Something strange is happening with video.
While time spent watching digital video will jump nearly 20% this year -- and ad spend isforecast to top $5 billion, some of the largest media companies are shuttering their video destinations. Yahoo closed Screen, despite significant investment in original content, while Time Inc.’s Daily Cut failed to attract the minimum audience for comScore reporting.
What’s going on here?
For one, it’s difficult to build a video destination that scales. Getting users to watch videos on a site they’re used to visiting for articles can be hard. Some publishers have made a tough challenge even more difficult by creating video destinations for the wrong reasons.
Many seek to put a stake in the ground when it comes to video, or have a flashy showpiece for advertisers at the Digital Content NewFronts. But they don’t build these destinations with a well-thought-out strategy for growing an organic audience.
Video destinations that succeed have traditionally started with the intent of filling a real consumer need. Funny or Die saw a demand for short-form humor content, while BuzzFeed and Vice create content for millennial audiences, supported by ample cross-channel promotion.
Only after audience engagement is proven do these platforms typically shift their focus to monetization. YouTube has gone even further, developing ad products like TrueView with consumers in mind, acknowledging that some users are deterred by pre-roll -- and that advertisers get greater value from video views consumers opt in to see.
(YouTube was able to do this without destroying margins because of its huge scale.)
Still, YouTube, like Facebook or Snapchat, is ultimately a content distributor, increasinglyseparated from the economics of content creators. T
To build a successful video business today, publishers need to bring down the cost of content production and distribution to compete with platforms that disseminate content for free—and then monetize it effectively. No small feat.
Here are six strategies to get you on the right path:
1. Produce compelling videos for lowest cost possible.
Despite the flashy releases at each year’s NewFronts, today’s Internet isn’t about cinematic production value—especially as mobile video consumption rises. Unless you are VH1, HBO or Netflix, and long-form content is your strength, stick with snackable, shorter-form videos so you can experiment with what resonates.
2. Go niche.
YouTube owns the general video ecosystem, so new entrants must carve out spaces that are natural extensions for their current audience. BuzzFeed’s Tasty, with food-focused video shorts, is a great example of niche content that is performing well, while Mitus’ focus on the Latino community attracts an impressive 2 billion video views per month.
3. Be inspiring, informative, or funny. Those are the videos that work.
Teach something: Year after year, eHow is still one of top channels on YouTube. Or make your audience feel something: see the success of Funny or Die.
4. Build your content with distribution in mind.
Think hard about how you will get users to watch your video. Go90, the new Verizon/AOL video app for millennials, has baked-in distribution as a core part of its business. Add video to existing articles, create video-only articles, and add transcripts below your videos to drive increased engagement and discoverability. Build a great video player experience—standardized on a single player across your library—that makes it easy for writers and creators to embed videos within article pages. Old-school audience development applies here as well, so pay attention to SEO optimization, social distribution and partnerships.
Be wary of pay-to-play syndication. Most of the syndication networks don’t have real inventory, as they often comprise autoplay videos on the right rail. While these networks may be able to manufacture view counts that are great to show to advertisers, they don’t actually build engagement with your content. Notably, many brands are onto this reality, and now expressly forbid using syndication in their RFPs.
5. Fish where the fish are: Invest in video on YouTube, not just on your O&O sites.
It may sound counterintuitive, but to be a successful video destination, consider a YouTube-first strategy. Continue to sell sponsorships and pre-roll on your own destinations, of course, but also put your videos where people go to watch video. Even the most popular MCNs that have launched their own sites have struggled to build and maintain audiences without YouTube.
6. Think like a startup, especially if you’re a big media company!
Learn, test and optimize what works. Don’t make large investments before you have data to support your plan. Finally, be cautious with celebrity—the old epithet “Internet famous” is never truer than today. Videos with Martha Stewart on MarthaStewartLiving.com or Rachael Ray on RachaelRayMag.com are natural extensions the audience on those properties will enjoy. It’s less clear why Yahoo would pay celebrities millions of dollars for programming in a world without appointment viewing.As traditional media companies adopt digital-first strategies, they are innovating rapidly – and catching up. To win in video, we need substance over sizzle, learning from the early successes of digital-first publishers and avoiding the pitfalls of those who jumped in headfirst without a proper strategy.