Online video is the future. What does it mean for news publishers and journalists?
Nicola Mendelsohn, a Facebook VP stated at a London conference that her social media platform will probably be "all video" in five years. Facebook sees a year-on-year decline on text but a massive increase in video.
What are the implications for news publishers and journalists. Should we all stop writing articles and use our smartphones to shoot news videos to get more audience an increase our revenue?
A Reuters report on online video news is quite pessimistic about the potential of video for news organisations. The report shows that only 2,5 % of the time spent on news sites is spent on video and even big news organisations such as BBC fail to get more that 10 % of their users to access video while visiting the news site.
Juicy videos, gossip, celebrity posts, health and beauty tips and even cooking recipes are popular and score some interest on news sites. Sports video works as well and of course cats, dogs and babies seem to be a magnet for audience. But a cute dog or an "oops" moment of a celebrity are not hard news and should not be a part of the editorial focus of any serious news organisation.
When it comes down to hard news, it looks like there is almost no demand for the video format: the Reuters Institute's Digital News Report 2016 learns us that only 24 % of the news site visitors access news videos in a given week. An increase of 1 % compared to last year.
The report also indicates what the main barriers are to using news videos.
41 % of the respondents find reading quicker and more convenient that watching a news video. That must be good news for journalists. Text is far from finished and news organisations should continue to invest in quality journalism and maintain the focus on written news stories.
The second barrier must be bad news for news organisations. Most of them invest strongly in video technology and production and have more than doubled their video postings. The business model that encourages them to take this step is based on pre-roll ads. 35 % of the readers - not viewers - say this tends to put them off. Facebook does not allow pre-rolls in the news feed and a 30 seconds pre-roll for a short news video generates a clickthrough rate of 0,5 %. Maybe advertisers like it, but customers seem to hate push advertisements more than in the past and a sustainable business model should take their needs into consideration. Maybe shorter pre-rolls of about 5 seconds could help to create less friction and it might even help to get the message through since more than 90 % of the viewers are primed to click the "Skip Ad" button the very millisecond it appears on screen. Another alternative is native ad videos. The viewer is not forced to watch the ad but chooses to watch it and although the cost per view is about double compared to pre-rolls, the clickthrough rate is over ten times higher. News companies who invest in video could opt for a healthy mix of juicy videos, hard news videos and native ad videos. It would be just like what newspapers do: a mix of soft news, hard news and ads.
To make the offer of hard news video attractive, news organisations should focus on breaking news. After the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris, the interest in news video doubled for a few days. The News Agency Belga has a strong focus on breaking news videos. Short footage items - called iRushes - of breaking news events are the most successful features. Belga did an exclusive footage of the assault on the Brussels police superintendent at a union manifestation, the News Agency covered the incident of a cyclist being hit by the cars of two different Belgian ministers in a row, and Belga hired a helicopter to shoot the train accident in Saint-Georges sur Meuse from the sky.
As a national News Agency, Belga realises that video will become a more important part of the news offer in the next years, but it will not replace text as the dominant format for information. News brands want a strong quality mix of text, images and video and will have to focus on trustworthiness and quality for all relevant formats. Video will not disrupt the business model of the news media, but it might improve the overall experience of consuming news and even help to attract new customers to the legacy news brand.