It is a truth near-universally acknowledged, that a news organisation in possession of a reputable but costly print heritage must be in want of an effective online video strategy.
After all, audience eyes and advertising dollars are increasingly gravitating toward YouTube – last month in the U.S. more than 180 million people watched 33 billion videos, according to the comScore’s Online Video Rankings, and video advertising had its best month on record, with U.S. Internet users watching 11 billion video ads.
While most of YouTube's top hits are not exactly TimesCasts, a recent study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism is premised on the finding that a higher-than-expected percentage of the site’s most-watched videos are, in fact, about the news. Internal data from YouTube shows that for five out of 15 months spanning 2011 and early 2012, the most searched-for term of the month on YouTube was related to a news event, according to Pew.
Newsrooms seeking to eventually spin these trends into revenue would thus do well to know which news videos succeed in drawing an audience.
This was the purpose of the Pew survey, which tracked the five most popular videos in the “news and politics” section of the site each week for the 15 months from January 2011 to March 2012. Pew’s researchers scrutinized some 260 videos in an attempt to discover which types of news events are most likely to bring about viral videos: who tends to shoot these videos, who is most likely to post them, and whether they are raw or edited.
Pew introduced its article reporting the survey’s results, published online last week, with an example: in the seven days following the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, the 20 most-watched news-related videos on YouTube were all related to the tragedy.
Together, these 20 news-related videos were viewed more than 96 million times.
The study found that videos surrounding news-events with strong visuals such as natural disasters or political upheaval are more likely to be widely viewed, with the top three worldwide storylines viewed on YouTube during the 15 month analysis period being:
- The Japanese earthquake and tsunami (which accounted for 5 percent of the 260 videos),
- The elections in Russia (also 5 percent), and
- A blanket category called "Unrest in the Middle East" (4 percent of the videos examined)
The study also uncovered useful information about Internet users’ appetites for gloss (modest), their attention spans (typically dainty, but diverse), and their attitudes toward famous faces (blasé):
- Fifty-eight percent of the most popular videos were edited, and 42 percent were uploaded raw – a smaller disparity that one might have anticipated.
- The median length of the most watched videos was two minutes and one second (22 seconds shorter than the median length of a national television newscast). However, the lengths of the most popular videos varied greatly.
- No single individual was featured in even 5 percent of the videos analysed (Barack Obama won the popularity contest with 4 percent), and 65 percent of the most popular videos featured no individual at all.
Furthermore, the study showed that news organisations are missing revenue opportunities: 39 percent of the news organisation-branded videos were uploaded to YouTube by citizens, and 61 percent by the organisations themselves. Whereas the former scenario would appear to represent a significant leak of unaccounted-for page-views, the latter approach allows for advertising revenue sharing through YouTube’s Content ID programme. YouTube has 3,000 partners (including every major U.S. network broadcaster) in the Content ID programme, through which organisations send their copyrighted material to YouTube, which scans more than 100 years of video each day against such reference files, thus allowing it to block or, more importantly, monetize copyright-violating posts.
With the revenue opportunities presented by a strong presence on YouTube, however, come a series of editorial challenges. How, for example, to strike a balance between video content that is created in-house, and that which is crowdsourced and curated? The former risks being expensive to produce (innovative solutions that have arisen include The Wall Street Journal’s deployment of 400 iPhone-wielding instant video journalists, and the Huffington Post’s plea for netizens to send in videos if them “sounding off” about what they are passionate about), while the later gives rise to complications including problems of attribution and authentication, risks of audience manipulation, and the question of how to protect sources.
In Pew’s study, the proportion of crowdsourced videos was noteworthy: while over half of the most viewed videos (51 percent) carried a news organisation’s brand, more than a third (39 percent) were clearly shot by citizens, according to Pew. Taken in conjunction with the finding that events such as natural disasters and political upheaval are the most likely to attract eyes, and in light of the importance of being in the right place at the right time in order for to capture such footage, it would be logical for those news organisations grappling with video strategy to place a significant emphasis on crowdsourcing and curation.
“The key understanding here is that journalists can no longer have ownership over scarce content,” said Irish journalist Mark Little, Founder of the social news discovery and verification platform Storyful, in an interview with Editors Weblog this afternoon (the full conversation will be posted shortly).
“I really feel – and I’m probably stepping out on a limb here – that YouTube will become the destination. It will become the place where people go in the first instance to consume news in the world, particularly video news. They won’t go necessarily to a broadcaster’s channel on YouTube; they will seek out a much broader experience,” he continued.
“The winners, I think, as we go forward long-term, are going to be the newsrooms and the journalists individually who recognize the value of curation – of essentially bringing together all of this vast amount of video,” he said, pointing out that now, 72 hours of content are being uploaded to YouTube each minute. “Journalists are needed more than ever within the YouTube ecosystem to help curate and make that useful,” he said.
“I think, long-term, the people who can do that and who do that in partnership in YouTube, are the people who are going to see a thriving business.”
While awaiting the full interview with Mark Little, read up on the business of digital immersion on our sister site, SFN.
Modified image courtesy of DogFromSPACE via Flickr Creative Commons