2022 already has been a dramatic year for streaming. Even if you’re not trying to keep up with day-to-day industry developments, you’re probably aware that CNN+ launched and died, Netflix announced plans to launch an ad-supported tier, and IMDb TV was renamed “Freevee.” These rapid developments may seem daunting for many potential streaming players, considering that the ground will shift again soon.
But here’s the good news about these rapid changes: While the “Streaming Wars” narrative — referring primarily to competition among media giants’ SVOD strategies — remains the focus of many in the business and trade press, the reality is that there are wide-open opportunities for a variety of players. Whether it’s a paid app, a YouTube channel, or a free channel on a FAST service, streaming is definitely not confined to the players locked in the so-called streaming wars. Streaming is for everyone.
We’re just getting started
SVOD, AVOD, FAST, OTT, and CTV are not only competing, overlapping, and complementary acronyms — they represent multiple potential business models as well as multiple avenues to reach audiences looking for entertainment, news, and sports. Across devices, services, and platforms, there are more opportunities than ever before to develop content, products and business models contributing to the next evolution of the streaming industry.
Media players and startups — large and small — can compete and win the loyalty and trust of consumers. By the end of 2022, we will see new players on the streaming scene — growing, thriving, and innovating to capture audience attention and significant revenue opportunities.
Find your place in streaming
The fact is, it remains early days for streaming viewership, and we need bold players to bring expertise and creativity to the space. So let’s set aside the winners-take-most Streaming Wars narrative and consider these factors:
1. Focus on the right video strategy for your audience.
In the streaming space, many strategies and tactics are still in an experimental stage, so don’t assume that your traditional competitor’s widely-publicized strategy is going to work. And definitely do not copy their strategy without significant research and diligence, because you may find that your competitor doesn’t have a clue — and won’t provide significant competition at all in the streaming space. For instance, it may be that launching a solid AVOD or FAST strategy will give you much of the data you need to make a decision about an SVOD strategy.
2. It’s easier and less expensive than you think to get started.
There are new technologies and new tech companies that can support a variety of streaming strategies. Generally speaking, these options are less expensive, more standardized and faster to implement than many broadcast technologies. Additionally, trusted brands will be in a good place to negotiate with these vendors.
3. Creativity and innovation are badly needed in the streaming space.
Think about how hard it is — still — to navigate streaming interfaces. This space needs to improve the consumer experience, ASAP. With so many major media brands in flux, those who are focused on making streaming a great consumer experience have an incredible chance to jump in and create a successful strategy.
Focus on the consumer to improve what’s ahead
The complexity of the streaming landscape is enough to confound savvy media veterans and newcomers alike. But this complexity should not prevent most media players from crafting or revamping their streaming strategy – now. It’s a wide-open field for trusted brands and innovators, especially those who create content, products and services with viewers at the center. We all have a lot to learn from rapidly shifting consumer habits and preferences, and the timing has never been better to start learning.
About the author
Christy Tanner, President of Tanner Media LLC, is former EVP & GM of CBS Interactive, where she built CBS News Digital/CBSN into the #1 streaming news service, with more than 1 billion streams in 2020 and 2021.
Instagram is hot but YouTube is not. Publishers around the world are shifting focus this year, according to a recent survey of 30 publishers from 17 countries. The Publishing Trends Report 2022 by Echobox offers insight into publisher’s evolving priorities as they move out of pandemic crisis mode into the new normal.
Respondents indicated that they are most focused on increasing web traffic, utilizing new content formats, and embracing automation. They also share a keen interest in capturing the attention of the all-important youth demographic.
The survey included participants from the following countries: Argentina, Bulgaria, Ecuador, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Singapore, United Kingdom, United States, and Uruguay. This year, the authors of the report concentrated on data received from decision-makers and social media specialists. News outlets comprised over 50% of the sample.
Publishers’ top priorities for 2022:
Increase traffic (73%)
Grow social media followers & engagement (57%)
Improve quality of published content (50%)
The release of free digital information during the pandemic led to a surge in traffic for online publishers, which – perhaps paradoxically – lead to more paid subscribers. The resulting increase in digital subscriptions even helped offset the longtime decline of print subscriptions. Respondents’ strong interest in increasing web traffic reflects reduced reliance on print revenue, while publishers continue to hone an ideal balance between paywalled and unrestricted content.
Which activities are most important to publishers in 2022?
Video content 63%
New social media platforms 43%
Finding new audiences 40%
Authors of the study link the appeal of video to declining costs of production, the popularity of short-form content across social media platforms, and video’s effectiveness in engaging audiences.
Although only 43% of respondents listed newsletters as a top priority in 2022, 64% of respondents indicated plans to either start producing newsletters, or increase the number of newsletters they offer. This reflects the focus on turning general web traffic into subscribers.
The most important platforms for publishers in 2022 are:
The surge of publishers’ interest in Instagram also points to their desire to expand their audience in the 18-24 range, as they look to the future. Pew Research Center data indicates that 76% of 18–24-year-olds use Instagram, and it remains among the most downloaded apps. Another draw is that Instagram is less publisher-saturated than Facebook.
Why the lukewarm interest in TikTok if younger audiences are so crucial? Survey authors attribute this to the relative newness of the platform. They found that publishers have not had time to refine their strategy to generate traffic via TikTok. Also, fewer young people use TikTok for news content than Instagram, which makes the platform less of a priority for news organizations.
A big change between the 2021 and 2022 survey results was declining interest in YouTube. In 2021, 52% of respondents believed YouTube to be of increased importance. However, in 2022 that percentage fell to just 3%. This would seem to contradict publisher’s strong stated interest in video this year. However, authors suggest that the drop may be due to publishers tailoring video content towards Instagram and other platforms which require formats and dimensions that don’t transfer easily to YouTube. Those interested in producing longer, larger format videos may be using third party vendors or in-house production, bypassing YouTube.
While Instagram is attracting a surge of attention from publishers in 2022, due in part to being less saturated with publisher content than Facebook, Facebook remains a mainstay platform for publishers. In 2021, 40% of publishers surveyed by Echobox stated that “staying ahead of Facebook algorithm changes” was a priority. This points to publishers’ awareness of the continued importance of Facebook referral traffic.
The growing Importance of AI
74% consider AI important or very important in 2022
67% believe AI will be more significant to their organization in 2022 than in 2021
Use and implementation of AI is increasing in emerging markets, not just large-scale publishers
Emerging markets are focusing AI efforts on automation of paywalls and subscriptions
In the 2021 survey, 1 in 3 companies cited lack of time as a major concern. The potential for AI to alleviate pressure and free up time can help publishers focus on a top priority cited in 2022 survey results: creating quality content.
