‘Where the action is’: Vice Media Group now produces more Stories than text or video

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Vice Media Group Cory Haik doesn’t want to call it a pivot. 

But a new mobile app developed in house last year, called Stories Studio, has turned Vice Media Group’s feet, hips and eyes in the direction of more stories-style content, the mobile-native content format that can easily be distributed across platforms including TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Google and, for some reason, LinkedIn. 

After launching with a small group of content producers last June, today more than 250 Vice employees worldwide use Stories Studio to generate over 3,000 pieces of original content every month, said Olly Osborne, the managing director of Europe at Vice Digital.

The not quite-pivot to stories has driven some encouraging results. Average impressions per post are up 72% across Vice Media Group since it got its social global social teams up to speed on Stories Studio; for Vice World News, which has been a major focus since its launch last year, the stories-centric output has helped grow its Instagram audience from just over 100,000 followers to more than 600,000 followers over the past six months. 

Vice’s titles now produce more story-style content every month than they do traditional text- or horizontal video-based content, and the success of Stories Studio has Vice thinking through ways it can use it across other parts of the organization, even in its branded content business. In the first quarter of this year, the revenue Vice generated from stories content nearly doubled year over year, Vice chief digital officer Cory Haik said, though she declined to share specific numbers. 

“It’s well exceeded my expectations,” Haik said. “Original content creation on these platforms is where the action is.”

Vice is by no means the first publisher to take advantage of the recent spread and homogenization of the stories format. Social-heavy publishers such as Group Nine are years into strategies of recutting and redistributing different stories across multiple platforms, both to maximize their reach and the returns on each video, which remains expensive relative to text-based content.

The shift toward stories has also been informed by an industry-wide realignment around holding an audience’s attention. “The way newsrooms had seen distribution, historically, has been toward achieving scale and virality,” said S. Mitra Kalita, the cofounder of URL Media, a network of Black and brown community news sites and Epicenter, a hyper-local news startup based in New York; Kalita previously served as the svp of news, programming and opinion for CNN Digital. “What’s happening now is more newsrooms are favoring engagement and relevance.” 

Vice’s approach is meant to democratize that process within its organization. Rather than forcing social producers or digital design teams to bear all the responsibility of creating story content, the Studio app offers a series of content templates and design elements, to assure uniformity and consistency across output. 

“The Studio lowers the barrier to creativity,” Osborne said.  

“The newsrooms are anchored to legacy CMSes,” he added. “It roots editors in text-based journalism. We really wanted to build a tool that was a bridge.”

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While Vice’s staffers have been using the Stories Studio to create original content, they have also gotten comfortable using it to repurpose or reformat versions of content that began in a traditional format. An in-depth explainer article on Motherboard about the recent Gamestop stock trading brouhaha, for example, might get reworked into a carousel of cards distributed as Stories. 

Vice’s embrace of stories comes as the format has started to play a much bigger role in advertisers’ spending. Advertisers spent one-third of their Instagram ad budgets on Instagram stories in the first quarter of 2021, up from 22% in the same period last year, according to research from Merkle.

Stories has truly become its own ecosystem,” said Jon Severson, vp of paid social at Mediahub. “There’s opportunity for every vertical, and budgets continue to shift in that direction and we anticipate that accelerating.

“It’s encouraging to see Vice leaning into Stories,” Severson added. “Leaning heavier into Stories is really a case of fishing where the most fish are, and the efficiencies in auction dynamics make it the smart long-term space to invest with talent.”

Vice’s shift toward cost-effective, platform-native content production comes at a moment when the venture-backed startup is on the verge of starting a new chapter as a publicly traded company. Vice is reportedly in advanced talks to go public via a special purpose acquisition company, commonly known as a SPAC. 

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