Nieman Foundation at Harvard
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March 18, 2010, 1 p.m.

The Newsonomics of emerging news video

[Each week, our friend Ken Doctor — author of Newsonomics and longtime watcher of the business side of digital news — writes about the economics of the news business for the Lab.]

The New York Times. Video. Three years ago, that seemed like an oxymoron, save the Times’ occasional forays into TV experiments. Now, Times TV pops up in front of us on airplane TVs and news video has become an emerging feature of Times sites. As Apple and NYT staffers plot behind closed doors in the Times building, we can expect that Times video will be a key element of the iPad NYT launch.

Behind what we see, though, are some critical developments in processing of digital video, the behind-the-scenes heavy lifting that often determines time-to-market, and business failure or success.

We can get a glimpse into that with the Times’ recently announced deal with Thought Equity Motion (TEM). Founded in 2003, the company now has an impressive list of customers: BBC, CBS (the current NCAA Vault, a March Madness-related product was co-produced with TEM), NBC and Japan’s NHK, among more than a dozen top brands in total. The New York Times, importantly, is the company’s first newspaper client.

Before we look at what TEM does for these companies, consider two big numbers here: 10.5 million hours and 10 percent.

The 10.5 million hours is the number of hours of video content contracted by TEM, under its management. The 10 percent: that’s all it has been able to get to, so far.

So, look at how early we in this news video business. Most of what will be out there in the digital world — on our phones, tablets, desktops and laptops — isn’t out there yet, but will be over the next several years. It may take mid-2011, robust 4G networks to power our daily video usage, but it’s clear where this movie is headed.

What TEM does for content producers is make their assets more easily usable in the digital world.

It’s no surprise that broadcasters have lots of moving pictures, but the “film” has not been easy to make readily accessible for web use and monetization. First off, there are formatting issues — TEM does transcoding and digitization here. Then there are issues of knowing what’s in the video: Try finding video through search now, and it’s still far more limited than finding text. That’s a matter of tagging and metatagging, categorizing content to harvest the many keywords within. That takes some speech-to-text technology, a still-evolving art. Then you’ve got rights management and all the little things you have to do to make video commercially, contextually, and instantly available. All of that is what TEM calls “Managed Services.”

For the Times, it’s not a matter of harvesting decades of archived film; it’s about making the most of its last three years of a video push. The Newsonomics are these:

  • Make more licensing income off the video. The New York Times Syndicate has long been a high-margin revenue source for the company. Now, with a growing stockpile of video content, it can better manage a new line of licensed content. Think PR usage, think ads, think movies, think other news websites. The key here is having the news video accessible and discoverable. As TEM CEO Kevin Schaff told me, “We’re going after speed-to-context.”
  • Better usage of companies’ own produced video (and partnered video) on their own websites, apps, and tablets. Video still produces among the highest effective ad prices, well into the double digits for premium brands. If a site can present more of it, relevantly and prominently, that’s more good inventory to sell. With video keywords more available — TEM is now testing ad matching with Google — more targeted advertising means more revenue.
  • Put your content into new marketplaces. There have been numerous attempts to create first-generation video syndication marketplaces (Clip Syndicate, Grab Networks, Mochila, and more), some of which were too early for the technologies and viewer adoption curves. New ones will develop — TEM is among those developing one — and whichever get traction off new commercial opportunities for those companies that are ready to exploit them.

Lastly, the outsourcing here is essential. News companies are in learning mode — what is it they do best?; what do they leave to others. In this case, the Times and others are applying my Newsonomics Law #9: Apply the 10 Percent Rule, the heavy lifting of journalism can be aided and abetted by smart use of technology.

Video is in the air — C-SPAN’s release of its volumimous archives reenforces that notion — but as usual, it’s the less-glamorous, behind-the-scenes work that will separate the winners from the companies stuck in text mode.

POSTED     March 18, 2010, 1 p.m.
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