Why publishers have video dreams

Publishers declaring a “pivot to video” has become so cliche to be a joke. The reasoning is trotted out anytime a publisher refocuses its business — and cuts editorial staff. In the past 18 months, the following digital media companies have announced a variance on the pivot to video:

  • April 2016: Mashable cuts staff to focus on video
  • February 2017: Bleacher Report cuts 50, says focus is on video
  • April 2017: ESPN cuts writers, focus returns to video
  • June 2017: Vocativ eliminates its edit staff to focus on video
  • June 2017: Fox Sports cuts writers, emphasizes video
  • June 2017: MTV News overhauls digital strategy to center on video

As has been pointed out ad nauseam, video will not save any publisher. The reasons for these shifts vary. (Many TV-based media companies are obviously video experts anyway.) The market for display advertising isn’t coming back anytime soon. The hopes for native rescuing text content RPMs haven’t materialized. The one thing advertisers love — and Facebook, let’s not forget — is video.

But that will not be enough. As our senior reporter for video Sahil Patel likes to note, there’s video and then there’s video. Many of those who are claiming to do video aren’t doing real video. The Awl pointed out the ridiculousness of much of digital video being glorified PowerPoint presentations. And pretty much anyone can stitch together clips and slap text on top. The real test will be whether publishers can become programmers. Here’s Sahil’s take:

“Programming requires a real investment. Publishers have to make upfront commitments to doing shows for their own platforms and channels. It means thinking about scheduling — where your audience knows that on a particular day at a particular time, they can expect a new episode of a recurring series. This is how top digital video publishers, by taking a page out of TV’s playbook, are building repeatable audiences for their programming. It’s how they can comfortably guarantee audiences to advertisers. And it’s what will separate video companies built to survive the constant changes in media and those that are just chasing lucrative ad dollars that may never come.”

Refinery29’s Amy Emmerich, a veteran of Vice and Scripps, mentioned to me that she doesn’t think of Refinery29 as a publisher but as a media company. These are often used interchangeably, but there are differences. Media companies think of programming, not pages. The current crop of over-the-top services has provided publishers with a narrow opportunity to make this leap from publishers to programmers. Amazon is buying shows, as are Facebook and many others. The struggle will be publishers making programming a part of their DNA.

The Amazon effect
Amazon has always left a giant shadow on retail, but that shadow is lengthening to encompass just about every industry. It was telling for us in the Digiday Media newsroom recently that all three of our publications — Digiday, Glossy and Tearsheet — had pieces about the Amazon effect in media, fashion and banking. Sign of the times.


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