Lessons From the Leaders: What it Takes to Make Digital Video a Success

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Video is on the tip of every publisher’s tongue these days. And for good reason: Advertisers want it. Still, video is complex and not necessarily for everyone-at least not right away. That is, there’s no disputing that the medium has arrived but what’s still debatable is the value proposition for brands without scale.

Sure consumption is continuing to grow, and there’s no doubt that video is boosting CPMs, but there’s a lot more to it than producing, posting and collecting revenue. Video is a big undertaking and one that brands are investing a lot of resources into.

In fact, when you look around at some of the major players in media, their models emulate television more than publishing. Take The Huffington Post for example; with its HuffPost Live vertical that broadcasts in a fashion not unlike cable news. Hearst Magazine’s Esquire, on the other hand, took its video strategy a step further and launched its own TV network-a considerably more complicated route.

Then there are two other media powerhouses that have somewhat similar approaches, Time Inc. and Condé Nast. Both companies are building video portals across their entire stable of brands while also centralizing their best content into one place, almost similar to a television network.

J.R. McCabe, senior vice president of video at Time Inc. implies that the strategy is a no-brainer. “We are positioning our brands to thrive within their individual competitive sets while also expanding the entire video portfolio,” he says. “You could think of it as a network of sorts, but we think of the Daily Cut as product meets platform, where our most watched and shared video content is easily found in one place-regardless of device-and with it the necessary UX that consumers today demand.”

The sentiment isn’t much different at Condé Nast Entertainment, the division that’s chiefly responsible for delivering digital video content for its magazines and media brands. According to Michael Klein, executive vice president of programming and strategy at CNE, The Scene is a hub for Condé’s best video content, but he says there’s additional upside to the curated platform. “It provides an opportunity for somebody who may be coming in through a specific channel to find likeminded content from some place they might not have gone before.”

So the big question is: Can small brands replicate these models easily? The simple answer is probably not, but that doesn’t mean video is off the table either. Nevertheless, it’s essential to consider four fundamental pillars for an effective strategy: audience, infrastructure, content and scale. Without these, your video efforts might be a waste of time and money.

Audience
If an audience isn’t hungry for video then advertising partners likely won’t be all that thrilled to buy in. “Our ad partners want us to show them that their ad messages will be delivered in a quality environment, alongside quality content and have an impact,” McCabe says.
Klein, too, believes that video requires an audience-first approach, and says that advertisers are emphasizing the importance of engagement. He also stresses how critical listening is. “It’s a two-way conversation that helps shape the story,” he says. “That dialogue makes what we do better. You can imagine why advertisers would want to be part of that conversation.”

So if you don’t have a feedback loop established with your audience, you might not be ready to roll out video just yet.

Infrastructure
Launching a competitive video program requires more than some light fixed costs like a camera, software and other accessories. It requires an organizational restructuring with major investments. “Any time you’re creating something on another platform investment is critical,” Klein says. “With advances in tech and the amount of talent out there, people can determine based on what resources they have available what they can put behind it.”

Look no further than Time Inc. as a prime example. McCabe says the company is “making a significant commitment to video development.” To elaborate, Time Inc. has built out a dedicated infrastructure in New York, while adding production staffs and additional resources across the entire company. Plus McCabe says that investment and development is an ongoing process.

In addition to having the liquid capital to invest in video, both companies are also optimizing synergies they’ve developed with Hollywood studios and TV production companies. Obviously not a tactic all publishers can execute.

Content
How many times have you heard someone say his or her brand’s secret sauce is “quality content?” It should go without saying that your topline objective should be developing quality content. But what does that mean in the video space?

The answer reverts back to audience and the engagement advertisers are seeking. In other words, if your audience is consuming and engaging with your video then you are making good on quality.

Of course, the real question is: How do you get there?

If you know why your audience is coming to you then you are halfway there, but in terms of form, McCabe and Klein point out some categories that are especially excelling as video content-comedy, long form, how to and music.

Another thing to keep in mind is that video is still in its infancy so it’s ripe for experimentation. Klein says it’s a platform where you “get to be creative in a different way,” adding “you have the permission to play a little more.”

Scale
To increase CPMs and generate real revenue through video, scale is critical. That may seem daunting if you’re in a competitive set against a brand with a considerably larger reach, but it shouldn’t deter you.

“Look at how some of the greatest stories started- ideas in a garage that became huge,” McCabe says. “It certainly is harder for smaller brands that don’t initially own the brand equity to stand out, but that doesn’t mean they can’t compete. In fact, necessity still is the mother of invention and with the immediacy to market and social tools at anyone’s disposal today, anything is possible.”

Video will continue to evolve and gobble up ad spend. While there is tremendous opportunity in the space, there are also huge obstacles. No doubt there are several uncertainties ahead, but publishers can count on this: Keeping up and staying ahead will require resources and agility.

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