Existential crises aren't new to the publishing world. With every new revenue model: (native ads and recommendation widgets), distribution channel (Facebook and Snapchat) and content style (BuzzFeed and Gawker), online media outlets of all stripes scramble to find the sweet spot between revenue and reach.
Video is one recent shiny object that lured in publishers. Traffic is the lifeblood of any media outlet, and a lot of publishers jumped into video because it seemed like an easy path to boost engagement. For many however, video as a revenue model ultimately became a precarious house of cards.
This isn't to say video is a losing proposition for everyone. Video's visceral nature and mobile-friendly format makes it powerful and attractive to advertisers. Many publishers with roots in TV made it work. Others, even large media companies invested a lot of time and money (billions of dollars in the case of Yahoo!) to create and syndicate video content only to flounder in the end.
The truth is that video didn't work out for many as expected. This is especially true for middle-of-the-pack publishers that focus more on print content and don't benefit from the cushion of subscription revenue. New channels like
Facebook Live and "Instant Articles" seemed like an attractive draw for audience reach, but offered publishers little to no revenue.
With this reality check, here are a few ideas to help ensure you're not building a house of cards (with video or whatever popular content format comes next for publishers).
Embrace what works with your creative process
The best path for success is to stay true to your brand and think about what provides value for your readers by incorporating content into your existing workflow and creative process. Yes, it's challenging to compete with only text-based content in an age where many people get their news through social media. But chasing video 'just because' isn't a winning strategy if it doesn't align with, or at least extend naturally from the way you already successfully create and present content. Coming from the content recommendation business, I saw a lot of publishers lose trust by embracing content that was off-kilter to their existing content and audience.
Invest in content end-to-end, not as an add-on It's only natural for publishers to seek ways to supplement text articles. Audio is something some are experimenting with - from hosting podcasts, as many tech and media blogs now do, to integrating audio clips right into articles like the NY Times. Still, many publishers lack resources for traditional podcasting, and making audio more social is a challenge many are trying to solve.
In the race to to garner video views, some publishers without the resources to create high-quality videos have resorted to technology that automatically generates videos to accompany every article - sometimes pumping out hundreds per day. These videos may be a good fit for some, but for others, the low quality comes across as gimmicky and not worthy of the associated content.
Since good audio content is still relatively easier to create than video, it's a more viable way for many publishers to create content worth presenting to readers. Sure, audio could also be tacked on as an afterthought (a recorded voice reading an article isn't exactly compelling content). The point is that whatever the medium used, publishers shouldn't create content just for the sake of adding something to an article.
Calculate and understand your content ROI A lot of the failure in video was caused by publishers rushing into things without truly understanding the ROI behind producing high-quality compelling videos that actually add value to their digital presence. It was a land grab where the cost of mining the gold far outweighed the financial return of the end product.
For CNN and others already in the business of shooting and producing video for TV, adding or recreating compelling video for their online presence was much more economical than it was for other publishers - both large and small.
While a lot of this is hindsight, and it's easy to talk about failure after the fact, publishers should think carefully about the cost and effort to produce content (or look to the efforts and results of others) before diving headfirst into any new channel, revenue model, or content.
This is true for whatever's next for publishers after the video fallout. As media outlets continue experiment with audio, ecommerce, and the next wave of things like virtual/augmented reality, my advice to publishers is the same as it was back when I ran a content recommendation company: no matter what you do, always stay true to your brand, values and audience.
About the Author Neil Mody is CEO and co-founder of
SpareMin. Prior to SpareMin, he was co-founder and CEO of nRelate, a content recommendation company that IAC acquired. Previously, Neil spent several years as an independent software consultant and was a part of the technology group at McKinsey & Company. He holds master's degrees from Columbia University and New York University.