Why Digg is going big on video


The modern Digg is a different beast than the Digg that was once the toast of Silicon Valley.

Now owned by Betaworks, the site is responsive and slick, no longer a jumble of blue links and yellowish “digg” boxes. The stories are hand-picked by a seven-person editorial team, not voted on by a massive community. And, increasingly, video is taking a central role on the site. Digg’s mission: drive more traffic than ever before.

That means more video, lots more. In late February, Digg rolled out Digg TV, a video-viewing feature that enables site visitors to sit back and let Digg-selected videos stream one after the other. Users can watch a random stream of content, watch content in specific categories such as “Booze” or “Economics,” or watch their own playlists out of other Digg content they’d scoured and saved. It’s like StumbleUpon video with better curation. Digg TV is filled with content from the Digg video section, which accounts for roughly 35 percent of Digg’s total traffic, according to David Weiner, Digg’s executive editor and creative director.

“Video is great for our hardcore, loyal Digg users, but it’s also something we find helps bring new users in,” said Weiner. “Both the curation and creation of video is high on the editorial list for the next year, as well as the business team.”

Digg still struggles to emerge from the shadow of its predecessor, which Google reportedly considered acquiring for $200 million in 2008. Betaworks snagged the site in 2012 for just $500,000 with a plan to scrap and rebuild the news aggregator from the ground up.

But despite modest progress, Digg has yet to attract the gargantuan traffic and industry repute of its glory days. Gabe Rivera, founder and CEO of tech news aggregator Techmeme, turned down an interview for this story, explaining, “On Digg, I don’t have much to say; [I] haven’t been paying enough attention to them.”

Traffic to Digg has been sporadic over the past year, according to comScore data, which shows a drop from more than 1.4 million U.S. unique visitors in July 2014 to just 428,000 in November 2014. In January 2015, the site attracted 774,000 unique visitors.

“It seems as if they’re trying to revive a once-hot brand that frankly none of us have really thought a lot about in the last two or three years,” said Rebecca Lieb, a media analyst at the Altimeter Group. “The question is, can they rebuild and find audience?”

Digg traffic

Even if it’s not as huge as it once was, the audience Digg has today is voracious and influential, according to Kevin Skobac, vp of digital strategy and innovation at SS+K.

“We first realized the power of this new audience completely by accident,” said Skobac, who recently worked with Digg on a campaign for The New Yorker. “A video campaign we created for a client in early 2014 was organically shared on Digg. The result, surprisingly, was more video views from Digg than almost any other property on the Web.”

Digg is hoping a healthy mix of video content and originals drives more people to the site. The vast majority of video on Digg comes from other Web sources, ranging from The New York Times and The Daily Show to the latest viral GoPro or gaming videos on YouTube. The videos Digg aggregates can funnel traffic to the site, as Digg hosts each embed on its own video page. Regular stories Digg posts to its homepage (and well-followed social properties) link directly to other publishers’ sites, excepting its original text content.

Digg has also started to publish its own original videos, though they’re mostly supercuts of existing video content. Three week ago, a Digg video editor cobbled together “This Year’s Best Picture Nominees, In Under 4 Minutes,” which has racked up 43,000 YouTube views. The most popular video it has ever made, from April 2014, is “Every On-Screen Death in Game Of Thrones, In Under 3 Minutes.” That has nearly 1.4 million views.

Weiner expressed the desire to shoot original Digg video, though noted that it will be “quite some time” before the company has the resources to tackle those projects. Digg has commissioned a number of smart, long-form articles, such as this 5,700-word think-piece on why audio rarely goes viral.

On YouTube, Digg has racked up nearly 3 million total views across the 11 videos it has posted within the last 12 months — an average view count of 271,000 per video. The Digg channel has a small YouTube following — just 3,500 subscribers — but site’s videos have found an audience on Digg itself and across other social platforms. Digg monetizes those video views with pre-roll ads, but most of its revenue comes from an ad unit on the site’s main page, which requires custom creative, according to Weiner. It has also featured video from brands as sponsored content.

“It’s not that we don’t worry about money — of course we do — but we very much like building great things like Digg TV first and figure out how we’re going to make [monetization] work right after,” said Weiner.

Main image courtesy of Digg (modified by Eric Blattberg / Digiday)


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