While some media companies have recently turned their attention to YouTube, the Financial Times has focused on the video-viewing platform for the last three years.
The FT knows that video plays a role in driving subscriptions: If an anonymous user on FT.com interacts with a video on either the first or second visit, they have a higher propensity to subscribe compared to someone who doesn’t. The issue is the volume of subscriber conversions is small, so the FT is increasing the amount of relevant video in articles to better understand how effective video is at driving conversions.
To help assess how video can drive conversions, the FT is growing reach and referral traffic through YouTube, where it can point the viewer to additional relevant text or video content through links to related articles and end cards. According to the publisher, videos that drive the highest click-through rate tend to be series of videos explaining a dense topic, like blockchain or cryptocurrencies, but the FT was unable to share specific numbers. Roughly 10 percent of the publisher’s referral traffic comes from social platforms, according to SimilarWeb.
“YouTube understands the journey doesn’t need to end on YouTube. We appreciate that important factor,” said Kayode Josiah, director of commercial development at the FT. “YouTube is an important video-viewing platform for the general population. We have to take it seriously.”
While the FT runs some pre-roll ads on its YouTube videos, they’ve never been the main monetization focus, making high view counts less important. Multichannel network Diagonal View helps manage the FT’s YouTube channels. The FT’s main YouTube channel has an average view rate of 2 minutes and 30 seconds, according to Josiah, while video length varies and is generally under 10 minutes. A 15-minute video about China’s slowing economy was a top performer, amassing nearly 1.4 million views.
To target new and more specific audiences, the FT split its YouTube channels into verticals: FT Life; FT Transact, which was launched with brand sponsor UBS; and FT Industrial Tech. The publisher plans to launch more verticals this year, some with brand partners. Josiah said roughly 70 percent of the FT’s branded-content briefs now include video.
FT Life, which launched last year, focuses on lifestyle. Two videos are posted a week, and the channel has an average view rate of three minutes. The channel is succeeding in its goal to reach a younger and more female audience: The majority of its audience is between 25 and 34 years old, and it’s 55 percent women.
“From an editorial perspective, it gives us focus creating video for a specific target audience group,” said Josiah. “From a marketing perspective, we can go out and target a defined audience. For advertisers, they get to speak to that target audience through editorial video. It ticks a lot of boxes, but there is a limit. We can’t keep launching channels.”
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The FT has an editorial video team of 14 people, plus an additional team of 20 that is split between working on editorial and commercial video from Alpha Grid, the content production company the publisher has a majority stake in.
All video on FT.com also appears on YouTube, while select videos are published to Facebook. The videos posted to Facebook tend to be summary clips with subtitles that run under two minutes; the publisher has also started posting these on FT.com after noticing they perform well when embedded in articles. Video on FT.com is more discoverable than video on YouTube, which viewers visit with the intention of watching video. Videos longer than 10 minutes tend to perform better on YouTube compared to FT.com, but viewers on FT.com are more engaged. Video on the site has an average completion rate of between 60 and 80 percent, according to Josiah.
“We have to tailor video for multiple journeys. Some people go to hub pages to watch multiple videos; some only [watch video] when it’s in an article,” he said. “We have to create for both audiences.”
Determining how effective video and YouTube is at converting viewers into quality users — someone who returns to the site within seven days — is an ongoing challenge. The FT estimates readers come in contact with the brand between six and eight times before subscribing. “We know anecdotally [YouTube] is important because people tell us they come to the FT from YouTube,” Josiah said. “We know growth off-site increases exposure to new younger audiences. Video is an important part of the overall mix.”