Future of TV Briefing: News organizations prepare for ‘the TikTok election’

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This week’s Future of TV Briefing looks at how news organizations plan to cover next week’s U.S. midterm elections on TikTok.

  • The TikTok election
  • Netflix’s advertiser uptake, Amazon’s Nielsen ratings, Hollywood’s inclusivity commitment and more

The TikTok election

The key hits:

  • News outlets will balance between timely election coverage and TikTok’s enigmatic algorithm.
  • They will also use ways to present their posts as authoritative news sources.
  • They are also considering how TikTok may suppress election-related content.

Would it shock you to hear that TikTok will play a major part in news organizations’ U.S. Election Day coverage next Tuesday? It shouldn’t.

“This is the TikTok election,” said Christina Capatides, vp of social media and trending content at CBS News. “In 2022, you would be remiss as a news organization to not acknowledge the enormous potential for reach and audience acquisition that TikTok brings to the table. I mean, we see view counts on TikTok that are really, really extraordinary for news. In the prime of Facebook we were seeing these sorts of views, but it’s actually even bigger than that. It’s a major component of our election coverage.”

However, for as much opportunity as TikTok offers for news outlets to reach millions of people, it presents them with some unique challenges. 

For starters, the platform may spark trends but is not necessarily real-time like Twitter, so time-sensitive posts risk becoming outdated by the time they’re viewed. Additionally, the platform’s user-generated aesthetic may mask authoritative sources of information. And then there’s the concern of overly aggressive content moderation efforts suppressing news outlets’ posts.

Not that any of that is stopping news organizations — including ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, The Washington Post and Vice News — from prepping big Election Day pushes on the platform.

“We’re probably looking at somewhere between three to four times the amount of posts that we would normally post on a typical day [on TikTok],” said Catherine Kim, svp of global digital news at NBC News and MSNBC. The outlet typically posts three to four videos per day, according to Devan Joseph, executive producer of original social video at NBC News.

How newsrooms are tackling TikTok

Despite TikTok’s complexities, there’s that potential to reach a large audience that has news organizations marshaling their resources to cover the ins and outs of this year’s midterm elections on the platform.

“Just about everyone’s involved in some way. The reporter going out in the field is involved; they’re writing the script; they’re often appearing on camera. We have social producers who are very good at cutting together short-form video shot on phones. And then it’s all the way up to me thinking about what’s the TikTok story here and how that fits in with the overall package of what we’re producing,” said Michael Learmonth, editor-in-chief of Vice News.

Vice plans to enlist video editors from across its organization who normally work on shows like “Vice News Tonight” and have them help put together TikTok videos.

The Washington Post’s TikTok output will be the responsibility of its core three-person team, but the team will likely pull in Post journalists to appear in videos as well as feature articles published online, said Dave Jorgenson, senior TikTok producer at The Washington Post. Additionally, the Post’s senior producer for video Jayne Orenstein will be on hand to fact-check each video before it is published.

“That’ll be our little red phone, but in this case, it’s just a Slack channel,” Jorgenson said.

The timeliness of TikTok

TikTok is neither so real-time as Twitter nor so evergreen as YouTube but somewhere in between. Videos can pop immediately upon posting and spread across the platform, or they can show up in people’s feeds days or weeks later. As a result, news organizations are having to sort out how to cover a breaking news event like Election Day in a way that mitigates the chances of the news cycle breaking their videos.

One way to do this is by going live on TikTok, as NBC News plans to do. “We’re going to test out live-streaming our NBC News Now election night coverage,” said Kim. The stream will likely start around 5 p.m. ET, and its duration will depend on what response it receives from NBC News’s TikTok audience and what impact the stream has on the performance of its regular TikTok videos being posted on Election Day. 

ABC News similarly plans to simulcast its ABC News Live stream on TikTok, starting at 7 p.m. ET and airing through the night, said Evan McMurry, senior manager of social at ABC News. Asked if there’s a concern that the live stream could hurt the performance of ABC News’ non-live TikTok videos, “we have found that they’re additive,” he said.

Another approach is side-stepping the second-to-second nature of election coverage and concentrating on topics more likely to stand the test of time. On Election Night, Capatides’ team will use Slack to discuss which clips from CBS News’ coverage to use for TikTok videos, taking into account “whether this is something that could be outdated by the time people see it and not just outdated [but] frankly misleading,” she said. “We know that the algorithm is a slow burn oftentimes.”

The Washington Post will attempt to thread the needle by using the wall of its TikTok studio to track election developments over the course of the day and night and having that wall serve as its videos’ background as a sort of election scrapbook, Jorgenson said.

Expressing authority amid misinformation

Typically, news organizations want their TikTok videos to feel native to the platform where the average person is often posting clips shot on their phone while at home. But on Election Day, news outlets want to reinforce themselves as authoritative sources of information given the potential for misinformation and disinformation to spread on TikTok that day.

The Washington Post, for example, will be producing TikTok videos from its studio, which features a bright neon sign with the words “The Washington Post TikTok team.” “It’ll be literally flashing at you: ‘This is The Washington Post,’” said Jorgenson.

NBC News and CBS News are similarly looking to highlight their traditional news brands’ bona fides in their TikTok coverage to a larger degree than usual. Case in point: NBC News’s planned simulcast of the NBC News Now live stream.

