The Wall Street Journal is further deepening its commitment to online video, and in the process, helping render moot the idea of a "print-only" journalist. A memo this week from deputy managing editor and executive editor, online Alan Murray, to all news staff, unveiled the WSJ's next video initiative, "WSJ WorldStream" (full text here). The memo carries the subject line "We're all video journalists now…" and ends with Murray urging colleagues to "embrace this new opportunity."
The memo is a clear signal that journalists solely hammering out text on a keyboard no longer cuts it. More important, it indicates how the WSJ is further redefining itself from its traditional roots. It wasn't that long ago that the WSJ was a newspaper. Then, with the advent of the Internet, it became a newspaper with digital distribution. Now, with a huge push into video, it doesn't quite feel accurate to even use the term "newspaper" any longer. Rather, something along the lines of "multimedia news organization" (ok, that's too clunky) seems like a better fit.
One of the highlights of the recent VideoNuze 2012 Online Video Advertising Summit was the session with Alisa Bowen, Head of Product for Dow Jones (and formerly GM of the Wall Street Digital Network). Alisa is now responsible for all of the company's digital consumer products and had previously overseen WSJ Live, the company's burgeoning video initiative. WSJ is defying the conventional wisdom that newspapers are in inevitable decline by showing how video can help re-invent the brand and leverage existing assets.
WSJ Live has gained huge momentum since its launch last fall, and now includes 14 different original programs, totaling 100 hours per month, which generate 10.4 million streams per month and are distributed across 20 different platforms (Roku, Apple TV, Smart TVs, etc.). As Alisa explains, all of this has allowed WSJ to reach its audience in different environments, with an experience that is more aligned with users' expectations when they're using a particular device. I continue to think of WSJ Live as an outstanding template for other print publishers to follow.
Topics: WSJ Live
I've been fascinated for years with how newspapers have embraced online video to expand the scope of their businesses, redefine their identities and engage with their audiences. Yesterday I stumbled upon the latest example of how far from their print-only roots some newspapers are now moving: the NY Times has unveiled "Make Your Pitch," a contest for entrepreneurs to submit video "pitches" about their businesses to gain exposure on the paper's small-business Facebook page and to win a contributing role for its You're the Boss small business blog.
Topics: NY Times
The Wall Street Journal has launched its WSJ Live YouTube channel this morning, debuting "Off Duty" a companion video series to the popular lifestyle section in the newspaper's Weekend Journal. The WSJ Live channel is the latest addition to YouTube's 100 original channels strategy. In addition to Off Duty, the WSJ Live channel features NewsHub, Digits and Mean Street, three other on-demand/live video series that are found on the main WSJ.com site and more recently the WSJ Live iPad app.
The Journal is right on the mark with its video strategy, and is nicely demonstrating how newspapers can leverage their brands, journalists and advertising relationships into online video. There's nothing fancy about any of this video as the Journal is using cost-effective technologies like Skype and personal video cameras, plus a simple, yet functional set in its newsroom. The Digits video series would not be mistaken for broadcast journalism, but for the web, where real-time original analysis is key, it's well above the quality bar. Obviously the WSJ is a unique property, and it is complimented by other DJ resources. Still, all newspapers should be looking closely at its video strategy and applying its lessons. I've insisted for a long while that online video is anything but a death knell for print publications; the Journal is proving it in spades.
What do you think? Post a comment now (no sign-in required).
Following are 4 items worth noting for the January 18th week:
Last fall, when the WSJ first broke the news that YouTube was negotiating with a number of Hollywood studios about launching a full-blown rental store, I thought the plan was intriguing, but dubious. I argued that YouTube needed to stay focused on getting its ad model right, that it would be hard to differentiate its film rentals from those of myriad competitors and that the revenue upside for YouTube was relatively small.
I continue to believe those things and hope YouTube isn't still pursuing Hollywood dreams. That said, I do like the idea of it offering a paid option for indie and other hard-to-find video. YouTube's massive audience brings real promotional value to these often-obscure, yet high-quality titles, potentially significant revenue to their producers and for YouTube, another meaningful step away from pure UGC content. Rentals won't generate significant revenue for YouTube, but with Google executives on the company's earnings call yesterday saying that "YouTube is monetizing well," so long as it doesn't divert too many resources away from advertising, that's ok.
