Woven Digital, the publisher behind entertainment site for millennial guys Uproxx, is building a video business with Facebook at its core.
Uproxx has drawn more than 20 million video views across 10 videos on Facebook in April, according to public data on the site’s Facebook page. That hefty viewership has prompted Scott Grimes, CEO of Woven Digital, to make Facebook Woven’s primary distribution channel for video. Woven produces its videos for a Facebook audience first, editing and titling its videos differently on the social network than on YouTube and Uproxx.com itself.
It’s a bet that the company, flush with an $18 million investment round from December, will be able to monetize that viewership imminently. “We recognize that the cart may be a little before the horse in terms of the monetization, but sooner than later, that’s going to catch up in a really big way,” said Grimes.
So Woven and others have turned to brands to underwrite their videos series. HP sponsored the debut episode of “Luminaries,” a new Uproxx series that spotlights young tech talent. The first episode profiles a 19-year-old building a high-tech, low-cost prosthetic limb. Since Jan. 13, it has amassed 8.6 million views on Facebook, 44,000 likes and 182,000 shares. The title is straight out of Upworthy: “Meet The Teenager Trying To Change The World.” On YouTube, the video has a meager 44,000 views and a title optimized for search engines, not social sharing (“Luminaries: Prosthetic Arm Engineer Easton LaChapelle”).
“The audience and content are different on YouTube,” said Grimes. “It’s generally younger. There’s anonymity, versus identity on Facebook. We’ve figured out that something you create specifically for one won’t necessarily work as well on the other.”
Facebook has become an essential platform for brands and publishers looking to get more eyeballs on their videos. Since Facebook rolled out autoplaying videos in December 2013, the platform has populated users’ news feeds with more and more native Facebook video, edging out video content from YouTube and elsewhere. Now Facebook serves more than 4 billion video views each day, 75 percent on mobile devices. But even as publishers have flocked to the platform, chasing high view counts and video virality, Facebook has yet to release an ad product enabling media companies to directly monetize their Facebook videos (though it has tested one with Fox Sports and the NFL).
With 25 full-time employees working on video production, Woven has four video series out now, including “Uproxx Docs” and daily news show “The Desk.” The company plans to launch another six series in the next two months. It posts those videos on Uproxx.com, which drew just 79,000 unique video viewers on U.S. desktops in February (per comScore), and YouTube, where the publisher sees 1.5 million monthly video views (per OpenSlate). Woven claims 75 percent of video viewership on Uproxx.com is through mobile devices, which comScore doesn’t measure.
But neither YouTube nor Uproxx.com has the inherent virality of Facebook, which shows “like” and “share” buttons below every piece of content to a massive, logged-in user base. PopSugar, The Young Turks and other millennial-focused video publishers have also found sizable viewership on Facebook, prompting them to optimize their content for the platform.
Some publishers are wary of handing too much power to Facebook, and building scale only to find Facebook asking for cash to reach that same audience later. But Somesh Dash, general partner at Institutional Venture Partners, Woven’s lead investor, isn’t afraid of Facebook. The platform, he said, helps Woven market its brand and, ultimately, fund its content.
“Platform relationships have to be symbiotic,” said Dash. “Even if Facebook changes the economics, if the quality of the content is really good, you can monetize this stuff in perpetuity.”
Bernard Gershon, president of media consultancy GershonMedia, is a bit less bullish on Facebook’s monetization abilities, though — not that he’d advise a change in strategy. “I’m not sure about how soon Facebook becomes highly profitable for content creators, but [Woven’s embrace of Facebook video] is a smart move,” he said. “Contextual content and Facebook video is becoming much more interesting than YouTube.”
Main image courtesy of Uproxx / Facebook