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June 20, 2024, 11:37 a.m.
Audience & Social

Is the news industry ready for another pivot to video?

Aggregate data from 47 countries shows all the growth in platform news use coming from video or video-led networks.

Seven or eight years ago much of the news industry lost its head over a supposed “pivot to video” after Facebook pushed live and other formats with the promise of monetization to come. That didn’t work out so well for publishers, many of whom had hired expensive video teams and found they had to row back after interest waned.

But now social platforms are going “all-in” on video again as they increasingly compete with each other for attention in a more fragmented and uncertain landscape. Platforms like TikTok have revitalized shorter formats, forcing YouTube and Meta to radically change their own product-sets, while X (Twitter) is apparently now a video-first network focussing on incentivizing creators and making it harder for publishers to drive referrals back to their news sites.

The Digital News Report 2024 from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, published this week, documents the impact of some of these changes on audience consumption and finds that, this time around, [whisper it] the shift to video may be more lasting and more significant than many expect.

Aggregate data from 47 countries shows all the growth in platform news use coming from video or video-led networks such as YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram while legacy networks such as Facebook are becoming less important. This is particularly the case in countries outside the U.S. and Europe, where video consumption is growing fastest amongst young populations as data charges fall. YouTube is used for news by almost 31% of our global sample weekly, and in countries such as India and South Africa around half our survey sample say use the platform for news.

Meanwhile, TikTok news usage (13%) has overtaken X (10%) for the first time in aggregate also with much higher usage in parts of the Global South and among younger consumers. The growing reach of TikTok and other youth-orientated networks has not escaped the attention of politicians who have incorporated it into their media campaigns. Argentina’s new populist president, Javier Milei, runs a successful TikTok account with more than 2 million followers while the new Indonesian president, Prabowo Subianto, swept to victory in February using a social media campaign featuring AI-generated images, rebranding the former hard-line general as a cute and charming dancing grandpa.

By contrast, publishers have been slow to adopt TikTok in part due security concerns, in part because of the limited referral and monetization opportunities, but this has left a gap where our research finds that users of TikTok (and other newer platforms) tend to tend to pay more attention to social media influencers and celebrities than they do to journalists or media companies when it comes to news topics. This is in contrast to legacy social networks such as Facebook and Twitter/X, where news organisations still attract most attention and lead conversations. In this year’s report we document the rise of a new generation of news creators such as France’s Hugo Décrypte, 27, who produces explainer videos on TikTok and YouTube and was cited by survey respondents more often than legacy publishers Le Monde or Le Figaro. Jack Kelly’s TLDR brand in the U.K. and Vitus Spehar’s “Under the Desk” TikTok account in the U.S. are also popular with younger consumers.

Other well-cited video news creators include outspoken politics hosts such as Tucker Carlson, Megyn Kelly, and Don Lemon in the United States and Piers Morgan in the U.K., who have embraced online streaming after leaving — or being forced out of — traditional TV outlets.

We also found a number of accounts sharing videos about the wars in Gaza and Ukraine. With mainstream news access restricted, young social media influencers in Gaza, Yemen, and elsewhere have been filling in the gaps — documenting the often brutal realities of life on the ground. Because these videos are posted by many different accounts and ordinary people, it is hard to quantify the impact, but our methodology does pick up a few individual influencer accounts as well as campaigning groups that pull together footage from across social media. As one example, the Instagram account Eye on Palestine appears in our data across a number of countries. The account says it brings “the sounds and images that official media does not show.”

Motivations for using social video

In analyzing open survey comments, we found three core reasons why audiences are attracted to video and other content in social and video platforms.

First, respondents, including many younger ones, say the comparatively unfiltered nature of much of the coverage makes it come across as more trustworthy and authentic than traditional media. “I like the videos that were taken by an innocent bystander,” says one. “These videos are unedited and there is no bias or political spin.” There is an enduring belief that videos are harder to falsify, while enabling people to make up their own mind, even as the development of AI may lead more people to question them.

Second, people talk about the convenience of having news served to you on a platform where you already spend time, which knows your interests, and where “the algorithm feeds suggestions based on previous viewing.” Third, social video platforms are valued for the different perspectives they bring. For some people that meant a partisan perspective that aligns with their interests, but for others it related to the greater depth around a personal passion or a wider range of topics to explore.

“I can find something on nearly any topic, many different worldviews and perspectives, long videos for deep-dives, short form for a quick look, and everything in between,” one 23-year-old woman in the U.S. told us.

Short news videos are accessed by 66% of our global sample each week, with longer formats attracting around half (51%). But the main focus of news video consumption is online platforms (72%) such as YouTube rather than publisher websites (22%), increasing the challenges around monetization. Only in countries such as Norway do we find that a significant proportion of users (45%) that say their main video consumption is via websites, a reflection of the strength of brands in that market, a commitment to a good user experience, and a strategy that restricts the number of publisher videos that are posted to platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

This shift raises some familiar dilemmas for news publishers. How can they take advantage of a format that can engage audiences in powerful ways, including sought after younger ones, while developing meaningful relationships — and businesses — on someone else’s platform? Pushing further into video could play into the hands of these big tech aggregators, fixing their own attention issues while further weakening direct news connections. Beyond this, building video skills and adapting storytelling to these new formats is proving a stretch for many traditional newsrooms still rooted in a text-based culture. Video is not going to replace text anytime soon, but our research shows that consumers are adopting it fast because it is easy to use, and provides a wide range of relevant and engaging content. This second pivot to video may yet prove to be more meaningful than the last.

Nic Newman is a senior research associate at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism and is lead author of the Digital News Report, 2012–2024.

POSTED     June 20, 2024, 11:37 a.m.
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