Inside Today.com’s original digital video strategy

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While NBC’s “Today” spars with “Good Morning America” and “CBS This Morning” for morning television dominance, its digital team is forging a different path than its competitors, aiming to make Today.com more than a hub for recycled TV clips.

Under Bill Smee, executive producer of original video for NBC News Digital, Today.com has created eight original digital video series in the past 18 months. It releases one or two new videos each weekday, distributing them on Today.com as well as YouTube and Facebook. Those original videos are outnumbered by clips from “Today” — Today.com features 35 to 40 new videos clipped from the show each day — but the team is aiming to optimize the property for a digital audience, which means creating new content for the Web.

“We’re trying to create content that doesn’t look and feel like it’s coming out of television,” said Smee. “It’s informal, but direct in its approach. Each video should have a lot of practical takeaways in whatever content area it is.”

One original Today.com series is “Parental Guidance with Willie Geist,” in which the “Today” co-host doles out parental advice on topics including curfews, tech and sex. Another is “Nailing It,” a collection of brief videos that rely on text graphics to help viewers nail domestic tasks, like fixing Thanksgiving cooking fails or beard trimming. The emphasis on text over audio makes “Nailing It” ideal for Facebook, which autoplays video content without sound in users’ news feeds.

“We’re making sure the subject matter fits the delivery mechanism,” said Ashley Parrish, executive producer of Today.com.

Today.com produces some video content optimized for Facebook, where “Today” has 4.4 million likes, and other content optimized for YouTube, where it has 43,000 subscribers and 9.4 million monthly views, according to YouTube analytics platform OpenSlate. A new YouTube initiative started this week: On Monday, Today.com launched a partnership with SortedFood, where a group of British YouTubers travels across the U.S. looking for the best American food and documents the journey for Today.com.

“It’s a good example of how content begins on YouTube, gets translated to a segment on the show and has bounced back to our social audience and is creating a conversation on Twitter,” Parrish said. “Now they’ll create content which will go on our site and our YouTube channel.”

Today.com commands substantial traffic. The site attracted 27.3 million unique visitors in February, a 17 percent increase from the same period last year, according to comScore. And many of those visitors are watching video content: The site racked up more than 3 million unique video viewers on U.S. desktops alone in February. Today.com monetizes those viewers with pre-roll video ads, as well as sponsorships on its video content. Recent sponsors include Claritin, Toyota, Home Depot and Shell.

“Advertising on the ‘Today’ show and Today.com guarantees visibility amongst a key audience and ensures our clients are aligned with brand-safe content,” said Lisa Bilow, digital media director at ad agency Ogilvy Washington. “There is a level of credibility that a partner such as Today brings to the forefront, one which attracts a loyal following, national reach and generally upbeat sentiment.”

Today.com has become a safe, attractive venue for family-friendly brands looking for digital inventory and greater reach than Good Morning America’s digital properties. Jenny Schauer, associate media director at digital marketing agency Digitas, attributes that lead to a strong mobile presence and a multiplatform approach (Today.com produces written articles to supplement its video content).

“The ongoing ratings race between the ‘Today’ show and ‘Good Morning America’ continues to keep TV buyers intrigued,” said Schauer. “From a digital perspective though, Today.com is the clear winner in the space, consistently drawing in more digital viewers than ‘Good Morning America.’”

Demand for Today.com ad inventory regularly exceeds supply, according to Scott Schiller, evp for digital ad sales at NBCUniversal. But it owes much of that success to the show, even as it tries to forge an identity outside of television.

“We’ve found in the early-morning space, even more than in other news verticals, that viewers are incredibly loyal,” said Schauer. “Whether consumers are still avid ‘Today’ show viewers on-air or if they’re now turning to Today.com as their primary news source, it’s clear that the tie Today.com has to its on-air legacy is critical to the foundation of its digital success.”

Main image courtesy of The Today Show / Facebook

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