2. Revenue models matter, just ask the newspaper industry - This week brought news that MediaNews Group, publisher of 54 U.S. newspapers, including the Denver Post and San Jose Mercury News, will file for bankruptcy. For those keeping count, it's at least the 13th bankruptcy filing by a major U.S. newspaper publisher in the last year.
While the newspaper industry has been racked by the recession and ad-spending slowdown, the larger issue is that 15 years since the Internet's popularity took off, newspapers still have not been able to define a sustainable online business model. Many simply lunged headlong into providing their full print editions online, only to find out that online advertising wasn't sufficient to support their overhead and that Google commoditized their headlines. Others, like the NYTimes tried (and will continue to try) to find a balance between advertising and reader payments.
I've touched on this before, but the havoc being wreaked in the newspaper is a red-letter warning to video industry participants to cautiously guard existing revenue models while transitioning to digital delivery. Some consumers and techies may consider a deliberate pace to be bureaucratic foot-dragging, but for video content producers and distributors to remain viable, a deliberate ready-aim-fire approach to digital delivery is essential.
3. Prada's short online film is intriguing - speaking of newspapers, lately I've become convinced that one of the choicest pieces of online real estate for advertisers is the home page of NYTimes.com, which I frequent. On any given day you'll see huge rich media ads and roadblocks for high-profile brands and product launches. One that caught my attention earlier this week was by luxury fashion company Prada, promoting a 9-minute film by Chinese director Yang Fudong called "First Spring" (it's also available on YouTube) in which the actors are wearing Prada menswear.
I'm not a Prada patron, and I found the film dreary and odd, nonetheless, what intrigued me was how online video has given Prada a whole new outlet to build its brand's aura, a key to success for all luxury brands. Buying TV ads would be incredibly inefficient for Prada, and magazine spreads only go so far. With a short online film, Prada can target its audience well and engage them as long as it pleases. For creative and advertising types alike, that's a compelling opportunity.
4. Get ready for the week of the Apple tablet - In case you missed it, this week Apple sent invites to the press for a Jan. 27th event to "come see our latest creation" - widely believed to be the company's new tablet computer. The buzz behind the product, thought to be called the "iSlate," has been steadily building for weeks now. Next week it will reach a crescendo. We can expect Steve Jobs to bring his A game to the mother of all product demos as the stakes are high for Apple to deliver major wows.
While the product will no doubt be off the charts cool, the nagging question is whether large numbers of people will buy it for the rumored price of $1,000. Gadgets in that price range rarely get much traction, so to succeed the iSlate has to offer essential new value. Video could be its key differentiator, especially if Apple has new content deals to announce. A connected iSlate, with a gorgeous screen and easy portability (sort of an "iPhone on steroids") could open yet another chapter in video distribution and consumption.
Enjoy your weekend!
It's hard not to be fascinated by the Tiger Woods "transgressions" scandal and the drip-drip-drip revelations that are keeping the story alive. Amid the hubbub, the big mystery remains what actually happened on the fateful night that Tiger plowed his Escalade into a neighbor's fire hydrant and tree.
As the NY Times reported over the weekend, the animation unit of the Taiwanese "infotainment" newspaper Apple Daily (owned by Hong Kong-based media company Next Media) has created an animated video re-enactment of the events. The video is available on YouTube, where it has already drawn 2 million+ views. Non-Chinese speakers are out of luck on what the narrator's saying, but the animation provides the gist. As many suspect to be the case, there's Elin chasing Tiger's car down the street bashing its rear window with a golf club, causing a distracted Tiger to lose control and run off the road.
Compared to animated feature films, the quality is pretty amateurish. But that's the least of its problems; more significant is that the events shown are not based on the police reports or known facts, but rather on the animators' conception of what happened. So while Daisy Li, the Apple Daily manager overseeing the animated videos is quoted as saying that the idea of the animated videos is to make news more accessible to young people who don't like to read newspapers, by any standard, the video cannot be considered a journalistic pursuit.
