With ‘pivot-to-video’ yielding little success over the past 18 months, the big question for publishers remain: where will video go next?
When American multinational technology conglomerate, Cisco predicted late last year that video traffic will consume 82 per cent of all consumer internet traffic within three years, publishers who have embraced ‘pivot-to-video’ since 2016 only to see their web traffic, and income continue to wither must have been left scratching their heads. If Cisco’s well-respected, Visual Networking Index forecasts a compound annual growth rate of 26 per cent global IP video traffic running into 2021 - why is it that most video content strategies are failing so dismally?
Publishers who pivoted to video, wrote New York-based digital media strategist, Heidi N. Moore for the Columbia Journalism Review in September last year - quoting data from comScore - dropped by 60 per cent from August 2016. This happened, she argued, because “hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs while shiny-object-chasing publishers are no closer to creating cohesive video strategies to replace the traffic those writers were producing. Publishers who pivoted to video have forfeited the majority of their hard-won native audiences in only a year of churning out undifferentiated, bland chunks of largely aggregated ‘snackable’ video. That’s no one’s idea of success”.
Harsh words, some might argue, but by November more hard facts were justifying her reasoning. The main protagonists of the pivot-to-video dogma, like BuzzFeed and Vice, missed revenue goals by some margin and Mashable, valued in 2016 at US$250 million when Time Warner’s global entertainment, sports and news arm Turner funded it with an additional $15 million, sold for less than $50 million.
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The doomsday narratives were not restricted to only pure plays. Respected magazine publishers like Time Inc. and Condé Nast invested in original video in search of online advertising riches. Lucas Shaw, writer and analyst at Bloomberg, says many companies saw audiences consume news and other videos online and assumed the advertising dollars would follow. While many of the legacy media had the resources to fund the pivot, the majority of the upstarts, like Mashable and Uproxx, “raised venture capital to pursue this but Facebook and Google swallowed almost all of it (advertising dollars). So, these companies that raised a bunch don’t have anything to show for it.”
Is all lost? Hardly, argues Dominik Grau, chief innovation officer at Ebner Media Group in Germany. Video should continue to play an important part of publishers’ future strategy. At Ebner they have observed that younger audiences aged 18 to 29 are now consuming more video than texts. This trend cannot be ignored. “In some cases we see a 90/90/90 pattern emerging, meaning: 90 per cent of the content is consumed on mobile devices, 90 per cent of that content is first discovered via social media, and 90 per cent of it is video content.”
The reality is that video will more than likely play a larger monetisation role in the future. “By the way,” Grau told FIPP in an interview, “the most shared and most used content with the longest viewing time are helpful videos, how-tos, short courses or even serialised video seminars. An interesting strategic question arises: how does an advertiser create helpful content to benefit from the consumption patterns of the newer and younger audiences?”
Gavin Johnson, managing director at JOE.co.uk, a news website aimed at young men in the UK and Ireland, agrees. Writing for Newswhip’s ‘Media Publishing in 2018’ report he says video will continue to be a central focus “and we’ll likely see Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter continuing to invest in it.” While 87 per cent of marketers are currently using video in their campaigns, Johnson predicts that there will be significant diversification across formats. “At JOE, something we’ve been acutely aware of, and responded to in a big way, is the podcast resurgence – and a move into ‘vodcasting’ alongside it. We have a new podcast series called ‘Unfiltered’, with James O’Brien that is doing incredibly well for us in the UK and beyond, with our listener base consistently growing an average of 25 per cent each week.”
Johnson also warns that live video should continue to be a focus for platforms and content creators. “Live isn’t going anywhere, it’s simply evolving to meet the demands and changing consumption habits of key demographics such as Gen Z. Smart folks will know to go where their audience goes, and while linear TV viewing is down substantially among younger audiences, live social broadcast viewing and habitual engagement on social media platforms around big live broadcast events on linear TV, is up. A recent study we did in Ireland for example – with over 15,000 participants, 75 per cent of 18 to 34 year olds – told us nearly 70 per cent engage on social media frequently when watching a match/sporting event on screen.”
His view is supported by Cisco’s ‘Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2016-2021’ which predicts live Internet video will account for 13 per cent of internet video traffic by 2021. This means live video will grow 15-fold between 2016 and 2021.
Social media networks such as Facebook, YouTube and Instagram have all launched live streaming video, and adoption is rapidly growing among consumers and brands.
Ernst Wittmann, global account director for Middle East and Africa at Alcatel, says people are beginning to share experiences such as concerts and holidays in real-time with their friends and families; companies are likely to use live video to supplement brand activations, for virtual launch parties and even candid behind-the-scenes glimpse into their offices and factories.”
The big question remains how publishers will monetise these trends.
At FIPP’s recent World Congress in London Karla Geci, head of strategic media partner programmes at Facebook, suggested the social network is providing several opportunities for publishers to monetise from video. Her list included adding branded content and sponsored content promoted on Facebook’s News Feed. Facebook is also testing Ad Breaks, a new way to earn revenue from Facebook video broadcasts. Ad Breaks, short advert inserts of 15 seconds or less, can only be played within videos that are 90 seconds or longer and can earn publishers a share of revenue across all Facebook surfaces.
Karla Geci, head of strategic media partner programmes, Facebook
Yet, with the recent announcement by Facebook of changes to the News Feed algorithm, this promise is, at best, up in the air.
Adam Mosseri, head of News Feed at Facebook says in his 11 January blog post that since “space in News Feed is limited”, they will prioritise posts from friends and family and updates that spark conversation, which means Facebook will show less public content, “including videos and other posts from publishers or businesses”.
Publishers’ initial interpretation of this is that Facebook will be prioritising the discovery of click-bait above quality publisher content. We thus return to the original question: how do you monetise from quality video if it is not being discovered?
Of course, Facebook, despite its massive reach, is not the only platform out there and many believe we should shun our obsession with the social network. While YouTube comes with its own set of user complaints, there is also Brightcove, DailyMotion, AdSense for Video and many more.
Perhaps the most fitting way to conclude is with a quote from Justin Festa, chief digital officer at feel-good publisher LittleThings. “Never stop learning and optimising. This isn’t a one-time pivot that puts publishers on a straight line to higher profitability – it’s a change in the way we interact with audiences and will only continue evolving. Publishers must keep putting the user first and never stop testing new ideas. There are so many interesting things happening in this space with video, so publishers must ensure they are capitalising on those that make sense for their organisation.”
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