Interested in the business of high-quality web video? There’s a lot of good stuff from Washington Post video GM Steven Schiffman in this Beet.TV interview about the Post’s broad-strokes strategy for the business side of video.
But maybe the most interesting piece is an idea Schiffman keeps coming back to: For video to be a really significant business for someone like the Post, the key missing ingredient is scale, both in number of videos produced and in number of viewers watching them.
Scale matters both because of the obvious CPM math — More Viewers = More Ad Impressions = More $$$ — and because many potential advertisers won’t bother to engage with a video publisher until the number of eyeballs it can offer reaches critical mass. And individual news organizations, even very good ones like the Post, have trouble producing enough videos and views to matter to advertisers. After hiring more than 30 new journalists to produce video and building a separate video brand, the Post now gets about 5 million video views a month. But as Schiffman says:
Right now, four or five million video starts — even 10, even 20 million monthly video starts is still not enough to make this a vibrant business for premium publishers to do what they need to do to create the type of content in the ecosystem.
So if you need scale, how do you get it? Schiffman throws out a few ideas, but he returns twice to the idea of a video consortium among top publishers:
Perhaps premium publishers, rather than going through very large aggregators, can create consortiums amongst themselves and work together to build aggregate news brands, in the case of The Washington Post and other premium publishers. That’s one idea.
There’s an opportunity to potentially partner with what might be seen in other industries as a competitor, where other premium publishers along with The Washington Post could band together and create a service that potentially could be very competitive and very valuable to media buyers and advertisers.
In other words, imagine if the Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Time Inc., and other top publishers decided to create a new unified, separate brand for all the high-quality video they produce. Videos could appear under that separate umbrella — what Hulu was for the networks whose content fed it — and they could also appear on publishers’ individual websites. So a great Times video could appear on washingtonpost.com and vice versa.
Maybe then you could then syndicate that total package to other, smaller news sites, with an ad rev share. The potential result would be more good video reaching more people, a pathway to much larger scale, and a way to increase time-on-site across all member publishers’ sites.
That’s an interesting idea! There’d be any number of hurdles to deal with — industry egos not least among them. Business ideas that can be pitched as “Hulu for X” or “iTunes for Y” don’t have the best track record. Other companies, like Watchup, are playing in the same territory; the CIR-led I Files tries do something similar in spirit, but limited to investigative reporting and hard news and set up as a YouTube channel rather than as an independent.
But Schiffman is talking about a very real problem: Producing quality video takes investments in staff and time, and getting people to watch the final product hasn’t been as successful as most news brands would like. If you want to improve the return on that investment, you need eyeballs, and it might be time to think of some nontraditional routes there.