Netflix’s earnings report last week sent a chill across nearly every company with a business model tied to a direct-to-consumer relationship. There are real concerns about the global economy and speculation about whether the massive increase in streaming viewing habits seen during the pandemic will prove to be enduring. However, I wonder whether the insights gleaned from the Netflix situation are unique to Netflix and not a strong indicator for other media companies, most of which are just starting their streaming ventures.
First, let’s acknowledge the macroeconomy. Inflation registering over 8% will impact nearly every consumer market; this is especially true if inflation leads to higher interest rates and the dreaded “R” word. Unfortunately, this will be an ever-intensifying concern.
There has been a great awakening around the globe after two years of Covid, during which we had requirements and excuses to stay home and avoid socializing. There were countless stories in the trade and mainstream press as we witnessed streaming viewership’s outsized growth about isolation’s impact on our insatiable appetite for entertainment – escape. And binge-watching – which was already a trend after Netflix tossed a hand grenade into the linear schedule – only escalated during this period.
Certainly, Netflix finds itself with real competition for digital share of wallet for the first time in its history. Storied media companies have rolled out exclusive offerings that feature everything from hit television programs to blockbuster movie franchises: Batman, Star Trek, Yellowstone, Avengers from HBO Max, Paramount+, Peacock, Disney+, respectively. Many have regained rights to classic television hits that are endlessly bingeworthy. Meanwhile, Netflix has increased its price, nearly doubling its monthly cost ($15.49 from $7.99 when it first launched) while cracking down on password-sharing as it, impressively, has saturated the market.
But while Netflix may have led the way in streaming, it may not be the best proxy for the subscription market opportunity. The company faces its own issues with stagnating growth and should not be mistaken for marketplace indicators.
What is really happening
DCN’s 2021 research into the value of direct, trusted consumer relationships, brands as proxies for this trust, the needs and behaviors of Gen Z vs Gen Y, and the subscription market point to this lesson: Ignore Netflix and stay the course.
Most important are the lessons coming from studying the “next” generation. Consumer behavior is radically different in a world where payment and immediate gratification are merely a double tap of the thumb and face scan away on a mobile device. Paying for access to your favorite news or entertainment product, whether podcast, app or website, is no longer a foreign concept after hitting a “paywall.” Rather, it is little more than a friendly nudge along the way associating value with the products you love.
The number of people willing to pay for access to news and entertainment is increasing. In fact, Netflix’s greatest legacy for the market as a whole may have been leading the horse to the water. Netflix also worked with premium providers and helped build an appetite for great content and normalized paying for it.
What publishers seek
Now, distribution platforms from Apple to Google to Facebook are being pushed to finally act as true partners in driving subscription revenues and monetization for premium publishers. At times this nudge has had to come from regulatory threats in an effort to create more balanced bargaining power.
But what are publishers seeking? Publishers expect traffic to their owned and operated platforms and true ownership over the customer journey including the underlying transaction and customer data.
Publishers also want to take back control over the pricing, bundling, and messaging for their services from the distribution platforms. This allows a trusted publisher to extract and retain more subscription revenues by controlling their highly-valued brands and, importantly, the customer data from before, during, and after their subscription relationship.
Putting things in perspective
For decades, the vast majority of digital content was available for free.
Meanwhile, Netflix built its business on spending (many would say excessively) on licensing and creating content. It helped rebuild the consumer appetite for quality content and experiences worth paying for. However, when we consider the implications of the company’s recent subscriber losses, we should not be so quick to predict a ripple effect across subscription-based businesses as a whole.
While a couple of news publishers, and a handful of other streamers count their subscribers in the tens of millions, the reality is that most publishers count theirs in the tens or hundreds of thousands. Thus, the basis for comparison with Netflix’s 220 million subscribers is specious at best. That’s like comparing a slowdown in Coca-Cola’s beverage sales to my kids’ driveway lemonade stand.
And the behavior of younger consumers points to a healthy appetite for great content and a willingness to pay for it. Now is not the time to panic, pivot, or radically shift your subscription strategy in Netflix’s wake. Instead, trust in the value of quality content well-delivered in trustworthy settings and know that audiences will be right there with you.
Streaming is popular but competition is fierce. It seems like every major network and media company has launched a streaming service.
Last week, Netflix released its 4Q 2021 earnings. The company closed the year with 221.8 million subscribers. However, Netflix fell short of its Q4 new subscriber forecast. Pivotal Research Group analyst Jeff Wlodarczak comments that streaming services are adjusting to the new norm of subscription growth compared to the accelerated sign-ups witnessed during 2020’s lockdown. Wlodarczak believes, “Streaming is not over; it is the future.”
A number of industry analysts have identified strategies and offer insight into the streaming marketplace’s next steps.
MarketWatch points to global programming investment as a top priority for streaming services. And the investment in content only bears this out.
Netflix’s hit series from South Korea, Squid Game, is one of many international success stories and a clear winner for the platform. Expect more foreign-language series to be developed as Netflix turns international growth, especially in Asia, India and Latin America.
Amazon’s Prime Video will offer more programming in India’s Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu languages. It’s India service registered tripled its viewing hours over the past two years there.
Apple TV+ will debut its first Russian-language show, the thriller “Container,” in the spring.
Disney+ plans 50 Asian originals by 2023, as it expands to South Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
HBO Max debuts in Europe in early 2022.
Paramount+ also debuts in South Korea and Western Europe.
Peacock expanded to Europe (on Sky platforms), with more than 50 Spanish-language projects with Telemundo.
Mix and matching viewing strategies
While Linear TV marathons introduced us to binge viewing, Netflix’s flexible nature made it an everyday behavior. TheRinger identifies the different episode distribution strategies to keep viewers engaged and coming back to view more. As noted with Netflix, flexibility is essential and a reminder that different approaches offer different results. A buzz-worthy binge (all episodes released at once) can be great PR for a new series release. Additionally, a scheduled infusion of new episodes can draws viewers back week after week.
Apple TV+ offers a “demi-binge” strategy, debuting with a batch of three episodes, then airing the remaining seven one at a time.
WarnerMedia’s HBO Max uses a hybrid approach, breaking up seasons into packs of two or three episodes released over several weeks.
Interestingly, Peacock’s promotes binging but at higher pricing for specific series. Seasons 1 and 2 of The Office are available at the lowest-priced monthly subscription price of $4.99 a month. To unlock every episode, extended cuts, never-before-seen-footage, and watch commercial-free, consumers pay $9.99 — the highest tier.
Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel will switch from releasing all eight episodes at once to two a week for four weeks. Fear not, the binging release strategy is far from over. Rather, this is simply different viewing models in play. And they are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
CNBC Tech Reporter Alex Sherman points to the significance of mergers. He believes that Paramount+ and Peacock won’t last as standalone streaming services, and a merger is likely in their future.
Discovery Inc.’s acquisition of WarnerMedia (expected to be complete in mid-2022) will combine the streaming platform of Discovery+ and HBO Max. Combined, they will have approximately 100 million subscribers.
