• Technology and Culture Are Critical to Driving Video Success

    Last week I attended AdExchanger's Industry Preview 2015 conference in NYC, a gathering of 500+ digital marketers. I attended mainly to gain insights about the larger digital marketing landscape, of which online video advertising is an increasingly important part for advertisers, content providers and technologists.

    While there was only one video-specific session, video weaved its way into a lot of what happened on-stage. One session in particular that generated numerous valuable video-related insights was titled, "This is Digital Publishing in 2015" and included Zazie Lucke (Head of Global Media Marketing, Bloomberg), Dao Nguyen (Publisher, BuzzFeed), Troy Young (President, Hearst Digital), Jon Steinberg (CEO, Daily Mail, North America) and was moderated by Wenda Harris Millard (President and COO, Medialink).

    First, it's worth noting that none of these executives are from TV networks or studios, the traditional providers of mainstream video content. Rather, they are from online and print news and lifestyle publishers. But all of them are generating huge growth in both video viewership and monetization.

    The most striking growth was reported by BuzzFeed's Nguyen, who said the site was generating over 750 million monthly video views by the end of 2014, a 7x increase vs. 2013. Of note, only a small percentage of that viewership happens on-site, with the vast majority occurring through user sharing on social media and elsewhere.

    Nguyen repeatedly referenced that BuzzFeed's adoption of a "distributed" approach to content was its key success factor, along with mobile (on a separate session, Facebook's David Fischer said 65% of its video views are now mobile).

    Nguyen said that a critical part of BuzzFeed's distribution is YouTube, where it maintains a number of channels. Nguyen said BuzzFeed is constantly experimenting with what it's posting and what drives performance. In fact, experimentation itself was a constant theme among the panelists - trying ideas, then learning and iterating, and finally either doubling down on what's working or abandoning and moving on.

    Another key theme was the extent to which technology has become an equal partner with editorial. In other words, the old days of great content being sufficient for a publisher to succeed are over. Instead, technology (including things like platform, mobile, data, analytics, etc.) are all critical to helping editorial succeed. This equality is enabled by corporate cultures that are optimized around understanding how much more impactful editorial can be when it's paired with great technology.

    All of which led to a final point that coursed through the session - that the world has become extraordinarily complex for media organizations, and that recruiting the right type of editorial talent has become paramount. "Creativity," "curiosity" and "ability to have an impact" were often cited as paramount, as opposed traditional prerequisites like a blue-chip college degree.

    All of this is important because it speaks to how competitive online and print publications are becoming in attracting audiences and video advertising. As huge declines occur in millennials' TV viewing, they are at least partly attributable to time spent with video from emerging providers without video roots. These publishers are figuring out what's compelling to viewers and what keeps them engaged vs. turning on the TV.

    These publishers' experiences also point to why it is so important for TV networks and studios to make sure their own cultures and DNA are infused with technology. Recently I questioned HBO's decision to outsource its infrastructure for HBO OTT to MLBAM, for this same basic reason. In order for HBO OTT to compete effectively with Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and others, which are all steeped in technology, it will need to grow its own competencies as well.

    I've long thought that video creates a massive opportunity for online and print publishers to leverage their assets into video. As they do, this is becoming yet another aspect of the disruption occurring throughout the video industry.