as you call them, are universal. What are your ambitions to take this content to an audience beyond Gannett?

KG: One of my goals is to grow Gannett’s off-platform distribution revenue further. So far, our ad sales team monetizes our print products and our digital products including mobile apps. Now we’re looking at ways to distribute our content to other platforms, whether that’s with partners like MSN, or social platforms like YouTube, or Facebook.

In the case of MSN, our partnership centers on the distribution of our content, local and national news, news video and what we call our franchise videos–which are not news-related, but rather news-adjacent. MSN syndicates the content across all of the MSN sites and they compensate us for that content.

I think there’s a lot of growth in video, and right now we’ve got a couple of tests in the works with some platforms that we hope to have larger partnerships with going forward. Growing mobile video, both video creation and distribution, is one of our key targets this year, so you’ll be hearing more about that, and you’ll be seeing us doubling down on video and a couple of businesses and initiatives that are already in the works.

PAS: Video is the new black, and the space is crowding as more media companies and brands get in on the action. How are you going to stand out and—more importantly—appeal to the passion groups that expect a more personal touch?

KG: In the last year or two, we have created some very interesting “franchises,” specifically, HumanKind, AnimalKind, and MilitaryKind. These short-form videos, anywhere from 30 seconds to maybe five minutes long, are positive, inspirational clips that are created from raw news footage and user-generated content from our local news markets. For example, MilitaryKind focuses on feel-good, really wonderful moments that involve someone who is part of the military. These are stories that resonate and inspire: families reuniting, a father overseas learning about the birth of his child, just feel-good, amazing videos.

The videos move people. As a result, they’re wildly successful and incredibly viral. Some of the top-performing videos in these franchises have been viewed by 100 million people.  Overall this year, our Kind brands have generated more than 4 billion views across platforms.  I want to develop this further, and I would also like to see them living on social media, on partner sites, on additional platforms. And advertisers want that, too. There’s a big difference for an advertiser to sponsor these human-focused and genuine stories versus a consumer-generated video. The message is positive and uplifting—and that’s what the world and our country need right now.

PAS: Publishers also need advice as they seek to grow the content and relationships that will allow them to thrive in digital. What are some learnings or recommendations you can share?

KG: I think all publishers need to think about how they can diversify revenues and audiences. It’s more important than ever now, particularly since the traditional newspaper audience is growing older. It’s about thinking of new ways to diversify that audience, reach people’s passion points in new ways and grow revenue beyond advertising. Advertising comes in a variety of different flavors, including branded content, but publishers have to innovate and think about other potential revenue opportunities.

Freemium models, offering content as a free service with some sort of upsell, are popular and successful models in mobile and apps. Publishers can harness freemium models to provide packages where consumers can pay a little bit more to get additional content, additional features or additional services. Subscriptions are another model publishers can innovate and move beyond just offering a paid subscription to their core product. They should be thinking about what else they have, what other resources can be packaged or enhanced in some way to create new subscription offerings.

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