How Turner trained 500 employees to sell brand social videos globally

Turner is taking its growing branded social video practice global.

Turner Ignite, a division of Turner’s ad-sales business that focuses on data-driven advertising, has a social video advertising product called Launchpad. Launched during CES in 2016, Launchpad is designed to help advertisers distribute sponsored videos Turner companies create — everyone from Conan O’Brien’s “Team Coco” to Great Big Story — across Turner’s social portfolio, which features 100 accounts and 793 million followers. The idea is that by using data that Turner has access to across its social accounts and merging that with social analytics vendors it has partnerships with, Turner can not only help brands create videos, but successfully distribute them across the social web.

Led by Frank Kavilanz, svp of social strategy and solutions for Turner Ignite, and a 20-person team in New York, Launchpad has done more than 160 campaigns for advertisers. The campaigns, for advertisers ranging from 21st Century Fox to Snickers, have gotten nearly 500 million video views. Now, Turner is bringing this product to its international divisions, which include Turner International and CNN International.

To do this, Turner Ignite started a training program to familiarize sales and marketing employees across its international markets — including Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia — with Launchpad. This consisted of two-day, eight-hour courses led by Leslie Koch, an HBO veteran Turner hired to be its director of social strategy and lead the international training effort.

The courses were extensive: They started by covering basic terms and features such as “dark posts” and news feeds; then information on the reach and capabilities of different social networks; followed by manuals on how to advertise on the different platforms, including a breakdown of different ad units and targeting capabilities of those units; leading to detailed discussions on the different types of data and analytics tools available within Launchpad and why they matter; and finally ending with a test run of a campaign.

It’s only after they complete the course that Turner gives salespeople access to the Launchpad product.

“When you’re a salesperson and you go into a pitch, if there’s something you’re not familiar with, you’re going to be reluctant to talk about it,” Kavilanz said. “This gives them the confidence to bring Launchpad up in conversation.”

So far, nearly 500 international sales and marketing employees have completed the course and have access to the product. Additionally, executives higher up the Turner food chain, including president David Levy and Turner Ad Sales president Donna Speciale, have completed the training course.

“You can now talk to David Levy and ask him what a dark post is; he knows this stuff,” Kavilanz said.

With the international expansion of Launchpad, Kavilanz’s team will grow to 30 strategists and data scientists by the end of the year. While the team will continue to handle campaigns once they’re live, Turner is also creating a structure where data specialists inside international divisions will remain in constant contact with the New York-based Launchpad team.

“We have identified, by region, data insights people — these are folks who go above the [eight-hour courses] — who can go deep like my team does on what all of the data means,” Kavilanz said. “They’re working closely with my team, have standing calls and function as an extension of the Launchpad team embedded within CNN International and Turner International.”

To date, Launchpad has either completed or started a dozen international campaigns, including two that Great Big Story did with All Nippon Airways and Genesis. Both campaigns involved multiple videos and are now part of broader, ongoing partnerships with the clients — a major area of focus for Turner Ignite and Launchpad.

Another major aspect of the Launchpad product: offering guarantees on 30-second views across social platforms, which roughly 70 percent of clients take advantage of, according to Kavilanz.

“We’re able to provide 30-second guarantees by country to a specific target audience — not just age and gender, but people with specific passions — and do all of that within the campaign window,” Kavilanz said. “It’s a one-Turner approach to content marketing on social, which makes it easier to transact, because you know you’re getting all of these things, whether you’re executing in the U.S. or doing something out in Paris or Hong Kong, or across all three.”

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How The Washington Post is training video polymaths

As The Washington Post continues to make investments in video, the publisher is ensuring that its video journalists can handle everything from short-form vertical videos to live broadcasts to longer news documentaries.

The Post has big plans for its video business in 2017. Earlier this year, the publisher opened a new outdoor studio at its K Street headquarters and announced plans to nearly double its video team to 70 people by the end of 2017. Key content initiatives include doing more longer-form documentaries, personality-driven shows, scripted series and even a Snapchat Discover channel. This sort of effort requires video creators that have expertise in multiple types of storytelling and video formats — a skill set that is still hard to find today, according to Phoebe Connelly, deputy director of video for the Post.

