Video Paywalls: Time To Redefine Choice Online

I am a video junkie. I love it -- and not just because I make my living connecting people to great video ads. I completely believe in great ads as the best way to capture the audience's trust, imagination, and purchasing power.

Listen, the facts don't lie.  According to, native online video ads can generate 82% brand lift. More importantly, consumers are 27 times more likely to click through online video ads than banners. I know, I know, numbers may not lie but they sure are boring. So, what these numbers really mean (and what gets me so excited to come to work everyday) is that video excites people in a way few other advertising mediums do.

It seems I'm not the only video ad tech CEO who gets this. U.S. digital video ad spending will nearly double in only three years, climbing from $4.14 billion this year to $8.04 billion in 2016.

So why is it premium news publishers seem to be the last ones holding out on embracing video as the most enticing and rewarding way to keep readers on their site? If 44% of U.S. email marketers report increased engagement rates when video is used, why wouldn't you apply that same methodology to your sites? Instead of the static model used for far too long, why not whet an audience's appetite for what's behind the magical paywall with a video they actually want to watch?



Let's get to an example to prove my point. Last month, the Hearst-owned San Francisco Chronicle rolled back and repositioned its paywall.  Pretty bold move. Immediately, the media responded with a cavalcade of speculation regarding the paywall's performance, or lack thereof. The Chronicle, meanwhile, remained silent.

It’s  not hard to understand why the Chronicle made this change. For starters, most paywalls suppress traffic, the ultimate currency of the web. In addition, it's difficult to implement a paywall — and once you do, it takes time and patience to realize financial benefits. Educating consumers about why they must offer their credit card to buy access to news on the Internet is a significant challenge, and keeping them as paying customers is an even larger one.  All this while advertising takes a huge hit on the site because customers are locked out — and thus pageviews take a dive.

So am I anti-paywall?  No way! They are a very reasonable avenue to explore as premium content companies try to find a way to increase their revenue and turn a profit. Content is not free. Very few things are. Consumers should have to pay for it.  I just want to encourage a culture of video viewership as payment.

A recent Forrester Research report performed an analysis of various categories of news websites.  The report founda pronounced difference in categories of audience behavior. Website traffic is comprised of loyalists (individuals who consume 20 or more pieces of content each month), followed by regulars, and then causal "fly bys."

Not even taking into account the demographics and propensity to purchase a subscription of each individual, would it ever make sense to present a hard paywall to “fly bys” and regulars? No way!

Before publishers implement their paywall, I would encourage them to take a hard look in the mirror and ask themselves a few important questions:

First, is my content worth what I'm charging?  Can my readers find this content elsewhere for free?

If, after answering these questions, it still makes sense to proceed, ask yourself who should see the paywall offer.  Does it make sense for everyone to see it, or only those with a high propensity to subscribe?

Re-enter the San Francisco Chronicle. There are a few things I’d encourage its management to consider. Firstly, remember to take time to analyze the audience, and treat them differently, and accordingly.  Loyalists, and those who have attributes of potential subscribers, should be offered an opportunity to subscribe, and they should also be offered real value in their subscription.  

Finally, say "no" to no one.  Advertising exists because it works for publishers and brands.  It works to aggressively and smartly monetize the attention of the 90% of the audience who are likely non-subscribers.Give them a choice of which brands they interact with, target the brand media they see, but make them pay -- with their attention. That's exactly what video does best. If you adapt monetization to different kinds of audiences, then combine that with video advertising, you've created a broad middle ground between the hard paywall and the current freemium model.

 So, let's get to watching, shall we? Video is the future -- and it works!

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