Online Video Frequency; Less Is More As CBS-Owned Digital Food Show Downshifts

Whenever a regular online video series undergoes a change, that can be a good opportunity to learn about what works and doesn’t work in a regular Web video show.

One such example is CBS Interactive-owned Chow.com’s “SuperTaster” series. The show, fronted by Chow columnist James Norton, who taste tests mass-market food in each episode, is downshifting from five days a week to a three-day-a-week schedule.

When I first heard of the change, I thought: “Oh no, the show is being phased out!”

My second thought was: “Man, making five videos a week is tiring. I’d want to do three too.”

Rather than continue to speculate, I asked Chow for more details. Only time will tell whether any show lasts a long time, but Chow said the goal is to make each video more ambitious and to include both more multi-product reviews and a greater emphasis on trends in popular foods. The show has been running since 2009. The series averages about 10,000 views per video across YouTube and Chow.com, and can reach upwards of 100,000 views, as this recent Cheeseburger Test did on YouTube alone, Chow told me.

Since food shows in general are some of the most widely done on the Web, finding a niche can be vital to success. For SuperTaster, the show focuses on mass-market food -- a niche that few other video shows have claimed -- so that has been a smart strategy.

The show began the transition to a shorter schedule about two weeks ago. I asked Norton how he will approach the show differently, and I believe his insights are broadly applicable to any video producer evaluating the frequency of a show.

“The main beauty of the new setup is that we have a little bit more time to conceive each video and work out the script, so we can be a bit more ambitious in terms of b-roll, pacing, premise, and things like that,” Norton said in an email interview. “Doing five videos a week was a blast, but it got to be overwhelming, and there were definitely days where I was flailing in search of an angle. With three a week we can drill down on targets that are of high value to our viewers -- things that are sparkly and new and in the news, or have really compelling stories behind them that merit a bit of exploration and reporting.”

The multi-product reviews could be modeled after the Cheeseburger Test that delved into how five different chains fared with their cheeseburgers. In that example, Norton needed to go to each restaurant, procure the product and taste it. All in all, that’s a big time commitment.

What this shift in approach says about online video in general is that it’s wise to assess the full amount of time required to make each episode. A three-minute video might take only three minutes (if you’re really good!) to shoot, but there could be a lot of prep work involved. Depending on the type of series you’re making, evaluate how much goes into each show from start to finish.

Another SuperTaster tactic that can work for others is viewer involvement. Norton regularly tests food that viewers have suggested, and says he currently has a list of suggestions that is nearly 100 items long with new ideas popping up daily via his Facebook page and Twitter account.

Some of the most popular episodes of SuperTaster to date have been fast-food ones. “Fast food really draws eyeballs, and it's not surprising: people have incredibly passionate feelings about it. There's a fringe that become super fans of a particular restaurant chain and eats there five times a week. And there's another fringe that views fast food as the devil incarnate, and think it's destroying America,” he said. “And then there's most of the rest of us: People with conflicting, mixed feelings about it. Sometimes it's so easy, and cheap, and delicious. And sometimes it's like a one night stand, and we're left with this nauseating sense of regret and shame.”

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