If the future will be a distributed one, Fusion wants to make sure it’s prepared.
The digital news site and cable network for millennials on Monday announced a new team to create stories and videos meant to be read and watched exclusively on social platforms. The social newsroom of 12 people includes eight who are focused on Snapchat alone. Others work on Instagram and Vine. Fusion hired Laura Feinstein, a former editor in chief of Vice’s Intel-backed Creator’s Project, to lead the group.
The studio represents an expansion in headcount as well as an evolution from a year ago, when Fusion had just two people creating short videos for Instagram and Vine. Beyond the increased headcount, the group was put under editorial (reporting to Fusion editor in chief Alexis Madrigal), signaling the increased importance of these platforms. Facebook and Twitter distribution are handled by a separate team that reports to audience development.
“We’ve seen Snapchat and Discover change the game for us,” Fusion’s chief digital officer Daniel Eilemberg said of the new team and reporting structure. “It’s an understanding that social platforms are no longer just distribution pipelines. Some of the newer growing platforms have been about consuming platform natively in the platform.”
For publishers, the question is how much resources to devote to creating stories and videos for just a single platform when there are many others to feed. Fusion can get efficiencies out the process by, say, having the same person shoot video for Snapchat while shooting video for TV.
Beyond that, it uses distributed platform content as a way to test the waters for content that might live on its cable channel. Its Cannabusiness report started as a digital report, for example. A TV series is being explored for Outpost, a series of reports on lesser-known and far-flung places around the world that started as a series on Snapchat.
The publisher, backed by Univision and Disney-ABC Television Group, has struggled to find an audience since it started two years ago. Its traffic has steadily increased in the six months comScore has data on it. But it remains small by Internet standards, at 7.5 million unique visitors on desktop and mobile in October, up from 3.2 million in May. But with its distributed approach, the company claims to reach a much larger base of 25 million unique users a month, Eilemberg said.
Fusion has 328,000 connections on Facebook, 191,000 on Twitter, 50,000 on YouTube, 63,000 on Instagram and 107,000 on Vine, not including associated accounts. (Fusion has a regular Snapchat account as well as a Discover channel available to users outside the U.S.)
For many publishers considering the rise of platforms, the strategy has been to distribute first, worry about monetizing later. The latter is proving to be a challenge. There’s no single, standard way to measure audiences across these diverse platforms, not to mention TV, in Fusion’s case. Its task is made harder by the fact that it doesn’t have a dedicated ad sales staff; its inventory is sold by ABC.
Also, size isn’t everything. “A highly engaged following is generally more valuable to an advertiser than a more passive following,” said Mig Mora, associate content director of DigitasLBi Studios. “So size matters, but it’s certainly not all that matters. For example, we would be remiss to talk about how many YouTube subscribers a publisher has without also noting how many views their YouTube channel has garnered.”
Eilemberg said Fusion does its own tracking and tries to get a unique visitor count on each platform, but acknowledges it’s hard to compare say, a loop on Vine with an article pageview. “It gets challenging,” he said. “We’re acutely aware that not only is there a lack of standardization but tools to do that.”