Notwithstanding, the significance of the Tiger animated video and the whole idea of animated video re-enactments in general is that they have the potential to hugely influence public opinion about actual news events. By publishing videos like this to sites such as YouTube that have global reach, non-journalistic animators can vie with bona fide news outlets to inform audiences. For purists that will feel alarming, though it should be remembered that this is hardly the first time performance has influenced opinion - consider for example, that many people formed an opinion of Sarah Palin last year not on her remarks, but on Tina Fey's imitation of them on SNL.
Whether it is fact, fiction or something in between, video's power lies in its ability to tell a story better than any other medium. The animators at Apple Daily appear to understand this, as will others who will inevitably try to emulate their success. Audiences beware.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Following are 4 items worth noting for the Nov 9th week:
1. Will Cisco's new Flip Video camera ad campaign fly? - Cisco deserves credit for its new "Do You Flip" ad campaign for its Flip Video camera, a real out-of-the-box effort comprised entirely of user-generated video clips shot by ordinary folks and celebrities alike. As the campaign was described in this Online Media Daily article, finding the clips and then editing them together sounds like heavy lifting, but the results perfectly reinforce the value proposition of the camera itself. The ads are being shown on TV and the web; there's an outdoor piece to the campaign as well.
Cisco acquired Flip for nearly $600 million earlier this year in a somewhat incongruous deal that thrust the router powerhouse into the intensely competitive consumer electronics fray. Cisco will have to spend aggressively to maintain market share as other pocket video cameras have gained steam, like the Creative Vado HD, Samsung HMX and Kodak Z series. There's also emerging competition from smartphones (led by the iPhone of course) that have built-in video recording capabilities. I've been somewhat skeptical of the Cisco-Flip deal, but with the new campaign, Cisco looks committed to making it a success.
2. YouTube brings ad-skipping to the web - Speaking of out-of-the-box thinking, YouTube triggered a minor stir in the online video advertising space this week by announcing a trial of "skippable pre-roll" ads. On the surface, it feels unsettling that DVR-style ad-skipping - a growing and bedeviling trend on TV - is now coming to the web. Yet as YouTube explained, there's actually ample reason and some initial data to suggest that by empowering viewers, the ads that are watched could be even more valuable.
One thing pre-roll skipping would surely do is up the stakes for producing engaging ads that immediately capture the viewer's attention. And it would also increase the urgency for solid targeting. Done right though, I think pre-roll skipping could work quite well. At a minimum I give YouTube points for trying it out. Incidentally, others in the industry are doing other interesting things improve the engagement and effectiveness of the pre-roll. I'll have more on this in the next week or two.
3. Watching the NY Times at 30,000 feet - Flipping channels on my seat-back video screen on a JetBlue flight from Florida earlier this week, I happened on a series of highly engaging NY Times videos: a black and white interview with Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem, then a David Pogue demo of the Yoostar Home Greenscreen Kit and then an expose of Floyd Bennett Field, the first municipal airport in New York City. It turned out that all were running on The Travel Channel.
Good for the NY Times. Over the past couple of years I've written often about the opportunities that broadband video opens up for newspapers and magazines to leverage their brands, advertising relationships and editorial skills into the new medium. By also running their videos on planes, the NY Times is exposing many prospective online viewers to its video content, thereby broadening what the NY Times brand stands for and likely generating subsequent traffic to its web site. That's exactly what it and other print pubs should be doing to avoid the fate of the recently-shuttered Gourmet magazine, which never fully mined the web's potential. I know I'm a broken record on this, but video producers must learn that syndicating their video as widely as possible is imperative.
4. Nielsen forecast underscores smartphones' mobile video potential - A couple of readers pointed out that in yesterday's post, "Mobile Video Continues to Gain Traction" I missed relevant Nielsen data from just the day before. Nielsen forecasts that smartphones will be carried by more than 50% of cell phone users by 2011, totaling over 150 million people. Nielsen assumes that 60% of these smartphone owners will be watching video translating to an audience size of 90 million people. Its research also shows that 47% of users of the new Motorola Droid smartphone are watching video, vs. 40% of iPhone users. Not a huge distinction, but more evidence that the Droid and other newer smartphones are likely to increase mobile video consumption still further.