Streaming platforms are making significant investments in new and innovative content and unique deal-making to differentiate themselves from competitors. They need to keep their customers consistently engaged, especially as consumers begin to reevaluate their multiple subscriptions to access the content they want to watch.
Video is the hottest thing in audio right now. Don’t worry, this is not another “pivot to video.” However, an interesting fact emerged as Reuters Institute was formulating the 2021 Digital News Report: YouTube is currently the number one podcasting platform in the United States. According to the report, the video platform is responsible for 26% of podcast consumption in U.S. markets, compared to Apple Podcast’s 22% of listenership, and Spotify’s 17%.
So, why is a platform pretty much synonymous with video dominating the podcast market? We spoke with Damian Radcliffe, digital media analyst and Professor of Practice and Carolyn S. Chambers Professor in Journalism at the University of Oregon, to better understand how publishers can tap into “platform agnosticism” and capitalize on the momentum of this video podcasting trend.
At stake: the ability to deepen audience relationships and build subscriber numbers. Oh, and let’s not forget the $1 billion dollars in ad revenue predicted for the podcasting industry this year ($2 billion by 2023).
Ease of podcast discoverability
Discovery has always been a huge challenge for podcasters. As Radcliffe points out in the report, if you aren’t on the iTunes top 10 or not in the ‘top picks’ on a homepage, it can be really hard to reach audiences.
However, by diversifying away from audio-only products, and incorporating audio into supplemental forms of media, publishers can address that discoverability issue, simply by being in more places. Video platforms like YouTube not only make podcasts easier to discover, they also make them easier to share and to share on social feeds.
“Word of mouth has always been the most powerful marketing tool,” explained Radcliffe. “Being able to tap into the power of peer recommendations is potentially a really powerful and potent tool that podcasting could be doing more with.”
If a dedicated listener is learns from their favorite podcasting platform that they are in the top one percent of This American Life listeners, for example, they may want to let their social network know. When shareability and discoverability are predicated on distinctions or superlatives, as Spotify’s “Wrapped” feature has so deftly demonstrated December after December, the potential reach of the program within that individual’s network is exponentially expanded.
“People are sharing podcasting recommendations with their friends. But that kind of conversation is happening off-platform and podcasters don’t know where those referrals or audiences are coming from,” Radcliffe points out. He thinks that if podcasters can “find a way to close that loop and reward people for spreading the word around their podcasts, I think that could be a really interesting development.”
Widening your distribution strategy
Despite YouTube’s unexpected dominance of podcast distribution, most podcasters aren’t sharing their programs on video platforms exclusively. Rather, they use sites like YouTube as a secondary distribution channel. As a platform with an existing audience base of over two billion users and robust content discoverability, YouTube offers an attractive means for individual podcasters and established media players to reach new audiences.
“Think about this in terms of being a part of the wider distribution strategy for your podcasts and trying to find as many different ways for audiences to find you,” Radcliffe explained. For example he suggests that publishers use RSS feeds to distribute content to as wide a variety of places as possible. And that “video podcasting is just a part of that mix.”
When watching a video podcast that audiences would otherwise only consume through audio, audiences may also feel they are privy to certain “behind the scenes” elements, particularly when watching video versions of their favorite interview podcasts. As an example, Radcliffe cited a 2019 episode of Hotboxin’ with Mike Tyson, featuring Tyson Fury.
“It was a video podcast, and you could absolutely just listen to it. But there was something quite intimate about being able to watch it and see the interaction and pick up on some of the body language nuances that you can’t necessarily get just through audio alone.”
Leading interview podcasts like Crooked Media’s Pod Save America, the Black Girl Podcast, SmartLess, and others have leveraged video to make audiences feel almost as if they are in the room or ‘part of the gang’ as the interview transpires. Given the increased isolation of audiences at the start of the pandemic, that inclusion has become a value proposition for podcasters.
The advantages of micro-content
As print and online media continue to distill content into easily digestible micro-formats, the same appetite for bite-sized content abounds in video podcasting. (This may be credited, in part, to platforms like TikTok that amplify short video clips across the internet.) This shift in format is something many podcasters have learned to use to their advantage.
“There are opportunities to atomize content to produce clips. [Podcasters] can take an hour-long video podcast and break it up into a series of smaller clips. And those smaller clips may well yield larger audiences than the entire full piece,” Radcliffe explained. “That’s going to help in terms of SEO and search results.” It also helps “in terms of content potentially being shared or reaching different audiences.”
By “atomizing” content and creating shorter, standalone clip videos of key moments from full episodes podcasters are more likely to go viral and gain wider audiences who will then go through and relisten to their archive of episodes. (A great example is this clip from Glennon Doyle’s We Can Do Hard Things podcast.)
“Creators have figured out how to make podcasts work on a platform that wasn’t designed for them, leveraging YouTube’s search algorithm to meet new audiences, make more money, and expand into a medium that’s expected to grow rapidly in the coming years,” The Verge’s Julia Alexander wrote back in 2019. “Creating a separate channel for clips lets podcasters take advantage of YouTube’s recommendation algorithm, which surfaces content on specific subjects a viewer is already interested in.”
Bonus: It’s free!
Another big draw for audiences to consume podcasts on YouTube is a simple one… it’s free. According to Edison Research, the number of Americans paying for audio subscriptions has doubled since 2015. With more and more podcasts and platforms going behind paywalls, and more and more consumers encountering subscription fatigue, YouTube is a (seemingly) egalitarian platform where podcast audiences can consume as much content from shows as they desire, regardless of any paywalls the full-length podcasts may be behind.
Lights, camera, action!
If you don’t have video as a part of your podcast offering, don’t panic. “The thing I would advise against is thinking that you 100% need to do this right now,” cautioned Radcliffe. “You can still have a successful podcasting strategy that doesn’t include video. But increasingly, we will see video as a part of that mix because it enables [podcasters] to reach audiences in different places. It also opens up further opportunities for engagement and interaction.”
Podcasting in the digital age is more than simply audio content, just as written stories are much more than text-only these days. As our digital appetites shift towards brief, shareable video, other media products are certainly not destined for obsolescence. But multimedia is irrefutably the name of the digital game. So it’s only natural that, as podcasting matures, it is branching out of our headphones and onto our screens.
Make it short. Show real stuff. This may seem obvious, but these are best practices in video length and content authenticity for Gen Z audiences.
Gen Z, born between 1998 and 2016, spends a lot of time watching videos on social media. And last year, Gen Z’s video consumption increased: Snapchat reported that Gen Z watched over an hour each day of video content on social media apps alone. They value video more than any other media platform, by a margin of roughly 2-to-1 over social, gaming, music or Google search, according to a recent study by DCN. They prefer video, specifically user-generated content, due to its relatability and personability.
