NBC News ramps up its digital video output as it prepares to go over the top

NBC News has been producing more videos for its own platforms and social channels as it gets ready to launch a 24-hour, over-the-top streaming network.

Over the past 12 months, NBC News has increased its video output for its own sites and apps by 15 percent to roughly 130 videos per month, said Nick Ascheim, svp of NBC News Digital. This includes digital videos and shows made for NBC News and “Today” as well as documentaries, mixed-media formats and other content produced by the publisher’s experimental video unit, Left Field. This week, NBC News announced 11 new digital series tied to “Today,” including short-form shows starring hosts Savannah Guthrie, Hoda Kotb and Sheinelle Jones.

NBC News has also taken its twice-daily news franchise for Snapchat Discover, “Stay Tuned,” to Instagram. The initial Instagram versions of “Stay Tuned” are syndicated from Snapchat, but NBC News plans to pilot new shows under the franchise that would be tailored to Instagram, YouTube and other platforms. NBC News is also exploring extending “Stay Tuned” to non-video mediums such as podcasts and newsletters, Ascheim said.

“The core audience is young,” said Ascheim of “Stay Tuned.” “If we can stay true to that audience, we can become the default news provider for them for a long time to come.”

NBC News is staffing to meet the increased production. NBC News Digital has several video units: the 20-person NBC News original video team, which focuses mostly on videos for NBC News’ own platforms; the digital video team for “Today,” also with 20 people; and 14-person Left Field. There’s also the 30-person team dedicated to “Stay Tuned.”

NBC News Digital also has eight people dedicated to new video programming, including hires from companies such as CNN, CBSN and Cheddar and video specialists that were already employed by NBC News. “It’s a number that is evolving quickly as we figure out what’s right for that audience,” he said.

The TV landscape is shifting dramatically as more big media companies prioritize building direct-to-consumer streaming products. Among news programmers, CBS News Digital has already established a footprint on connected TV screens with CBSN, and Fox News will soon go live with its subscription streaming video channel Fox Nation.

NBC News’ streaming video channel doesn’t have a name or launch date yet. But as consumers flock to OTT services, it’s important for video programmers to do a lot of testing for these environments, said Chris Erwin, co-founder of media and entertainment consulting firm Doing Work As.

“Media companies need to take more swings and produce a diversity of formats to see what resonates with users,” Erwin said. “The goal is to spend smartly and gather more user data. It’s learning at scale, which is the only way to outperform others in today’s crowded content marketplace.”

NBC News Digital has the resources, backing and time to figure out how to approach streaming video. Its digital video business is profitable, said Trevor Fellows, evp of digital sales and partnerships for NBCUniversal. Video is expensive for most publishers — some that pivoted to video have pulled back on those efforts — so they need big pockets to succeed.

“Those who pivoted to video didn’t really understand how expensive it is to produce high-quality video if you don’t have the infrastructure necessary to support it,” Fellows said. “It’s hard for an organization that doesn’t have our bench of talent and experience.”

This doesn’t mean NBC News isn’t doing this cost-effectively, Ascheim said. As the company continues its march to go over the top, it’s bringing in more producers from the TV side to produce digital content, some of which could eventually find its way to the streaming channel.

Similarly, a lot of the documentaries and other programming produced by Left Field will likely end up on the streaming channel, Ascheim said. The same goes for the short-form original series made for NBC News Digital and “Today.” Then there are newer show formats, such as an upcoming half-hour weekly news show hosted by Simone Boyce — which will eventually become a nightly news show — that will incorporate content produced by these different digital and TV units, Ascheim said.

“It’s another way we think this will be cost-effective for us,” Ascheim said. “These groups are producing video that can work in different ways across platforms.”


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