Hearst’s Zuri Rice on video content strategy, focusing on YouTube, and growing longform video

Zuri Rice Hearst ()

Zuri Rice

While Hearst has been pouring resources into video development for some time – hiring former Defy Media exec Todd Joyce as Originals’ VP of Video Sales earlier this year, expanding its West Coast presence with a 20,000 square foot multimedia studio in Santa Mónica, launching series after series – YouTube is where the company sees its footprint growing.

“We’ve been focused on video across the board and taking a special interest in YouTube where we’ve seen an increase in our audience,” Rice said. “In addition to new content, we’re leaning into some of our existing series which have been performing for us.”

Hearst Originals at Hearst Magazines is the company’s video-production division that is currently putting out 50-plus original series. Hits include O, The Oprah Magazine’s “The OG Chronicles,” and Seventeen’s Bestie Picks Bae. Another hit for Hearst is Elle’s “Song Association.” New episodes feature Women in Music stars Billie Eilish,Lizzo and Camila Cabello. Each of those videos earned millions of views this fall, helping the brand’s YouTube channel cross the one million subscriber mark. Men’s Health’s Gym & Fridge series includes longer form content that sees lots of engagement and is quickly building a following. For example, the episode featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger racked up nine million views.

Rice explained that Hearst is looking into strengthening their relationships with partners so that they can attract even more talent and develop some of their own series, Rice said. Hearst has partnerships with Quibi (just announced last month), Facebook Watch, Snap and TikTok.

Hearst’s strategy is to distribute video, tailored to specific platforms, which enable the company to connect with their brands’ audiences wherever and however they are consuming media.

“We want to be everywhere that our audience is,” Rice said. “We’ve worked to develop relationships across the board so that that our content is wherever our audiences are. We have great relationships with YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, etc. We want to make sure that video is a huge part of our ecosystem.”

Gym & Fridge ()

From kids programming, to Hearst’s storied brands

Rice, who has been at Hearst for about six months, is a good example of the kind of talent Troy Young is adding to the company’s expanding pool of storytellers and content creators. She brings a fresh sensibility to the work Hearst is doing. During her 14 years at Viacom, Rice worked on the production and development of premium video content for Nickelodeon’s YouTube and social channels for shows like SpongeBob Squarepants and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Before that, she was VP of their long-form programming, working on shows like Nickelodeon’s Lip Sync Battle spinoff, Lip Sync Battle Shorties.

“One of the reasons that I came to Hearst was the strength of the brands,” Rice explained. “These iconic, amazing brands that have spanned over a hundred years and have also evolved their content from print into digital, and now, video — there’s such a wealth of talent here.”

At Viacom, Rice was looking at long form and how that translated to social and shorter form video. The key was about partnering with various departments to remain to the essence of what the brand is. At Hearst, Rice works with teams across the board and internal partners, and collaborates so that each idea shines in video and retains the unique qualities that are specific to that expression of the brand.

“We partner with all the editorial video teams, with all of our brand teams in print, digital, sales, and our partnership team, to really make sure all of those ideas we’re coming up with internally fit the brand,” she explained. “What I love about the people that work on brands is that they’re passionate. They will tell you in a minute what would feel like a Cosmo story. They live and breathe their brands and are amazing partners on the journey to make great content.”

While Hearst brands have a strong service focus in their videos, and have produced documentaries, Rice sees the video content strategy moving to more of an entertainment focus.

“Making great video is about entertaining.” Rice explained. “We’re growing and translating what everybody knows and loves about Hearst brands into the entertainment and video space. And, that’s something that I love – entertaining audiences across the board in all types of mediums, that’s where my background has been, and so I really enjoy having the opportunity to do that with Hearst.”

YouTube offers Hearst Originals the opportunity to have longer content on the platform, to have an audience there that is engaged with that type of content. “We continue to grow and look for more opportunities with streaming partners with long form content,” she said. “That said, short form is still a huge part of our business and something our audience really connects to. We see our audiences engaging with us on TikTok, on Instagram and IGTV. For us, it’s really about our audience, about what they’re connecting to and about serving the right content for them in the right space.”

Rice sees a rising appetite for long-form video. Many episodes are 20 minutes long or over 20 minutes. For example, Cosmopolitan kicked off a new series called “Candidates Come to Cosmo,” hosted by EIC Jessica Pels, where episodes run from 24 to 35 minutes long. Guests to date include Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris. “We definitely see that there’s an appetite there for that audience,” she said.

Bernie Sanders Cosmo ()

Rising challenges and cutting through the noise

One of the challenges Rice tackles straight on every day, is the surfeit of distribution channels. There are so many places for Hearst Originals to put content, she said. “We prioritise constantly. We have to consider where we feel we should be placing our efforts, how we should connect, and decide what platforms and what content is a match for each audience.”

Rice said that they always want to be specific, thoughtful, to hear and interact with the audience on each of the platforms, and listen to their platform and advertising partners, too. “For us, it’s never one size fits all. So, that makes each iteration a unique and special thing that takes time.”

Another challenge is cutting though the noise: the vast amount of content available to audiences.

“People react to amazing content. People react to fresh storytelling. People like things that are innovative, thoughtful, and personalised to the platform,” she said. “Our challenge is always keep getting better, and to continue to find insightful and fresh ways to connect with our viewers.”

Publishers are making amazing content across the board. For Rice, the video content environment is one of constant learning and connection. “It’s important that we’re always learning. There are creators on YouTube and other platforms that do amazing things.  We talk about and learn from the creative community all of the time. It is how we continue to grow, adapt and evolve every day.”

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