Understanding that Gen Z viewers and consumers have different behaviors, values, and attitudes when it comes to video is important because it can impact your audience of the future, your strategy, and your revenue. It will also help you withstand shifts in viewer tastes and larger shifts in the media landscape. Building relationships with this generation of viewers, readers, consumers, starts now.
Video length on TikTok
Video length varies by platform, and there are a lot of platforms to choose from. Gen Z favors Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok, according to a Pew survey in 2021.
Video content on TikTok must be extremely short. In fact, 50 seconds is long, according to Erin Weaver, Group Nine Media’s Senior Director of Audience Development. For Gen Z-favored platforms Snapchat and TikTok, video length needs to be short and videos need to be fast-paced, according to Weaver. “On TikTok, I consider anything between 30 and 60 seconds to be almost the default. And then slightly longer is over one minute up to three minutes. We’ve seen some success with longer videos, as long as they’re really engaging and interesting.”
Brittiany Cierra Taylor, director of audience development at BET, says she sees similar results. “Our audience development team has been trying out shorts and they’ve seen that they were amazing in getting new views, new viewers and from an ad perspective, we see more ads, more earned views. That shortness really is the key because we noticed that the sweet spot on TikTok is seven seconds where you see that jump that engagement,” she said.
“Our TikTok partners always encourage us to create shorter and more succinct videos, as they do tend to perform well on the platform,” says Kelsey Alpaio, an editor and producer with Harvard Business Review’s Ascend brand for young professionals, “But, that doesn’t mean long videos are off limits. The majority of our top-viewed videos are more than 50 seconds long. If people are interested in the content, they will stick around.”
Video length on YouTube
On YouTube, videos that are 2-4 minutes long work well for Harvard Business Review, but they also see success with videos that are longer, about 10-14 minutes each.
Scott LaPierre, Harvard Business Review’s senior editor for multimedia, says that for YouTube, trends around length are similar. Length is less important than topic and storytelling. LaPierre says HBR’s more authentic and honest videos on YouTube, which are casual, host- and personality-driven, perform about as well in the long run as their more traditional content. “Both have about an even number of breakout successes, and comparable average performers,” he says. “The video’s topic, and how compellingly it delivers on that topic are still the primary factors in the number of views and how long people watch, whether traditional or authentic in style.”
Short and medium-length videos at about two to nine minutes each work best on YouTube, for a broad reach. And longer (10-15 minutes) seems to work to deepen engagement with established fans, LaPierre said. “Shorter videos seem to have broader reach while longer videos seem to have deeper engagement. Long for us is around 10-15 minutes. Short is two to four. Most of our current video lineup is in the middle: six-to-nine-minute range. Anything over about 15 minutes does not perform great on our channel.” (Live video is a different conversation where lengths over 15 are more the norm.)
Optimize for story
“It really depends on the goal of the story and whatever length makes the storytelling complete,” says Zainab Khan, associate director of audience, video at The New York Times. “We might do a months-long investigation that merits a 12-minute video. What we see, because we edit our videos for pacing and storytelling, if a video is longer, we get more overall watch time. But we’re really rigorous about thinking about length so it fits the needs of the story. And in some cases, that means the best way to share a story means to do a quick 30-second snippet, showing viewers what’s happening on the ground.”
All of the digital content companies we spoke to said that storytelling trumps minutes and seconds. Video content should be as long as it needs to be, to tell an engaging story. LaPierre says, “Topic and storytelling generally trump length or style. So, my rule of thumb is: make it as short as possible, but no shorter.”
Best practices for user-generated content are that video content must be low lit, not super polished, and not have a high production quality.Often, it is a selfie-style cell phone footage. It’s casual, host- and personality-driven. It is concise, engaging, and easy to produce. It shows people talking about what they care passionately about.
Harvard Business Review aims to make some of their videos in that user-generated style, LaPierre says. “For me, the best way to get authentic-feeling video is to have people talk about what they care passionately about,” he says.
Ascend Multimedia Producer Andy Robinson explains they try to find a sweet spot between having a polished feel and showing the real world. “My rule is, show the real stuff whenever possible. We’ve been leaning heavily on less-overly produced elements in our video content. Audiences can smell something that is highly produced, over scripted, over thought.”
Group Nine makes a point of putting people as the focal point of their UGC content, explains Weaver. “For PopSugar, a tutorial on applying makeup does a lot better than a product review or something that’s mostly focused on beauty products or a workout. You should see people doing the workouts, not so much like a description of the movements.”
At The New York Times, best practice for finding authenticity in a creator’s work is to have a deep understanding of the company’s values and to find common ground with their audience, Khan says. “It’s really important for us, when we want to build trust with our audience, we show our authentic selves. We literally put our reporters on screen in a way that helps the audience understand who is doing the reporting,” Khan says.
Gen Z has a bullshit detector
Gen Z’s desire for authenticity has been well documented. They want brands to be transparent, authentic and trustworthy. Gen Z audiences have spent their lives surrounded by digital technology. They’re incredibly discerning and know how to filter content that lacks the right tone, language, relevance or value. “What I love about Gen Z is that they hold companies more accountable,” Taylor says. “They’re doing the fact-checking, they’re doing the homework, they’re seeing if your staff resembles the world, if your content resembles the world year round. Is your message consistent and congruent in the content that you showed me? That’s actually one thing I love about them because it forces brands to be authentic.”
Authenticity is the way to grow audiences, Taylor explains. “I think that if you want to stay around, that is the basic component that audiences are resonating with. So, if you’re not going to be authentic, you’re not going to meet the KPIs you want, you’re not going to grow your audience, you’re not going to hit your revenue… So, from an audience perspective, a revenue perspective, authenticity is just the way to move forward.”
Be real, not trendy
“In the long term, if your identity and authenticity are dependent on a trend, you only last as long as that trend,” Khan says. “On the other hand, if your company has a handle on its core values, and what sets you apart from your peers and competitors, you can choose which trends to follow. And it means you can withstand shifts in the media and shifts in viewer taste.”
LaPierre says content authenticity connotes honesty, vulnerability, transparency, and relatability, which may not always have been top priorities for publishers. “And, we’ve seen some of the distrust in media that can result,” he says. “Show your flaws, show that your content is made by real people with real concerns that overlap with your audience’s, and show your work–it’s about building a trusting relationship over time.”
For their audience of the future, digital content companies need to put real intention behind the content they create and innovate constantly. As one expert put it, you need to think about who you’re talking to, and create content that is meaningful to them. It’s a lot of effort trying to please Gen Z, but if you’re not putting in the effort, you’re not going to get the results. This is your future audience, after all.
As the publishing industry seeks stability in the wake of the pandemic, Meredith Corp is making video an increasingly important part of its long-term content strategy.
Meredith’s newly-appointed Chief Digital Content Officer Amanda Dameron is leading an expansion of the publisher’s video portfolio. The most recent launch is a new Food & Wine show, “Pastries with Paola”.
