How Newspapers Can Grab a Piece of the Pie Before It’s All Eaten.
The combination of social networking, user-generated content and online videos is driving the next great Internet land grab.
Every week there’s yet another startup or new service being launched. And while YouTube won the initial race out the gate, jumping from nowhere to become a top 30 site in just six months, newspapers are determined not to be left in the dust again.
But while everybody wants YouTube’s audience, nobody wants the headaches associated with completely uncontrolled content because while YouTube is incredibly popular with viewers, it’s viewed with skepticism by most advertisers. Many advertisers don’t want to be caught dead on YouTube due to the mix of pirated videos, porn and other unseemly stuff on the site.
So what can newspapers do to ride the consumer-generated video wave without getting pummeled in the process?
- Understand the benefits and drawbacks of the existing sites for viewers and advertisers alike.
- Make a conscious transition from being strictly content creators to become local communication facilitators.
- Create new channels to capture and share the best content from around the country and world, e.g. similar to the Associated Press or ESPN but for user –generated content.
- Integrate, don’t segregate. Video needs to be integrated directly into existing sections.
- Experiment. Create new sections and new services to test what types of videos people want to share and whether they’ll pay to place or see them.
The Problems with User-Generated Sites
YouTube and MySpace are basically miniature microcosms of the Web – for better and worse. Anybody can publish anything with basically no oversight. As a result, 80% of the content is of little interest to people outside the creator’s immediate circle of friends.
On the flip side, 20% of a million videos or more is a lot of great content! But how do you find it? Friends can email or instant message you the links. And the sites have crude tools and categories to sort the content and try to bubble up the best/most popular videos to the top – but if you want to easily find the video of your most recent local high school football game, good luck.
And even when you do find it, the videos lack context. Maybe you’ll find a wedding video next to a football video next to a Nazi video next to whatever… Which is both unappealing from a user experience and an advertiser’s perspective.
Can you imagine if how many heads would roll if a McDonald’s ad appeared on a neo-Nazi video? Advertisers want the audience but they also want to ensure their brands are enhanced not damaged.
Plus while search is the dominant model for finding specific items you already knew you wanted to find, browsing is the dominant way people interact with editorial content. After all, a big part of what people expect from newspapers and magazines is the quality of the content and the information architecture.
Why local Newspapers have an advantage
Newspapers, after having been left in the dust by Yahoo!, Google and others in the race to attract eyeballs and monetize the Web, have the perfect opportunity to leverage their core competencies and extend their existing business models to dominate key aspects of the video market.
So what do newspapers have that YouTube, MySpace and others don’t?
1. A controlled environment. Nothing gets published without being screened for quality, content and context and that appeals to advertisers and audience members.
2. Strong local brands with a well-trained audience. In other words, the audience knows exactly where to look to find what they want.
So while anybody can publish anything on YouTube under any category, nobody can publish anything on a news site without it being reviewed for quality and appropriateness of the content and placed in the correct category.
Readers know exactly where to look for specific categories, e.g. local high school sports’ scores are in the high school sports section of the sports pages.
As a reader, this makes it very easy to find what you want. And since everything that appears within the site is prescreened, readers don’t have to worry about having to search through the garbage to find the occasional diamonds. And advertisers don’t have to worry about their brand being associated with neo-Nazi content.
Newspapers, while no longer the sole source of local information, are still viewed by the majority as the source of record. And while it’s great to appear on YouTube or a blog, appearing in a newspaper.com provides a level of instant validation that non-traditional sites can’t.
As a result, newspapers are well positioned to leverage their existing structures to provide a safe, controlled high-quality user experience integrating user-generated, studio and staff videos.
High school sports are immensely popular – and at every game there is either a student, staff member or parent video taping the event. Currently, the creators can post their video on YouTube or burn DVDs for sharing with friends.
Wouldn’t it be great if the video could be uploaded to the newspaper site and have a link to the video placed next to the score or embedded with the story?
While the unedited video, might not be great and only a small percentage may be interested in watching the entire game from start to finish, a higher percentage would want to see the highlights.
A video editor could easily create a highlights clip featuring only the best moments. Instead of having to invest significant time and expense actually filming the game, the newspaper only has to pay for someone to edit the video.
Once the editing is done, links to the video can be easily placed next to the box scores or wherever appropriate, so readers could quickly and easily find high-quality videos from the game.
The mix of user-generated content with the newspaper’s professionalism and existing infrastructure should enable newspaper sites to quickly become the dominant player for local events.
Of course the key to profitability and audience growth and retention is to make sure the cream floats to the top. After all, while only a small percentage may be interested in any specific sports contest, people are always interested in the most exciting or unusual play of the day/week.
However, unlike the news which has a fixed viewing time, online videos can be seen at anytime, so in order to take advantage of both timeliness and timelessness, viewers should be allowed to vote for a video or play of the week, month and year at a local, regional and national level – thereby increasing interest and audience.
As Tom Mohr, the President of Knight Ridder Digital, pointed out in his speech at the 2006 Interactive Media Conference in Vegas is that newspapers need to put the network effect to compete with the Google’s and YouTube’s of the world. By creating “channels” to share the best local content, newspapers can leverage their millions of readers and thousands of employees to create and filter up the best user-generated content.
Think of the success and excitement associated with American Idol. The same competitive angle could be used to build a national competition for the Best Play of the Week, Month and Year, whereby the videos make their way through a series of local and regional competitions.
Like anything else, the logistics and details need to be worked out – but done right it would give young people a reason to visit their local newspaper site to view and vote for the best video – and create a steady stream of great videos for casual viewers and fanatics alike to view.
