2015: Five Trends That Shaped Digital Video’s Boom Year

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2015 was a momentous year in the business of digital video, as mammoth audiences, new business models, new consumption patterns and increasing interest from traditional media all shifted the landscape for a business that had been hardly a business at all just a few years ago. All of these trends will continue to shape the business well into the future, and shape the way companies make money with digital video. Here are five trends that shaped this year for me:

Going native. While, technically, Facebook rolled out its native video player late in 2014 (as did Twitter), the real impact of that decision really hit in 2015, in a big way. YouTube-based video went from being a source of traffic for Facebook to being a competitor. The lesson creators quickly learned: post directly to Facebook if they wanted video to be seen there. The second lesson creators learned: they could quickly accumulate millions of views and likes if they did so. In October alone, more than 1 million creators posted videos that were seen 129 billion times on Facebook. The lesson still being learned: how to make money from all those eyeballs. With some minor exceptions, Facebook still isn’t sharing  ad revenues  with  publishers. Monetization will be the nut most in need of cracking in 2016. By the way, the Facebook explosion has hardly dented YouTube: CEO Susan Wojcicki said in July that video uploads were up a third from just six months earlier, to an astonishing 400 hours per minute.Indeed, many companies are posting excerpts on Facebook that direct fans to full-length programming on YouTube.

Going mobile. As of 2015, mobile users now comprise more than half of all the views of digital media. That’s particularly true for YouTube viewing. So what does this mean for your content? Your online strategy ought to be built on mobile first, and securing advertisers who can take advantage of what you’re building. Then you can acquire the content that fits your financial structure, and begin driving views. It’s important to note that mobile ad revenues still lag mobile media usage. That almost certainly will change as advertisers chase eyeballs (eMarketer predicts the spending shift will happen by 2018, and hit $159 billion in revenues). As Forrester Research put it in a white paper this year: mobile users “just want what they want when they want it. Give it to them, and you’re a hero — and will get their loyalty.

The Fall of the MCN, and the Rise of the MPN. Three years ago, every online video company wanted to be a YouTube multi-channel network. Three years later, the fast-evolving business had turned the MCN into a checklist item offered by most companies. The new term of art is Multi-Platform Networks, or MPN, with a presence far beyond YouTube, on sites such as Vessel and Vimeo on Demand, in live events and merchandising and partnerships, on newer social platforms such as Vine, Instagram and especially Snapchat, in over-the-top video outlets and even in traditional media.

Consolidation. By the end of 2015, most of the big MCN/MPNs had  been acquired in part or all by traditional media companies, including several from Europe that were finally able to get a slice of the U.S. media market. Consolidation means new deep pockets for many of these online-video specialists as they continue seeking sustainable business models to wrap around all those audiences. Consolidation may also bring innovation and new blood to hidebound traditional media companies trying to figure out how to succeed online.

Something to Chew On. Subject verticals such as fashion and gaming have been hot for a while, but this year’s big breakout came from the food creator movement, especially on Facebook. Buzzfeed’s Tasty (https://www.facebook.com/buzzfeedtasty/videos) and Food (https://www.facebook.com/BuzzFeedFood/videos) sites helped their parent company dominate the top of Facebook video-view charts. Tasty doesn’t even have a YouTube presence, but in the month of October alone, had 12.9 million likes on Facebook and 1.1 billion views. That was tops on Facebook. Food as a solid presence on YouTube (407,000 followers, 1 million views in October) but is third overall on Facebook, with 12.1 million likes and 529 million views in October. Tastemade (https://www.tastemade.com)  also blossomed, with regular food and drink programs such as “Thirsty For,” “The Grill Iron” and “The Perennial Plate.” Tastemade, which started on YouTube three years ago, now has 5.5 million followers across all platforms through October. That month, it had 195 million views, mostly on Facebook. Tastemade has taken to releasing full episodes on YouTube alongside single segment of the same show on Facebook, that drive viewers back to YouTube. The company also is aggressively exploring opportunities on Apple TV’s newly invigorated over-the-top platform. How these companies make money on the new video platforms will be their next challenge.

It was a momentous year for digital video, but there’s no reason to think the explosion of new audiences, business models, ad dollars and opportunities won’t continue in 2016. In an upcoming piece, I’ll take a look at what’s likely to shape the online video business in 2016.

Frank Sinton is CEO of Beachfront Media, which provides mobile and web-based technologies and tools to tie advertising to video programming and measure its effectiveness.

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