The series, which stars celebrated pastry chef Paola Velez, debuts with 13 episodes. The videos focus on how to make easy desserts like empanadas and chocolate cake. They also celebrate Paola’s Dominican heritage and culinary traditions.
Collaborating with diverse talent is a vital part of Dameron’s vision for video at Meredith, “as represented by Paola’s show, and every show that we have in development. We are interested in telling stories that are uplifting, that are optimistic…and are told in an inclusive way, in a multicultural way, in a way that truly embraces the world as it is,” she said. “We take tremendous responsibility in that.”
Video as a vehicle for expansion
Long gone are the days of a simple printable recipe card. Increasingly, audiences turn to their social media feeds for food inspiration and helpful information.
Dameron believes that video as a format is more important than ever before. “Rising generations are looking for content that shows them how to do something correctly, how to break down the steps,” she explained. More than that, she sees video as a conversation between content creators and the audience. At Meredith, the tone is informal and intimate, and allows for feedback, especially when distributed via social media.
“When you couple that with a platform in which it’s easy for the audience to share their insight, their questions, and to be able to use that insight to refine the series itself, there is no format better made for that than video,” she emphasized.
However, Food & Wine’s video strategy is not limited to short-form on social media platforms. The video team is experimenting with producing content in a range of styles and lengths, from short how-to’s to longer, documentary-style pieces.
In fact, the brand was recently nominated for an ASME award for “Tasting Home”. The three-part video series follows Chef Kwame Onwuachi who traces his culinary roots by travelling to Trinidad, Jamaica, Louisiana, and Texas.
“We’ve been really gratified to see that our audience responds very passionately to the series that we present, no matter what the format,” Dameron said.
It’s not just video length that varies. In response to evolving viewing habits, many of Meredith’s videos are now produced for both traditional landscape viewing and portrait mobile phone viewing. This means that video content has to be carefully planned for both orientations from the outset.
“We have a lot of different versions of a hero asset or video, and we have to apply a high level of rigor to the way that shots are composed,” Dameron outlined. “You have to be mindful of it every moment of shooting the video itself. Having both landscape and vertical perspectives gives the ability to create the best possible viewing experience, no matter where the audience chooses to find us.”
Active engagement for success
For Dameron, the key success metric for Meredith’s videos are views. However, she also takes a close interest in watch time and active engagement. In particular, she uses these as a way to improve programming.
“I’m really interested in a deeper engagement that shows when we are circulating stories and series. What is the audience saying to us? And more importantly, what is the audience asking us?” she explained. This can often be quite a time-consuming, manual process, but Dameron believes it pays off in terms of quality.
“Comments, questions, those active points of engagement, these are things I’m always looking for. When that symbiotic relationship that exists between audience and content creator happens, you start to see content become better.”
“You must be in the plumbing of it all if you are to understand how to really harness your opportunities in the best way possible and to be able to do so with a quickness and a confidence.”
It’s clear that a multiplatform approach is key to the future of Meredith’s content strategy. Dameron’s role sits centrally at Meredith, and she is planning further video expansion across other brands in Meredith’s portfolio. However, although her position working across brands allows her to apply a framework and resources across titles, she is also keen to emphasize that each video strategy has to be as unique as the brand.
“That centralized approach allows us to have a framework that is strong, but flexible. But that being said, it’s really important to emphasize that each particular brand is at the helm of its own creative manifestation in video.”
A flexible, evergreen future
As Dameron gets her feet under the table at Meredith, she is planning to expand the company’s pool of evergreen video content. The goal is to realize longer-term value. “We’re also very interested in developing a long-form video strategy; one which really focuses on the lifetime value of the video library,” she said.
Crucially, this will involve building flexibility into the process, and anticipating how the videos will be used in the future. From being able to shoot for multiple orientations to distributing across social and OTT, careful planning from the outset is essential.
“We want to give ourselves the flexibility to create content and programming across every distribution channel and every screen that exists here today, or is yet to be built tomorrow,” she explained. “If you have a rigor and a framework for assembling the strongest video library you can, then you’re unfettered in the future from distributing it however you wish.”
Diversity of on-screen talent is firmly on Meredith’s agenda. But to ensure it makes the most of that investment for the future, it is also firmly focused on building a diversified video portfolio that is future-proofed both in format and content.
It doesn’t seem so long ago that premium video was the great hope for publishers. Newspapers including The Daily Telegraph were investing heavily in building up their video teams, only to have the ground fall away from underneath them when platforms changed the terms of agreements. The result? Newspapers cut their losses and jettisoned the teams around which they had so recently built their strategies.
Premium video now finds itself in a bit of a limbo. It is no longer the star of most publishers’ offerings (save for a few examples). And it has taken a back seat when it comes to the marketing of news paywalls. Instead, insight and access are the new tentpoles of subscriptions. That’s never been more clear than when the Telegraph, fresh from abandoning its video unit, launched an out of home ad campaign heralding its unfettered access to Westminster.
The Athletic has taken a similar approach. The sports analysis site, which has outperformed during Covid, has emphasized the access its journalists have with athletes (and the access its subscribers get with the journalists). Crucially, The Athletic has eschewed video for the most part. The company does create or licensing video. However, it does not view it as central to its value proposition, as this interview with its president and cofounder Adam Hansmann demonstrates:
“According to Hansmann, the industry’s sense of news, often based on daily newspaper deadlines rather than what readers will pay for, is outdated. ‘The modern fan already knows what happened in a game, whether it be from Twitter or Instagram or Facebook. They’ve seen the highlights a million times on the internet’”.
Short and social
Hansmann’s nod tothe popularity social video is telling. Mobile video is still far and away the largest growth market for the medium. That’s especially true in markets like China, where short-form video dominates any growth charts. Users spent a total of nearly 600 million hours per day watching short-form videos on mobile in April 2019. That’s more than in any other category.
Additionally, premium video is expensive to produce and the ROI is less clear-cut than for the mass-produced videos on YouTube. As Vanita Kohli-Khandekar explains: “Because [ad-supported] video is free, platforms will do anything to get eyeballs. But subscription-supported programming (usually) is well-researched, written and produced – whether in entertainment or news.”
So, the bottom has dropped out of the video advertising market on platforms. Short-form video is the new normal. And even sports-based digital publications don’t feel the need to make premium video part-and-parcel of their offering. Is it now time to call “cut” on the concept of premium news video at newspapers?
News publishers do license footage and social video to accompany breaking news. However, the reality is that, unless premium video is a newspaper’s key focus, it just doesn’t make sense for them to invest in strictly news-centric video. For one thing, news video has a shorter tail than other types of video. For another, given that individual papers have a far smaller footprint than other platforms, it’s unlikely that they can attract enough eyeballs to compete with viewers on, say, YouTube.
