How Axel Springer’s Bild uses video to drive subscriptions

Video is emerging as a top subscription driver for Bild.

The tabloid from German media giant Axel Springer is spending more to create video content after finding that eight out of the top 10 highest-converting articles are either video documentaries or contain video of some form. Bild has a premium tier of content that paying subscribers get access to, Bild Plus. This year, it’s been selecting more videos to put behind its paywall — shorter, popular videos as well as longer documentaries and recurring series — in order to drive more subscribers to Bild Plus.

Bild’s core video output is general news video clippings around the one-minute mark, which are open access to all. A few shorter videos, like this of former tennis champion Boris Becker talking about his debts, and this about the shooting in the synagogue in Halle, Germany, last week, are part of its premium paid-for tier, Bild Plus. Most of Bild’s longer documentaries, like this four-part series about Instagram influencer Ina Aogo and her marriage to football player Dennis Aogo, are part of Bild Plus.

Bild Plus launched in 2013 and has more than 400,000 subscribers paying up to €13 ($14.30) a month. Video on Bild is a mix between content produced by Bild journalists and videos that are licensed from production companies.

“We’re taking from this a lot of learnings. We’re testing with the length, what kind of content works, and creating more series,” said Tobias Henning, gm, premium content at Bild and Welt.

Welt, the publisher’s broadsheet title, has far fewer videos on-site, but it is starting to explore the type of content that would encourage that audience to convert. Combined, the two titles have over 500,000 digital subscribers.

Crime videos tend to perform well with the audience and convert people to subscribe. For instance, “Clans of Berlin,” an episodic series about organized crime in Germany, has about to release its second series. Episodes are around 15 minutes long and feature videos on drug trafficking, extortion and robbery. On YouTube, the stream of all “Clans of Berlin” episodes stitched together has had 36,000 views.

Other publishers have taken a similar direction. Verdens Gang, the Schibsted-owned Norwegian tabloid, added 20,000 subscribers in a year by buying documentaries and putting them behind its paywall. This is also a way to entice younger readers, a priority for every news publisher with an aging print readership.

“If anything, the news industry is marginally retreating, or at least not expansively investing, in video formats,” said Douglas McCabe, CEO of Ender Analysis. “Many publishers are exploring audio and podcasts as part of their experience, and increasingly as a means to trigger registrations, memberships and subscriptions.”

Elsewhere, The Economist is broadcasting a weekly YouTube series to explore how it can drive viewers to subscribe as part of its fund from Google’s Digital News Initiative. As part of the show, it signposts for interested readers to find out more about a topic on The Economist’s site, for instance. It’s also drawing on YouTube’s features like end cards prompting people to subscribe, as well as cultivating more of a community in the YouTube comments. Quartz is also offering high-end video interviews of business leaders, like Microsoft’s Bill Gates, exclusively for its members as a way to convert more subscribers.

Bild Plus claims to rank fifth worldwide among paid-for journalism and to have the largest number of paying subscribers outside the English-speaking territories. According to Henning, there are few German-language tabloid competitors, which has helped contribute to this success.

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