Enjoy your weekends!
One might think that the depths of the worst economic recession in decades would be a lousy time to begin asking penny-pinching consumers for additional payments to access content. Yet this is exactly what many video providers plan to do, as a variety of broadband-delivered video subscription plans are beginning to take shape. Based on conversations I've been having with industry executives and what I've been reading, various subscription plans are now underway. This leads me to think that "subscription overload" is on the horizon.
Interest in getting consumers to pay has several sources. Many executives have concluded that advertising alone is an insufficient model, even as the cost of delivering broadband video is actually plummeting. Some of this concern relates to the widespread advertising slowdown, where even established players like the big broadcast networks are being forced to accept rate cuts. These declines cannot be made up with greater ad quantity as there's prevailing worry about just how many ads can be loaded into a broadband-delivered program before the viewer gets turned off.
There is also significant fear of not learning from the demise of the U.S. newspaper industry, which largely adopted an ad-only online business model that hasn't worked (causing some like the NY Times to now consider reinstituting subscription services). Newspapers' woes have become a touchstone in practically every conversation I've participated in recently. Last, but not least, there's no small amount of envy toward cable networks, whose dual subscription/advertising revenue model has allowed them to weather the recession better than most.
Subscription plans seek some combination of differentiators: offering premium video in better windows, at better-quality, with deeper selection, across multiple devices and with some degree of exclusivity. The thinking is that these enhancements will allow subscription services to be distinguished from and co-exist with free ad-supported services. The implicit bet is that these differences will be understood and valued by consumers.
Subscription plans are beginning to leak out, as happened last week in remarks by Disney CEO Bob Iger. Many in the industry (including me) anticipate that Hulu will launch a subscription service soon, particularly as it seeks to become a part of cable operators' TV Everywhere initiatives (which themselves seek to enhance the value of current cable subscriptions).
Other plans are on the drawing board. When I read yesterday, for example, about NBC's Ben Silverman jumping to IAC to form a new video venture, I suspect it's almost a given that the venture will consider some type of premium model. The growth of mobile video is another factor fueling subscriptions. This is what MLB is doing with its new At Bat 2009 subscription app for the iPhone, which builds on its highly successful MLB.TV broadband subscription service.
With so many subscription services underway, it's inevitable that many of them won't get traction. I mean, is it likely that consumers will pay extra so they can see a program online just hours after it airs, instead of a day later? Or so they can receive 1080-equivalent HD quality online, when 720-equivalent HD is available for free? I'm skeptical, even before factoring in the recession-driven belt-tightening many consumers have adopted. The bar for a subscription service to succeed is very high.
Still, with broadband allowing video providers direct access to their target audiences, their well-known brands as powerful enablers, and the crummy advertising climate showing no letup, it is no surprise that the pendulum is swinging heavily toward subscriptions.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Those of us who live in New England and still actually subscribe to Boston Globe woke up Saturday morning to a banner headline on page 1: "Times Co. threatens to shut Globe, seeks $20m in cuts from unions." With newspapers around the country declaring bankruptcy or going out of print, the news really shouldn't have come as a surprise.
The Globe's and other newspapers' struggles have been widely reported. They are on the wrong end of a double-barreled shotgun: the years-long shift in consumer behavior toward the Internet and more recently, the devastating recession. To me there's a strong analogy here: the Internet (an "electronic printing press") is to newspapers what broadband (a new video delivery platform) is to broadcast TV networks. So what can the broadcast TV networks learn from the newspapers' travails so they avoid a similar fate? Here are 5 thoughts:
Keep the product in synch with the customer - it's cliche to say this, but at the root of every successful business is an ability to keep the product in synch with the customer's behavior. But as the world changes, staying in synch is often at odds with traditions, deeply-ingrained cultures and management's skills. The harsh reality is that there can be no sacred cows when it comes to the product. Just because something's always been done a certain way does not make it right.