That is, in part, why publishers like Joe (and its current affairs-based YouTube spinoff PoliticsJOE) choose to produce vox-pops and simple interviews. Frankly, they suit the ad-based platforms better. Even The Financial Times, which does produce longer form videos, typically hews close to the interview-led format on its in-house videos. This format entails a relatively low investment in terms of time and editing, despite looking extremely professional. However, they don’t match the level of production quality of traditional broadcasters or OTT entertainment services.
Head of audio and video for The Evening Standard Chris Stone said: “When a breaking news event happens there is obviously massive spikes in traffic, and everybody’s very interested in this one thing that’s happening. And so, it’s actually quite easy to serve video to that audience, because there’s people out there that are looking for that right then. But it tends to be a shorter tail. And that spike will disappear very quickly. And then you’ll be on to the next thing.”
The lifestyle lifecycle
Instead, he argues that lifestyle video content is the way forward for newspapers. It has a longer lifespan and greater opportunity for commercial partnerships.
Paul Newman is brand director for Future Plc’s home interest titles. Speaking about its own “pivot to video” with the Real Homes Show, he notes that: “Real Homes Show… has been a huge success since we launched it last April. We generated hundreds of thousands of views of the show. It’s proved incredibly popular with commercial partners.”
“I think the important thing is just to start with a good solid business plan, and to understand why you’re creating video, rather than just creating video because you think you should, or because somebody in senior management thinks, ‘Oh we haven’t gotten the video content, maybe we should get on with creating some.’”
The success of lifestyle content in attracting users to sign up for a subscription has already been clearly demonstrated by The New York Times, whose Cooking app is frequently cited as a reason for paying. It is, unsurprisingly, heavily based around video.
Similarly, major lifestyle publications have made their archive of health and fitness videos available as part and parcel of their memberships. The reality, then, is that while video is still a good investment for newspapers for driving subscriptions, oftentimes news video is not.
So, does that mean that there is no opportunity for newspapers around news video? Not at all. Just look at the success of Vox’s Explained series on Netflix. It delivers an awful lot of value to the parent brand in other ways that aren’t primarily monetary. At the time of Explained’s launch, Vox’s editor-at-large Ezra Klein stated that “… the Vox team did think about the overall Netflix audience, which is much bigger than Vox’s. But not as much about whether those people were watching on phones or tablets or other devices.”
Newspapers also recognize that video consumption habits are different among their key demographics. Consumption is growing across the board. However, it is effectively the primary means of media consumption among younger audiences. The Guardian, which hit one million subscribers on its YouTube channel last year, is keenly aware that those younger audiences are the key to its future.
One million subscribers may not sound like a lot on YouTube. It is considerably smaller than many individual’s channels, and any ad revenue it generates is likely to barely cover production costs, if at all. That, after all, is why many larger (non-media) YouTube channels operate Patreon or donation models as well.
The longer-form explainer news videos that The Guardian produces and makes available for free is effectively the best form of brand marketing possible. It hits audiences where they typically spend their time and can be used as a lure to drive interest back to the paper’s own membership scheme. More than that, as audiences shift to seeing YouTube as a primary source of news, it helps demonstrate that the brand can be trusted above all the conspiracy and polarized videos that typify the platform.
News publishers are serious about the quality of their journalism, no matter the medium. As younger people’s consumption habits lean further towards video, then investment in news video is a way to communicate that quality. It just requires publishers to recognize that the return on that investment is unlikely to come quickly or easily. Rather, it will come from a deeper overall relationship with the audience segment on which they will soon depend.
The TikTok app has now been downloaded nearly two billion times. And a recent surge in new users is being attributed, at least in part, to people escaping the boredom and worry of coronavirus self-isolation and lockdowns. At some point, the pandemic’s tempest will subside, so what long-term strategies can publishers and journalists put in place to get the most from the platform into the future?
In January I wrote a lengthy Medium Post linking to best practice examples and tutorials. In this piece, three very different media outlets share what’s worked, what hasn’t, and their advice to publishers joining TikTok for the first time.
The extraordinary success of The Washington Post’s account piqued Early’s interest in TikTok early on. But he hung back for a while before signing Guardian Australia up. “I couldn’t make a commitment to a personality-driven approach like the Post,” he says. “After noticing a few other media outlets posting straight news videos, I decided to get started that way in August last year.”
Guardian Australia’s account has two aims. The first is to build brand
awareness with young audiences. The second, says Earley, is to “reach young
people who share a deep interest with some of our key coverage areas, like the
Successful early posts paired news clips with popular sounds. More recently, hits have focused on national challenges like the recent floods and bushfires. “Our bushfires explainer did quite well, taking inspiration from a NowThis Politics impeachment explainer on TikTok that went viral,” Earley says.
However, their strongest performing video has been a surprise. Nancy Pelosi’s reaction to an apparent handshake snub by Donald Trump has had 2.2 million views since it was uploaded in February. Earley attributes these numbers to the fact that TikTok showed the video to Indian users as well as Australians.
Guardian Australia’s news differs from the approach many publishers are taking to focus on timeless content, given that TikTok doesn’t display the date a piece of content was posted.
TikTok’s metrics are
also quite limited. However, Earley says that’s fine while Guardian Australia
continues to find its best voice on the platform. “Our use of the platform is still experimental and
not a top priority for maintaining a regular posting schedule,” he says.
“I’m looking at topline
followers and likes, not so much as a measure of success, but more to keep an
eye on overall growth. I also look at the individual video play counts and
number of comments to see what gained traction.”
account also launched in August last year, targeting people under 24 living in
“For us, the
aim isn’t just to grow a large TikTok following. It’s also to learn more about
how we serve Generation Z and get a better understanding of the way they express themselves
and consume news and media,” Rinaldi says.
started, we were the only UK regional publisher [on TikTok] so we didn’t have
anyone to compare to or look up to for good practice.”
Every publisher I spoke to, including Rinaldi, has mentioned The Washington Post as an example of best practice. However, it’s not one they necessarily want or need to duplicate. “I didn’t think emulating [the Post] would achieve what we set out to do, so we’ve just experimented a lot to see what worked for us,” she says.
That has meant actively seeking the right tone and
approach for content, and developing new production skills. “Our newsroom is
quite confident in producing social videos but we quickly realized that we
needed a completely new approach on TikTok, from our ideas process to how we
shoot and edit,” Rinaldi says.
Repurposing user-generated content has been “a mixed bag” in terms of response, Rinaldi says. “We’ve found food, comedy, and climate change content has performed well,” she says. “But we’ve also had videos that bombed, like people singing and a dog that can say hello. It’s [also] a lot harder to get traction for videos that don’t fit with a challenge, like our videos of the South Wales floods.”
Following seven months of trying different things, Wales
Online has begun formulating a clear strategy to engage its TikTok followers
with more serious news content. And this is a goal Rinaldi says will be challenging
given that on-platform metrics consist primarily of video views, follower
numbers, and likes on individual posts.
