CNN takes a page from Facebook with autoplay video

As ad dollars flow to online video, the video view has been asserting itself as the new coin of the realm for publishers.

And so with CNN Digital’s goal of being nothing less than the worldwide leader in video, it’s pushing video views over pageviews as a yardstick of its success. CNN.com boasted 212 million video streams on its desktop site in June, an increase of 89 percent year-over-year, putting it ahead of such rivals as Yahoo News (figures exclude Yahoo Finance and other properties in the CNN Network such as CNNMoney and Bleacher Report), BuzzFeed and Fox News, according to comScore. CNN.com also chalked up 1.2 billion minutes of video consumed in June on its desktop site, ahead of Yahoo, Fox and BuzzFeed.

“We’re going to push video over photo galleries that at the end of the day certainly don’t have the impact from a revenue perspective and audience perspective,” said Andrew Morse, CNN’s gm of digital. “So you see more video throughout the site; more video embedded in stories. We have a very aggressive process for taking our best video and getting it out socially.”

Those desktop-only numbers exclude the large and growing amount of video that’s being viewed on mobile devices, on social platforms like YouTube and outside the U.S., and as such, tell only part of the story. Still, the desktop numbers are important because the desktop commands higher ad rates than mobile. Publishers also get to keep all the revenue when they sell against video on their own site, as opposed to having to share the revenue with social platforms that are hosting publishers’ video.

CNN’s desktop video growth is due to several tactics. With 100 dedicated producers, editors and programmers for video across its Digital Studios and its news, money and politics channels, it posts about 50 videos a day. About a quarter of them are evergreen or contextual, which makes them more recyclable. “We put a lot of effort into reporting on gun violence, so when there’s a new event, we have reporting we can draw on,” Morse said, by way of example. “So you might find yourself watching not one but six or seven or eight.”

CNN also has made forays into long-form video. But by favoring short videos — the vast majority of CNN’s videos are under 45 seconds — CNN can get people to watch multiple clips in a brief period of time.

CNN also hasn’t been adverse to taking a page from Facebook in using the autoplay feature on CNN.com (and playing them continuously, one after the other) to boost views. Since Facebook introduced autoplay videos in December 2013, publishers have felt more comfortable doing the same on their own sites.

“I think what Facebook has done with autoplay where they embedded video in people’s feeds, they accustomed people [to it],” Morse said. “That’s what we do, with video-led stories. So if you’re going to CNN and click on a story, we may lead that story with a video.” While some publishers are wary the practice will turn visitors away, Morse contended that on CNN, “we’re not concerned about repelling people” because they already associate the brand with video.

Still, it’s a balancing act all publishers face as they try to capitalize on the rise of dollars flowing to online video without putting off visitors. “The aim should be, what is the best consumer experience,” said Chris Dorr, executive director of the Global Online Video Association, representing multichannel networks and media companies, “because in the end, the best consumer experience will create the best conditions for monetization.”

Image courtesy of CNN.