Why The Times of London is using Unruly to distribute its video

Every publisher wants to scale its video operation, but The Times of London is better placed than most through last year’s acquisition of video platform Unruly.

This weekend, the publisher launched a branded video for children’s charity the NSPCC, created by agency Don’t Panic, with planning and distribution by Unruly. The two-minute video features advice on how to talk to kids about the incident. It’s a sensitive and emotional subject: Since November, the free counseling hotline ChildLine has recorded 374 calls from children worried about terrorism. The Times needed to hit the right note for the NSPCC and tailor the message accordingly.

“We needed to know whether this content elicited the right emotions,” said Catherine Newman, marketing director at The Times. “We didn’t want to sensationalize the topic. We needed to reassure and inform. We had to come from a point of intelligence, trust and integrity.”

To hit this, The Times tested short clips of the film and got back real-time analytics through Unruly’s proprietary ShareRank technology, the company’s algorithm that identifies what parts of a video influence sharing behavior.

The video appears on The Times site and its social channels, and Unruly distributes it to other platforms on the open Web — like Mumsnet and Netmums — that reach its target of parents between 35 and 44 with an interest in current and world affairs. It links back to a hub on the subject with The Times editorial.

“Without Unruly, we would have a very basic media plan,” Newman points out. “Did we reach X audience, and how many likes did they give us? We need to go far deeper. We know likes are not just the key to success, we must be able to encourage to purchase. It’s a far more sophisticated strategy.”

Newman, former global brand and business to business director at the Financial Times, is in charge of the subscription revenue business and tasked with growing audiences across digital. While she believes The Times content is worth paying for, she conceded there’s an appetite to produce more video outside of the paywall to extend the reach beyond the publisher’s 400,000 digital and print subscribers. Not all video content is available to everyone — all videos are hosted on The Times and Sunday Times site. Most then go on to its YouTube channel, and Facebook and Twitter are used to boost them.

For as much of its video output as possible, The Times works with Unruly, but all previous efforts have been marketing campaigns. The campaign with the NSPCC is the first that includes The Times editorial too, though only through related articles from The Times hub, like this “How the Paris terror attacks changed our children’s lives.” Last weekend, it hosted a marketing video featuring Jeremy Clarkson promoting the driving section in The Sunday Times Magazine. The 40-second video had a 90 percent completion rate, 64,000 out of the 69,000 views were viewed all the way through. (An Ooyala study puts industry average of video completion rates from publishers at about 70 percent.)

Through testing different video clips through ShareRank, some with Jeremy Clarkson or with other actors, Newman said, “we learned that having Clarkson address the camera would get us the authenticity we wanted. We’re learning more about what the audience wants, what should be said, how it’s addressed. It’s allowing us to create much better briefs.”

In March, The Times will re-release its Unquiet Film Seriesproduced at the end of 2014 to showcase its writers and their values for a global audience. It’s currently using Unruly’s technology to find out how the films should be re-edited for a U.S. audience to tweak things like humor, which can be culturally subjective. 

Eventually, The Times hopes to answer the old attribution questions. With agency partner Mindshare, it is working on an attribution model for its video content. In six month’s time, hopes to show what role video plays in driving subscriptions.

“As marketers, we need to know what levers work,” Newman added. “Would you release more video if you knew it would boost subscribers? Yes. Would you release more video if you didn’t know what it did? You have to ask yourself ‘why’?”