“So far, we’ve found TikTok to be a really receptive and
encouraging platform to work with,” she says. “Our audience is very open,
provides us with regular updates and they’re happy to answer our questions, which
publisher Futurism is using TikTok to connect with young science and tech
enthusiasts all over the world. “We began by implementing a video strategy
we’ve run with on most other platforms – posting our most popular short clips
and well-known viral memes to attract attention,” Banas says.
Later on, The Washington Post’s runaway success inspired Futurism to expand its uploads to include videos featuring its staff and newsroom more candidly. However, doing this well has turned out to be harder than it looks. “While everyone wants to be Dave Jorgenson, it’s incredibly difficult to do,” he says.
newsrooms don’t have a dedicated TikTok team. The biggest challenge is simply
the amount of time it can take to produce quality content, but the good thing
is that – unlike traditional video – TikTok has made it easy for many people to
utilize powerful video editing tools to create posts for a mobile-first
Banas says Futurism is learning
what it can from TikTok’s limited metrics and whimsical algorithm to achieve
specific goals, such as engaging with young women interested in science and
For now, Futurism has “pulled back” from regular posts to focus on other priorities. But Banas says timeless clips posted weeks or months ago still attract fresh audiences – another example of the evident irrelevance of time to the TikTok algorithm.
Thinking of joining TikTok in 2020? Here are some pro tips:
Earley, Rinaldi, and Banas have these tips for newcomers to the platform:
Spend time as a user and watch plenty of content before diving in head-first.
Think about what you want to achieve on the platform
Ask yourself how you’d explain a big story, or what it’s like to be a journalist, to a teenager.
Try some or all of these genres: explainers, vlogs, text on screen to music, lip syncing.
Decide whether you can commit to putting staff on camera and let them do “fun stuff.”
Use the ‘drafts’ function to learn the basics like adding and timing captions.
Read the comments to better understand who you are reaching on the platform.
Don’t feel under pressure to post often.
The ethos of TikTok is authenticity, so embrace it and get the whole newsroom involved.
Be prepared to relax your brand guidelines for an entirely different platform.
Interact with your audience. Creator comments and replies mean a lot to viewers.
Americans are spending more time than ever viewing content, be it paid or free, from linear TV to streaming video devices. According to the new TIVO Video Report, based on Q4 2018, the average household now uses 2.75 services, a 26% increase in service usage compared to the same time last year. The TIVO Video Report interviewed close to 4,500 adults 18+ in the U.S. and Canada.
TV viewers subscribe to multiple services in order to watch the
content they want, when they want it. Top consumer bundles include
subscriptions to Netflix, Prime Video and Pay-TV (10%), Facebook, YouTube and
Pay-TV and YouTube, Netflix and Pay-TV (both 8% each). With marketplace fragmentation
continuing, the question remains, how long will consumers maintain subscriptions
to multiple services?
More than half of the respondents (53%) report Netflix as an
essential entertainment source, followed by free YouTube (46%), and cable-TV
(40%). Interestingly, just over 40% of consumers also report cable-TV as
supplemental to their entertainment sources, suggesting consumers are equally
as committed to cable TV as they are non-committed. The distinction consumers
make between essential entertainment services and supplemental is an important
one. It will eventually determine the services consumers keep and which they
While Netflix may hold the largest audience share as an
essential entertainment source, Live TV dominates total viewing time (self-reported).
Close to two-thirds of respondents’ report (65%) watching one hour or more of
Live-TV per day, 52% watch one hour or more of OTT/Subscriptions services per
day, 51% watch recorded content (e.g. DVR) and 46% watch one hour or more of
live sporting events (which may factor into the 65% Live-TV viewing).
Live TV remains popular
Free video content is also popular with nearly one-third of
respondents (31%) reporting use of a free video service. Top free video
services include YouTube (58%), Facebook (44%), Twitch and Pluto TV, each
rounding to 18%. Interestingly, network TV mobile apps show limited appeal. Nearly
60% of respondents do not use any TV network apps. Of those using a TV network
app on mobile, the top downloaded include: ABC (10%), A&E (9%), CNN (8%), Cartoon
Network (8%), and CBC (7%).
In addition, more than one-fifth of respondents (22%) access
Pay-TV via a streaming device. In fact, 26% report replacing their set-top-box
(STB) with a streaming device. The top five streaming devices include a smart
TV (27%), gaming console (19%), Roku (18%), Amazon Fire Stick (16%), and Apple
Breaking up cable TV packages and going a la carte is an
option for consumers. However, with so many programming and device choices
today, the a la carte option is losing favor with only 71% of respondents
stating interest compared to 81% in 2017. Further a full 29% of respondents are
no longer interested in the a la carte option at all.
The TIVO Report clearly shows that consumers have numerous
choices when it comes to content, services and devices. Too many options can
leave consumers overwhelmed, while too few options can lead to low levels of
satisfaction. Industry players need to help consumers discover valued-content and
a positive user experience to continue building consumer satisfaction and
Mobile journalism sounds like a great idea for cash-strapped media outlets. Get your journalists to use smartphones to shoot and edit video and photos, and save a bundle versus the cost of DSLRs and pro camcorders.
It sounds simple enough. But newsrooms that are getting on the “mojo” bandwagon have learned the hard way that asking journalists to find and use tools to create mobile content on their own can be a quality control nightmare.
Most consumer video editing apps reduce the size of a video file on export. Some give it a squeeze on import as well, meaning the finished video is fine for social platforms but useless for television. Some audio editing apps will export MP3s, but charge extra for broadcast-standard .WAV files.
A Very British Approach
So, what’s an editor to do? Well, one way is to appoint someone to curate your apps. At the BBC, where smartphones are increasingly used to create content for linear, on-demand and social platforms, there is a “Mobile Apps” team, which includes a group of IOS developers.
They’ve developed an in-house video recording app that shoots at 25fps (a requirement in PAL-system countries like the UK) rather than the standard 30fps, and which can file video recordings direct to the BBC’s news ingest system. The team also curates an internal-facing BBC Apps Store, where journalists can download bespoke BBC and recommended third-party apps.
The BBC’s internal training department also employs mobile journalism trainers like Marc Blank-Settle and Deirdre Mulcahy who teach reporters how to use a smartphone for radio, photography and video storytelling, and how to use the apps best suited to their jobs. In mid-2017, the BBC published some of that learning during a ‘Mojo Week’ at the BBC Academy.
That being said, the BBC is a huge news outlet with 8,000 journalists, who are also free to try out new apps to find ones that work for them.
The Dutch broadcaster Omrop Fryslân is a much smaller operation than the BBC, and its in-house mobile trainer Wytse Vellinga has a high level of control over the apps and phones the reporters use to make TV, radio, online and social content.
