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Dec. 9, 2008, 8:02 a.m.

TPM sees dollars in online video

It’s hard to fathom now, but Talking Points Memo didn’t formally introduce video until February 2007, when founder Josh Marshall, looking a little like a Ph.D. in the headlights, responded to President Bush’s state of the union address and invited viewers to do the same. Watching that relic today, now that TPM is a top news channel on YouTube, it’s striking how quickly video has become a vital component of the site: two shows each weekday with over 14 million video streams at the height of the presidential campaign in October.

TPMtv reached a new milestone last week with the rollout of its first in-house video ad sale, part of a broader sponsorship deal with HBO. TPM had already been sharing revenue with YouTube for overlay ads, but last week’s ad, which ran briefly before and for 15 seconds following most videos, is likely to be far more valuable. It represents a new tack by TPM’s small advertising team to compete with the larger news sites whose traffic they now rival. (Yesterday the company began searching for a director of ad sales.)

I’m focusing on TPM’s business model in this post and one last Tuesday because I think their steady growth from blogger-with-a-day-job to a profitable, 14-person news organization could have broader implications for journalism on the Internet. TPM Media LLC is a rare news company whose entire business has grown up around the web economy. The site has also found success with online video in ways that outstrip most newspaper sites.

TPM dropped its deal with NextNew Network‘s Veracifier blog in September and launched its own YouTube channel the following month. Those videos typically appear with an overlay ad along the bottom, and TPM takes a cut of revenue. But that’s not where the real money is.

Though details are scarce, some number-crunching by NewTeeVee and Silicon Alley Insider in April found that YouTube charges, at best, $1 per thousand views. (Others have reported a higher CPM.) The percentage that YouTube passes on to its partners can vary, and TPM won’t disclose how much it gets, but we’re not talking about very much money.

The valuable ads are the ones TPM can sell itself. They’ll be running those in a Blip player, which allows TPM Media to retain nearly all of the revenue. Last week’s ad promoted “House of Saddam,” a miniseries on HBO, which also took out the inaugural ad on The Daily Beast last week.

I talked with Andrew Golis, deputy publisher of TPM Media, about the site’s business plans. Regarding the risk of annoying TPM’s loyal audience with video ads, Golis said, “I think that we’ll try to keep things kind of quick and unobtrusive. I don’t think we have any interest in forcing people to watch 30 seconds or a minute.” We’ll hold you to that!

Golis said TPM would continue to post all of its videos on YouTube, regardless of whether they also run with ads on Blip. “We have an organic, YouTube-based audience,” he said, which generates 5,000 to 10,000 streams per video. Most viewing, however, is done at the main site, where TPM posts occasional clips from the day’s political news along with an episode of TPMtv and a new feature, “The Day in 100 Seconds.”

Last week, TPM began running the first of several year-end videos. The site has also posted occasional video interviews, including a trippy one last week with political operative Roger Stone that is worth watching just for the image of Richard Nixon looming over’s Stone’s oddly cropped torso. It looks like the video was directed by David Lynch with a webcam.

Golis wouldn’t discuss what kind of revenue these video ads could generate. “We’ve made good money through our video content through the course of the fall,” he said. “But the money is not really our focus.” Development is the focus. He pointed to “The Day in 100 Seconds,” which collates the best clips from cable news to quickly summarize the day in politics, as a feature that emerged out of — and because of — the YouTube medium:

Our hope is that we can stay ahead of the curve in terms of developing, not really the technology but the types of editorial products that are building on whatever new technology is out there…. We think we will transfer well, for instance, into mobile.

For more on the value of video advertising, see this post at Eat Sleep Publish, which highlights a Forrester Consulting study about “engaged viewers” (those who watch more than an hour of online video a week). The study was produced for web video company Veoh Networks, so I’ll take it with a grain of salt, but the upshot is that engaged viewers are more likely to recall ads than non-engaged viewers. That’s not exactly revelatory, but it could be good news for sites like TPM that cater to a lot of video junkies.

POSTED     Dec. 9, 2008, 8:02 a.m.
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