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Why isn’t online video working better for news?

11 Nov 2016

By Emma Goodman

Facebook is “doubling down” on online video, advertisers are increasingly moving digital investments to video, and in response, many news media are investing heavily in video. But what do users make of this? Despite growth in both on-demand video viewing and social media video use, several Reuters Institute Reports including What Is Happening to Television News? and The Future of Online News Video suggest that supply of online news video may be growing much faster than online video news consumption. So are new forms of video inherently better suited to entertainment rather than news? 76% of news consumers across the countries surveyed in the Digital News Report 2016 said they did not usually watch news videos online. This isn’t because news organisations aren’t trying. Digital video news is a significant area of investment for news organisations, with many hoping that online video can help them reach audiences and increase their advertising revenues. In a 2016 survey for the Reuters Institute, 79% of CEOs, editors, and digital leaders said they planned to invest more in online video this year.

What isn’t working?

Survey data show that the top reason people give for not watching online video news is that reading is quicker and more convenient, followed by a distaste for pre-roll ads. Consumers also cited screen size and load time as barriers, as well as ‘videos don’t add value to a text story.’ What drives video reach seems to be highly sharable and often softer content that performs well, not hard news. Newswhip figures from the biggest news publishers in the UK, US, Germany and Italy analysed in The Future of Online News Video show that, within the top 500 native videos shared, ‘emotional’ news was found to work better than factual. Despite 58% of videos judged as primarily factual, seven videos in the top ten were primarily emotional.

What to do?

So one possible response for publishers is to embrace what’s working, even if it means shifting focus from the core mission. On Facebook, even looking at brands associated with hard news like the UK’s Telegraph, Guardian, or Independent, the top or second videos in terms of Facebook engagement numbers from the sample analysed in The Future of Online News Video turned out to be animal videos rather than news, analysis, or opinion. Digital born organisations that rely on social media distribution have tailored their products for maximum ‘shareability’. NowThis News aims to give every video it produces an emotional angle. The US-based startup has reported dramatic growth, from 1 million views in 2014 to 600 million a month by the end of 2015. Buzzfeed has created the highly successful lifestyle video channels Tasty, dedicated to cooking, and Nifty (DIY), both of which do better than its news video. Go big on breaking news But for some specific hard news stories and moments, online video can work very well. The Future of Online News Video examines BBC’s video traffic around the November 2015 attacks in Paris and confirms the power of compelling video for a breaking news story. The day following the attacks, the share of BBC users watching video jumped from 11% on an average day to 19% on the website and 22% via the BBC News app. But social was central to reach. Facebook delivered 10 times as many video views of BBC content as the site itself on the night of the attacks, but then settled to a similar level. The central driver of reach and overall number of views on Facebook was a single video based on a message from a victim’s husband which was viewed 72 million times. This shows how online video news can be really important at specific moments. But day-to-day news is unlikely to have the same emotional power and social reach.

What’s next?

Publishers who see video and its more lucrative ad rates as a beacon of hope amid falling revenue must make sure that they are making video that their audience wants to watch. By now most news organisations are aware that you can’t just put TV content on the internet and expect success, or have talking heads talk in a more or improvised studio and expect wide reach. Video increasingly have to be not only digital, but also social and mobile first to work. Text will always have its advantages, but as successful television news programmes have shown for some years, video can create an engrossing product that provides a different and potentially deeper insight into a story. Increasingly, broadcasters, newspapers, and digital-born news organisations are competing head-to-head to provide a similarly compelling experience with online video news. But it is not clear that anyone has figured out how to deliver this on a regular basis in way that the audience finds as compelling as they do premium on-demand video entertainment and soft sharable social videos.