Every journalist is required to learn to use their phone to create content for all three platforms, and to use a curated list of apps that give the best results. They receive two days’ training and follow-up support.
“If you do not standardize, people tend to get lost in what they can do with their phones,” Mr Vellinga says. “There are just too many different apps out there that claim to deliver quality results – but those results will vary too much for use in a newsroom.”
The Irish Way
A combination of the above two approaches is in place at Irish broadcaster RTÉ, where smartphones are also used across all platforms – radio, TV, online and social. Many journalists at RTÉ use smartphones some of the time, but the broadcaster also has a small team of mobile journalists who shoot and edit on mobile and publish to online and social first, and then, if appropriate, repurposed for television.
The team is led by video journalist Philip Bromwell, who says reporters across the organization are encouraged to use apps designed with reporters in mind – Filmic Pro for shooting, and Luma Fusion for editing – and to adopt consistent styles in their choice of fonts and supers.
“This content could include anything from a reporter taking a still photograph for an online article, to a journalist shooting and editing an entire story on their phone,” he says.
Having an in-house ‘mojo’ team means any RTÉ reporter can get immediate, job-specific guidance from a colleague on which app to use – Bromwell says his team has experimented with more than 50 and narrowed day-to-day use down to “a handful” – and the wider newsroom has a small group of experts to advise on file formats and workflows.
“That said, I also encourage colleagues or trainees to explore and ‘play’ with apps themselves,” Bromwell says. “Mobile journalism is still evolving – none of us has all the answers yet!”
So, while the proliferation of accessible and affordable mobile content creation tools abound, it is important that you set standards for the content. Experimentation is essential, but so are leadership and quality results.
Corinne Podger is a digital journalism educator and consultant for media outlets, NGOs and businesses. She is a specialist trainer in smartphone storytelling for television, radio, online and social media, and has taught more than 2500 journalists and communicators to use smartphones for TV and social video, radio, podcasts and photography.
She has worked as a trainer with BBC Media Action, Thomson Reuters Foundation, the Financial Times, Fairfax Media, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Konrad Adenaeur Stiftung and supported learning for journalists from over 30 countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Australasia.
Corinne has also lectured on mobile journalism at universities and colleges in Australia, Europe and the United States, and speaks regularly at journalism conferences.
She runs bespoke consultancies and individual workshops on request. To contact Corinne, click here.
Video has become an obsession for many publishers as a method to garner deeper engagement with their audiences. So why not post them on Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat and see if you can wring a few more ad dollars from those platforms? It always gets down to time and money: Which platform is really worth it?
Lately Facebook has been front and center with video, pushing live-streaming last year by subsidizing publishers who created recurring original content. And now comes Watch, a new tab for video with mini-shows from publishers that look more like YouTube than Netflix, funded by Facebook. And that’s after many publishers such as Hearst, Bustle and TechCrunch have prioritized Facebook’s Instagram over Snapchat.
So where will that leave Snapchat? It’s reputation as a millennial digital darling has now matured into that of a sluggish teenager seemingly in need of a parental (read: profitable) business model after another poor earnings report with big losses and slowing user growth. Perhaps Snap will try harder to play nice with publishers since it remains a relatively “safe space” within Discover.
Facebook has long said their future is in video, and a dedicated section to keep you sucked into the app is part of that strategy. The Watch tab also features a “Watchlist” of episodes created around your personalized algorithms, and is meant to capitalize on community viewership for the maximum Facebook experience. Seeing what your friends are reacting to and being able to watch videos within groups is how Facebook’s video platform differentiates from the likes of YouTube, Netflix and Hulu.
While Facebook eventually hopes for “thousands of shows,” so far only a few are available. And like its effort with Facebook Live, Facebook is paying a select group of publishers, including BuzzFeed, A&E, Major League Baseball and National Geographic, to create and offer content specifically for Watch. Publishers can make money either by splitting advertising revenues with Facebook (the social giant gets a 45% cut), or by creating branded content with advertisers from the start.
Facebook is anticipated to take in about 20 percent of the $83 billion in online advertising dollars this year, according to eMarketer, but it’s still unclear how much will eventually stem from Watch, even if it does have potential (and the backing of the all-powerful News Feed algorithm).
Watch vs. Discover
Even though Facebook has put a lot of energy into cloning Snapchat’s best features, it didn’t copy Snapchat’s strategy of only allowing a select group of publishers onto Discover. The result of Snapchat’s control is that it only has about one short original video show per day. When Facebook eventually opens Watch to whoever wants to create video for it — which is part of the plan — the YouTube-like experience, without YouTube’s powerful search function, might make discoverability hard for most people. In fact, as others have reported, Facebook’s Watch stands to increase the effect of the filter bubble.
When it comes to business, given the less than stellar performance of resource-heavy Facebook Live — not to mention the difficulty of making money with Instant Articles — it’s safe to say publishers should proceed with caution about putting all their eggs in Facebook’s video basket. Facebook is already on top of growth as one part of the two-part online ad duopoly, but it has yet to make itself a safe space for publishers to profit as well.
And Facebook will have to also deal with extremist content that has put YouTube in hot water. Facebook has already come under fire for violent content in some of its livestreams, and brand safety and offensive issues have been huge sources of contention for YouTube. It seems it’s only a matter of time for conflict to arise in that department as well for Facebook. Facebook hasn’t done a great job with humans or algorithms on handling fake news or extremist content, so it still has a lot to learn in editorial oversight.
Can Snapchat Snap Out of It?
Meanwhile, with slow user growth and poor earnings performance, Snapchat has a lot to catch up on if it wants to keep pace with competition. Its growth rate this quarter was about half of what it was in the first quarter. When it comes to daily users, Snapchat also only added 15 million new daily users in the first half of this year — whereas Instagram Stories added 100 million, more than six times as much.
Snapchat could try to subsidize more content, but the question is how. And the truth is that Facebook’s better ad targeting and measurement makes it that much more difficult for Snap to grab advertisers onto its platform over Instagram. Snapchat may have an automated ad-selling platform, but some publishers are grumbling that they have no way of knowing their performance on the “dying” platform.
To top it off, Google is planning to launch its own answer to Snapchat’s Discover, “Stamp.” Built around its AMP mobile web pages that load faster, it’ll allow publishers to create visual-oriented content that — unlike both Facebook and Snapchat — they can also host on their own sites. Another boon for publishers is that Google-backed publisher stories would be available in Google search results.
With all this in mind, publishers would do their best to diversify their video efforts and distribution. They’ve tried complaining and teaming up against the tech giants, but maybe this is a better idea: pitting the platforms against each other. If they all want to dominate in video, why not hold out for better terms, subsidies and promotion in the feed? Snap is in a real bind, and this would be a good time to ask them for a better deal. Facebook wants Watch to catch on? Maybe they can offer producers a better deal for good content.
If platforms want to divide and conquer, then publishers should do the same back at them.