ABC News’ secret to YouTube success: TV content

ABC News has more than 1.5 billion views on YouTube — most of which are happening on TV content that the publisher has repackaged for the online video site.

“What we’ve found is that the stories that are available to our linear audience actually resonate with people on YouTube,” said Colby Smith, vp of digital for ABC News, who gives credit to a YouTube team led by Jeanmarie Condon and Michael Koenigs. “It’s all about the packaging and distribution strategy, making sure headlines are titled the right way and that stories are published as people might be searching for them.”

It has certainly been working for ABC News, which has close to 1.5 million subscribers on YouTube. Its monthly viewership has grown significantly in recent months. In January, when Smith was promoted to his current title, ABC News was averaging 20 million views per month on the video site; in August, it crossed 100 million views for the first time, he said.

Where it gets doubly interesting is that ABC News is actually reaching millennials with this approach. According to August comScore data, the ABC News YouTube channel reached nearly 1.2 million unique desktop viewers in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 34. By comparison, Vice’s flagship YouTube channel, which has more than 6.3 million subscribers, reached 668,000 millennials in the U.S. on desktops. (Of course, this data doesn’t account for mobile, where millennials are said to be increasingly consuming video.)

YouTube is not the only place ABC News is capturing eyeballs, though. According to the publisher, it has so far generated 1.2 billion views on its content across all of its distribution platforms and screens including, the Good Morning America portal on Yahoo, Hulu, Facebook and YouTube. It counts for a 22 percent increase when compared to the same time period in 2014.

ABC News’ key in achieving this kind of viewership is that it has eschewed the “one-size-fits-all” distribution strategy, according to Smith. “The biggest advancement we have made is determining that there is no such thing as an overall distribution strategy for a publisher,” he said. “Every piece of content that we do has its own distribution strategy.”

It’s because different platforms require different types of content. For instance, ABC News has — rather unsurprisingly — found that full episodes of TV shows work the best on Hulu, whereas on Facebook and its website and mobile and TV apps, the publisher is seeing more success with the original content produced by its digital studio.

For ABC News, the distributed approach also means being democratic with where a piece of content is published, whether it’s on an owned-and-operated site or app or social platforms like YouTube and Facebook. “Frankly, sometimes we are natively uploading to Facebook before [the video] is even on our own platforms,” said Smith.

Internally, ABC News Digital has an audience-development team led by Terry Hurlbutt, a former Google executive. According to Smith, all aspects of the actual act of publishing fall under Hurlbutt, who oversees teams dedicated to social, owned-and-operated platforms, SEO and more. “The idea is for every publishing decision to sit with one team — take what editorial does and get that story at the right user at the right time,” said Smith.

Looking ahead, ABC News is aiming to ramp up its production of video for digital platforms. The goal is to produce 50 percent more content over the next 12 months than the publisher did in the last 12. It’s one of the reasons the company hired executive producer Dan Silver away from ESPN, where he worked on the network’s Emmy-winning “30 for 30” documentary series.

“We have finite hours on the linear experience, and that’s a well-oiled machine,” said Smith. “Where we are really investing is in the digital originals team.”

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