From Tornadoes to Tsunamis, Rodney King to the London Bombings many of the most dramatic news video from the last two decades has come from the general public armed with video cams.
Given the astronomic growth in portability and quantity of digital video cameras, it’s inevitable that the most dramatic news footage of unexpected events will come from the public.
As a result, newspapers need to make it easy for people to submit video of potentially newsworthy events. And just as newspapers check the wire for stories, they’ll need to be constantly on the look out for user-generated news video and photos.
It’s impossible for newspapers to possibly capture all the damage and effects from storms and other natural catastrophes using only staff reporters. Instead newspapers can supplement their coverage with user videos enabling them to provide more micro level coverage and generating additional ad dollars from the increased content.
And rather than wait for the big event, newspapers need to begin creating policies and encouraging video and photo submissions as an every day event so that they’re not overwhelmed in a crisis.
As a reporter and editor/publisher, I knew it was impossible to cover every event due to staff and space constraints. Yet as a resident and event organizer, I know how important that validation from the mainstream media is.
One event in particular stands out in my mind. A friend’s mom owned a bridal shop in Cypress Park, a scruffy section of Los Angeles plagued by gang violence and graffiti. However, rather than give in to the urban decay, she and other local business owners created a little chamber of commerce and worked together to clean up the area. One of their first big successes was a community parade and fair.
While the event was huge for the dozens of people that organized the event and fun for the several thousand in attendance, it wasn’t big enough to even warrant a mention in the Los Angeles Times or any of the local TV stations. I keenly remember the sense of disappointment and almost sense of betrayal the organizers felt – because like it or not, people rely on the media to validate their efforts.
At the time I was a semi-professional photographer and took dozens of photos – but while I gave the group a set of prints to pass around, what they really wanted was to have them posted someplace publicly to highlight their achievements. If I had have been able to post them on the LA Times Web site for everyone to see, the newspaper would have gotten credit for “covering” the event, additional traffic and good will.
Rather than creating the content, the newspaper becomes the facilitator for community content – providing space, context, quality control and the tools for organizations to tell and share their stories.
While privacy was paramount for previous generations, the new generation is all about exposing itself to the world. Even Vegas, where supposedly what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas, has multiple Web cams for people to expose themselves to the world.
As a result, newspapers should be creating sections for people to post and share their photos and videos of their births, birthdays, weddings, funerals and other passage events.
Again, while YouTube is easy to use, good luck scanning the site to find videos and photos of local weddings and other “personal” events. Plus there’s something special about having your photos and video on an “official” site, and maybe even have it featured on the site.
The comics have been one of the newspaper staples, and while I still love Doonesbury and Dagwood, I probably spend more time looking at the latest funny videos friends email me. While realistically, newspapers will never own the “funnies” category on the Internet, they can certainly begin capturing a little piece of the pie by partnering with video providers to create a “comics” section on their Web site.
Again the key is quality and consistency so your audience knows they can find great clips on your Web site without having to troll the Web for great stuff.
Classifieds and local advertising
Real estate agents pioneered the concept of the online video ad many years ago. Now that digital cameras and videos are cheap multiple start-ups and some newspapers are beginning to offer video classifieds.
Video classifieds can be used for everything from cars to restaurants. While adding video to the traditional real estate and car classifieds is a no brainer, newspapers need to think about how to integrate video ads for restaurants, hotels and other entertainment venues, where the customer experience is key.
The question for newspapers is where does the news content end and the ads begin? For example, is it appropriate to have a link from a restaurant review to the restaurant video ad? And as newspapers begin incorporating more staff-generated video into the mix, will some restaurants be featured in video segments as part of the article while others will be paid advertisements?
Given how hot online video is, if newspapers don’t provide an easy-to-use solution and resources for potential advertisers, they will go elsewhere, and fast.
One of the keys will be to provide local advertisers a one-stop solution that incorporates both the video, video editing and hosting. Newspapers and magazines have provided in house design staff for local advertisers for years – and now they need to quickly ramp up to provide the same. Otherwise they will lose the business to the mom-and-pop videographer/designers and startups.
The Technology & Business Models
Until recently, if newspapers wanted to display videos on their site, they would have had to buy all the hardware and software. Now there are a number of new start ups, with more launching weekly, that will provide hosted video solutions.
While most of the new start ups are focused on creating destination sites ala YouTube, others are building private label services for existing brands. Given the popularity of online video advertising with advertisers and the lack of suitable ad space, several actually provide the service for free, find the advertisers to pay for the video and will share a percentage of the ad revenue with their partners.
Online video will evolve dramatically over the next several years, which is why it’s critical not to get locked into any service or technology that won’t allow you to easily transition your content from one provider or format to another.
And while Microsoft, Real Networks and Apple were the early developers of online video players, Flash currently has the dominant market share, is truly cross platform and plays seamlessly within both Internet Explorer and Firefox, the two dominant browsers.
So while YouTube may have leapt to an early lead, given the number of solution providers, demand from advertisers for controlled content and audience desire for local content, newspapers have a great opportunity to dominate many segments of the online video market – but they need to act before someone else gets there first.
Read “Transforming Old Articles into New Revenue” about how newspaper could put generate readership and revenue from their archives for ver low cost.
Kevin Mireles helps online publishers and their technology vendors boost readership and revenue by developing new product strategies that use the Internet to create and connect communities. Kevin is a former reporter with over nine years experience developing, managing and marketing Web products.
To find out how he can help your organization, contact him directly at 858 337-2727 or Kevin@kevinmireles.com.