In the past months, waves of writers have been hit by layoffs as one digital media outlet after another has decided to make the shift to focus on video.
While legacy publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post invest in video teams, often at the expense of veteran print staff, young digital brands aimed at a Millennial demographic such as MTV News, Mashable, Vocativ, Vice and, most recently, Mic News — which let go of 25 staffers earlier this month — are repositioning completely. In fact, the move has become so common that the term “pivot to video” is something of an in-joke among media insiders.
The reason is simple: They are following the advertising money. At a time when print is in a continued decline and digital ads fetch less and less revenue, video, increasingly popular on platforms, is getting too lucrative to ignore.
“Visual journalism already makes up 75 percent of the time that our audiences spend with Mic,” the company’s cofounder and chief executive officer Chris Altchek said in an August staff memo. “As new platforms emerge and existing platforms continue to grow, we believe this will become a dominant form of news consumption.”
According to Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal who specializes in the advertising, media and Internet sectors, publishers may be hoping to compete with TV for advertising budgets but, more realistically, video ads will bring in more money from the existing digital budgets — meaning they can charge higher rates for video than for static display ads.
“They are really, for the most part, competing for digital budgets. This is just the next iteration — from a simple display ad to a rich media ad to a video ad,” Wieser said. “It doesn’t grow the market. It just changes the shares.”
Lost in all of this talk of pivots and fatter advertising budgets is the question of whether consumers actually want to watch all this video.
A recent report from Reuters Institute on worldwide digital news trends found that “across all markets, over two-thirds (71 percent) say they mostly consume news in text, with 14 percent using text and video equally…Importantly, there are no significant age differences; young people also overwhelmingly prefer text.” The study found, however, that video is increasingly valued as part of a content mix.
But consumer preference may be somewhat beside the point.
Facebook, which according to the company has 2 billion monthly active users as of June 30, and Google have been enthusiastically pushing video.
On Facebook, videos that are set to play automatically, which happens 70 percent of the time, hold people’s attention for an average of 16.7 seconds. Video ads that pop up in people’s news feed are watched for an average of 5.7 seconds, Mark Rabkin, vice president of Core Ads at Facebook, wrote in a post on the site in June. That may not sound like much, but it has a lot of potential when compared with traditional static display ads, which are easy to gloss over.
“Oh, yeah, I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” Wieser said, when asked if the trend towards video content will continue. “It’s a prisoner’s dilemma.”
One that, he concluded,“doesn’t necessarily end well.”