Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 10:53 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal debuted its "WSJ Startup of the Year" documentary series, another great example of how online video is enabling print publications to expand well beyond their traditional roots. The series will run for 5 months, featuring 24 early-stage businesses (culled from 500 applicants) competing with one another across a number of challenges while being mentored along the way by over 40 high-profile business leaders. The series plays out in videos created by WSJ and submitted by the startups themselves. It is created in collaboration with Ish Entertainment, founded by Michael Hirschorn, former programming head of VH1.
I've long been a big fan of print publications tapping into online video's potential to enrich their readers' experiences. Print publications like the WSJ have strong brand identities, editorial skills, promotional platforms and advertising relationships they can leverage for their video initiatives. WSJ has been a leader through WSJ Live, which, as of last year, was already producing 100+ hours of live and on-demand original programming/month.
At the WSJ Startup of the Year site, visitors are presented with a featured video from the current week in the main content section, along with branding from sponsor NYSE. Across the bottom are thumbnails of 3-4 videos from the current week, with access to previous weeks' videos as well. The videos are anywhere from 2-12 minutes and feature startup profiles and mentor interviews with startup executives. Though the videos are edited and have jazzy background music, they all feel authentic and less produced than what you'd typically find on TV.
In addition to watching the videos, visitors can follow tweets from the startups and the editors, learn more about the startups and vote for their favorites.
In its overview, WSJ Startup of the Year positioned itself aptly as a startup, with on-the-go learning occurring. No doubt the series will evolve in the coming weeks, but I think the series would be enhanced by a better guide to what's ahead and sneak peeks (currently there are just short snippets in the right rail for "upcoming challenges"). It's not quite clear which startups will be interviewed next, how they're currently ranked by the judges (or on what criteria) or what they need to do to improve.
These are the kinds of things TV reality shows (love 'em or hate 'em!) tend to do really well - building drama from week to week to get viewers to keep coming back. WSJ Startup of the Year is clearly not trying to be a reality TV show, but there are still elements of the genre that could be selectively emulated to enhance the viewer's experience.
I give WSJ lots of credit for the WSJ Startup of the Year and it shows a real willingness to experiment with a new video format. To continue making themselves relevant to readers with vastly different expectations, other print publications could learn a lot from the WSJ's efforts.