Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Dipping meets snacking: thoughts on the future of online video news

I was invited to speak at a DPA event on online video news this morning. Here's a synopsis of my session, which focused on the form online video news may take in the future.

Video makes up about 60% of the traffic on the Internet. Outside of Asia, Youtube alone is nearly 20% of total traffic. TV viewing hours in Europe are holding steady at about four hours per day; in the UK about three quarters of consumers view the TV as their primary source of world news.

So video remains at the core of the entertainment proposition in 2013; however it's worth reflecting that historically online and broadcast video have been profoundly different. TV is professionally produced, broadcast in high quality in a curated experience that consists of relatively small amounts of video. Online video, by contrast, is of generally low quality. It is produced by amateurs in massive volumes and is typically aggregated automatically on a small number of sites.

This was the situation until Steve Jobs and Apple gave us true smartphones and later the tablet computer. With these beautiful experiences available on the demand side, we've seen new content services in the long form world, Netflix being foremost amongst them.

What Netflix and their imitators have done is create high quality content experiences that have the choice and recommendation aspect of the Internet and the production values of the broadcast world. They've created a new category that for the most part extends media viewing times and blurs the boundaries between broadcast and online.

The same hasn't yet happened in news, despite the news video being a relatively simple product. News is quite distinct from other types of video in that it is highly segmented on the demand side, based on biases of the viewer and reader. Uniquely, the same story is told from many angles, rather than a single narrative and a single perspective. Add the need to constantly update and you have a very complex online video product.

And also an opportunity. As yet, neither broadcasters nor publishers have succeeding in perfecting the blend of segment targeted video for news consumers. The former tend to persist with the 24 hour rolling format, just on a device; the latter add video to static stories as an additional feature.

Although I don't have a silver bullet answer to the question "what is the future video news product", I do have some thoughts.

One option is for online video to out roll rolling news. 24 hour TV news channels are in fact a series of repeating story loops. They don't actually offer persistent coverage - it's too boring and too expensive to cover enough stories. Online video can fill this gap. Take the birth of Prince George in the UK. AP set up an unmanned camera that watched the door of the hospital where the couple would emerge holding said child. And people watched this door on the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph websites for hours, even days before the child emerged. Viewing times on the Sun were 28 minutes on average throughout the week and 41 minutes on the day the door actually opened. This performance was at least matched on the other two sites.

The record-breaking Norwegian interview I wrote about yesterday is a similar example of what I'm going to call content dipping. A long running, persistent story that consumers pop in and out of. Like listening to cricket on the radio, for those of you who have the pleasure of BBC Test Match Special.

The crucial competitive differentiator here is brand. The videos on show can be the same content - how many door angles do you need, after all - but it's important to cover the major story in this manner so that readers aren't persuaded to go elsewhere for their coverage.

The polar opposite of this model is to try and compete in the snacking market against the aggregators. This means a blended model between curation and aggregation, where a large number of self-made and third party videos are mixed together around a particular topic. Typically this means a customer segment - the Telegraph's women's, men's and luxury sections, for example - or a local area. In both cases, volume of relevant video is more important than quality per se.  Video doesn't need to be super-steady HD, it just needs to be reasonably well thought out and topical.

Demonstrations of Tout, which enables iphones to be used as live video cameras an instantly uploaded to publisher websites shows the potential. Newspaper group DFM use Tout in 92 markets, with 1,800 journalists uploading between 5,000 and 7,000 videos everyday. They've used the technology to provide on the spot coverage of the Boston bombings, Asiana 777 crash and the Colorado flooding.

I'd argue that video is easier for text journalists to shoot than pictures as audience expectations are lower. Furthermore, the action comes across more vividly in the (poor) framing of the shot than it would in a wobbly photo.

So the key differentiator here is volume and relevance. I chaired a social media panel last week, in which Lori Cunningham from the Telegraph talked about how they're using their segment-targeted, online-only microsites to capture totally new readers. As the newspaper evolves more into a magazine that leverages great storytelling and video becomes ever more centric to online entertainment, I can see a lot more publishers following suit.

My core message throughout all of this is that the middle ground between TV and online remains open for someone to capture. Video may be vital, but it's brand, segmentation and creativity that are the most important facets to capture audience attention and ad dollars in online news. Broadcasters cannot assume that their expertise with the camera truly differentiate them.

Given time in the next few days I hope to follow this up with some thoughts on the emerging news consumption technologies being created by the technology industry.

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