“We’re going to commit to sharing a lot more of what we’re producing across our platforms, including NBC News Now and our [TV] network coverage], with the audience on TikTok. Typically that is not necessarily the approach we take on TikTok,” Kim said.

CBS News’s TikTok account will likely feature more clips from its TV coverage, including footage shot in its CBS News studio, to explicitly show the videos are coming from a reliable source. “That is a reason that clipping more from the broadcast on that day becomes even more important because we know that these platforms are rife with misinformation,” said Capatides.

Content suppression considerations

Ahead of Election Day, TikTok has shared with news outlets a document outlining general guidance on how the platform will be policing posts to maintain election integrity. But that document wasn’t exactly prescriptive for helping news organizations to ensure their videos don’t run afoul of TikTok’s content moderation efforts.

“It seems like they may be a bit more strict around stuff around the election, but there’s not a ton of specifics,” said Joseph.

Given the uncertainty around how exactly TikTok will moderate content on Election Day, some outlets are pressure-testing the platform for potential suppression threats.

“The atmosphere amongst news publishers right now is that we’re all doing our own experimentation to test the waters and see which content flies and which doesn’t,” said Capatides. To that end, CBS News took three clips from a recent “Face the Nation” episode that focused on the misinformation issue and posted them to TikTok to see if any of them were suppressed, but Capatides said the news outlet had not yet gleaned an answer.

Ultimately, though, news outlets will be at the mercy of TikTok’s content moderators. That’s a reason why the Post opted to produce videos ahead of the election highlighting the potential for posts to be suppressed.

“A big of part of that suppression test was just making sure we’re spreading awareness of how that works and pointing out that we’re not going to change our content because we think that TikTok might suppress it,” Jorgenson said. “In fact, that makes me more emboldened to make sure that we’re spreading this news as much as possible.”

What we’ve heard

“[Subscriber acquisition] has definitely been harder this year. There are weekends when someone like HBO Max will have blocked out [home screen ad inventory] on Roku. We’re seeing more and more things like that that makes it difficult [to get in front of potential subscribers].”

— Streaming executive

Numbers to know

28%: Percentage share of U.S. households that used an ad-supported streaming service in the third quarter of 2022, compared to 82% that used a subscription-based streamer.

-$614 million: Amount of money that Comcast lost in Peacock-related expenses in Q3 2022.

-204,000: Number of pay-TV subscribers that Charter lost in Q3 2022.

$828,501: Average price to run a 30-second ad during NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” this season, the most expensive TV ad slot on the broadcast TV market among recurring series.

5.3%: Percentage share of top roles on streaming and broadcast TV shows that were held by Latino performers.

What we’ve covered

Insider video ad revenue grows from onsite, direct-sold deals:

  • Insider’s on-site video revenue surpassed revenue from its split of YouTube’s ad sales in 2022.
  • The use of Insider’s first-party data and improvements to production and distribution have contributed to the revenue growth.

Read more about Insider’s video ad business here.

Using NBA stars, Goldfish competes for Gen Z attention on streaming, TikTok and Instagram:

  • The Campbell Snacks-owned brand is spending 30% of its latest campaign’s budget on CTV.
  • The bulk of the campaign’s budget — 70% — is earmarked for platforms like TikTok and Instagram.

Read more about Goldfish’s video strategy here.

TikTok’s direct response capabilities don’t resonate with performance marketers — yet:

  • The short-form video app’s DR capabilities pale in comparison to Amazon’s, Google’s and Meta’s.
  • TikTok has room to improve with respect to match rates and its optimization algorithms.

Read more about TikTok’s direct-response ad reception here.

What we’re reading

Netflix’s advertiser uptake:
Some advertisers are opting to wait out Netflix’s initial ad sales pitch in hopes of either paying less or gaining a better idea of what they’ll receive in return for their money, according to Insider.

Amazon’s Nielsen ratings:
Amazon claims to have received roughly 2 million more viewers for its “Thursday Night Football” streams than Nielsen has measured, and Nielsen is neither disagreeing with Amazon’s count nor retracting its own, according to CBS News.

Hollywood’s inclusivity commitment:
Some entertainment executives are privately opining that the film and TV industry overcorrected to producing shows and movies that feature people from underrepresented groups, and others are worried that the economic downturn will lead to cuts to diversity- and inclusion-minded investments, according to The New York Times.

YouTube’s streaming bundle:
YouTube is getting in on streaming’s rebuilding era with its Primetime Channels product that will let people access their subscriptions to streamers like Paramount+ and Epix through the Google-owned video platform, according to The Verge.

Snapchat’s creator payouts:
The short-form vertical video platform has reduced the money paid to creators through its Spotlight fund from millions of dollars per week to millions per year, according to TechCrunch.

Hollywood’s COVID protocols:
Film and TV studios and unions have extended the healthy and safety protocols for productions through January but will loosen some stipulations, such as testing requirements, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Twitter’s Vine resurrection:
In addition to plans to reportedly lay off employees and charge verified users, Elon Musk is looking to relaunch Twitter’s short-form video platform Vine by the end of the year, according to Axios.

CNN’s original programming cuts:
CNN has decided to stop buying documentaries and original shows to help the Warner Bros. Discovery-owned TV news network cut costs, according to The New York Times.


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