For TV networks, I think the key lesson here is around program length. By tradition, programs have been 30 or 60 minutes. But online is about short-form content. Broadband delivery provides an opportunity to expand the networks' mission and capture new market share (as some are already doing). That doesn't mean giving up on 30 and 60 minute programs, but it does mean more actively diversifying their attention and resources.
Focus on monetization - If keeping the product right is job #1, then getting paid for it is certainly job #2. Newspapers have experimented widely with ad-supported and paid models, yet they've suffered their own "analog dollars, digital pennies" conundrum, with online users not generating comparable revenues per eyeball as the print edition. There are various explanations for why they've fallen short.
When I look at networks' current online efforts, I am increasingly concerned they're not going to succeed either. Their ad strategy for online programs is not aggressive enough (yes, as a viewer it hurts to say that) to make the online delivery model work. And on the execution side, as NBC.com recently showed, they're often not even capitalizing on what's readily available to them. Both need to change fast.
Partner effectively - Newspapers have grappled for years with how to defend classified categories like help wanted through industry partnerships. Now broadcast networks are rallying around Hulu (and possibly TV.com) as their own partnership vehicles. But these entities mustn't be forced to compete with one hand behind their back. They need rights to choice ad inventory to sell. They need to be free to pursue their own partnerships and not be curtailed as Hulu currently is with Boxee. And they need to be supported financially and strategically for the long run. Even then, none of this guarantees success.
Restructure costs aggressively - There's simply no escaping the fact that businesses with troubled top lines need to restructure their costs aggressively to stay viable. The key is getting ahead of this process, rather than waiting until the last possible minute. This isn't easy with unions and guaranteed jobs and managements that are well-paid. Broadcast TV networks face similar issues: strong guilds rightfully protective of their members' interests and executives who are perceived as overly compensated. Many in the industry have called out the fact that all of Hollywood needs to focus more on aligning costs with market realities. The day of reckoning is at hand.
Prepare to be radical - Painful as it is, sometimes there's no avoiding doing the radical. The free market can be quite ruthless. If Craig Newmark chooses to run Craigslist as a virtual non-profit, then anyone looking to make money out of classifieds is going to get hit. If the Huffington Post can make a business out of repackaging others' content under its own headlines and excelling at SEO then original newsgathering is threatened. And if Google can support YouTube's operating losses, then it will be around to continue to take video market share and attention away from incumbents. These are game-changing forces; the responses to them need to be equally radical.
While Americans have never watched more TV than they do today, there are storm clouds all around the broadcast networks. Hopefully they're studying the newspapers' demise and taking away the right lessons.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Topics: The Boston Globe
Have you caught any of the three-part, 25 minute "End of Wall Street" series running on WSJ.com right now? It may be too depressing to watch if you're nursing big 401k losses, but it does provide a very interesting template for how print publishers like the WSJ, whose reporters and editors have deep subject matter expertise, can use video to expand their value proposition to traditional readers.
In this case there's another twist: the video is actually a companion to a forthcoming book "The Wall Street Journal Guide to the End of Wall Street As We Know It" written by Dave Kansas, a WSJ editor who hosts the video series as well. Oddly though, the video doesn't mention the book at all, which is a key missed promotional opportunity. Placing a display ad or post-roll video promoting the book would seem to like a natural.
Still, the series demonstrates that a print publisher has the chops to produce a compelling video documentary that explains, in simple terms, how the financial meltdown occurred and why it crushed Wall Street. At least a dozen WSJ staffers are tapped for soundbites outlining the chronology and underlying factors to the crisis. The music is gripping, and the cutaways to Kansas wandering Wall Street's alternatively bustling and empty canyons provide a vivid visual metaphor for the change sweeping through the financial sector.
I've been saying for a while that print publishers are sitting on top of a mountain of largely anonymous talent which would be compelling for their audiences to hear and see. "End of Wall Street" demonstrates this perfectly. Other print pubs would be wise to go to school on it.
What do you think? Post a comment now.
Topics: Wall Street Journal