“When we were sitting down for open positions and looking at hundreds of resumes, we were seeing candidates who were coming from top news organizations, who had incredibly impressive resumes, but were still narrow in their focus and skill set,” Connelly said.

For instance, some candidates who were talented when it came to shooting and editing videos were only familiar with shooting and editing for mid-form videos or a traditional broadcast news package. On the other end, interviewees that had more of a web background could easily demonstrate their knowledge about what kind of video makes sense for Snapchat or Instagram — and understood the audiences that watches videos on those platforms — but did not have the shooting skills required to create those videos.

To fix this, the Post started to cross-train its video team across all of the different video platforms and storytelling formats it focuses on. “Cross-training came out of our realization that the talent that we needed just wasn’t out there,” Connelly said.

The video polymath is a necessity in the current environment, where platforms like Facebook often drive video strategies. One minute the algorithm favors short videos, then long ones the next, then virtual reality.

Today, the Post’s video team is broken down into several different units: There are video editors embedded within desks across the newsroom; a universal news desk, which focuses on breaking news videos for the homepage, apps and Snapchat Discover; and a third team focused on long-form storytelling. More recently, the Post has also built out an on-camera team for personality-driven shows and a scripted team, which is working with the Post’s opinions desk to create shows.

The Post regularly rotates its video staffers from one group to the next: Video staffers embedded within various news desks will spend some time every month doing shifts on the universal news desk, where they can become more familiar with breaking news and live video. “When they go back to the politics or world desk, they’re taking that sensibility back with them — should something be a quick edit or a more thought-out package?” said Connelly.

The approaches other news publishers take vary. Reuters, for instance, is primarily focused on mid-form and live video within its mobile and TV apps, which means having its producers focus on more traditional video formats. Both Vox and Quartz prize video polymaths. NBC News, meanwhile, has a 30-person original video team that’s organized into several units: an “enterprise” team focused on longer form features and documentaries; a news team creating shorter breaking news and human interest pieces; and a couple of staffers focused on emerging video formats. NBC News also just launched a new 12-person digital studio — similar to CNN’s Great Big Story — that focuses on longer, less newsy and more cinematic storytelling. There is very little criss-cross between these divisions.

At The Washington Post, the broader newsroom is also getting involved with its video efforts. Reporter David Fahrenthold and other journalists will frequently do video interviews and field pieces, which require working with different parts of the video team. “The idea that maybe we can do a short vertical video piece [for a story] becomes part of their vocabulary and how they pitch story ideas,” Connelly said.

Supporting all of these efforts is a database of guidelines for different video formats and features. Routinely updated, these guidelines cover everything from how to upload 360-degree video to the assets any video staffer needs for publishing short videos to Facebook.

“It’s bananas as an industry if we expect and teach our talent to think, edit and report for a single platform,” said Connelly. “We have to set the expectation that the platform you’re using is going to change based on assignments, months or the audience you’re targeting for the story.”

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How NBC News cut video load times to under 3 seconds

By switching from Flash to HTML5 video, NBC News has sped up video delivery on its websites, which has contributed to an overall growth in on-site video viewership amid various other user experience improvements.

Today, 95 percent of the desktop videos across NBC News, Today.com and MSNBC.com load in under three seconds. It’s a “crazy improvement” for the publisher, according to Nick Ascheim, svp of digital for NBC News, which made the switch to HTML5 in February.

“We used to have load times that were quite shocking, and some of it was due to player performance and some of it was due to the ad partners we were working with,” said Ascheim. “We decided to focus on controlling what we could control. And once you take the player performance out of the mix, if there are bad load times, that’s probably due to ad integrations.”

Since making the switch to HTML5, Ascheim said it’s been easier for NBC News to single out other issues holding up video. It’s also been easier to address problems relating to load times with vendors and other ad partners, which NBC News speaks with on an “ongoing basis,” Ascheim said.

While NBC News is part of an industry-wide adoption of HTML5 over Flash, many publishers are still struggling to make the full switch as Google prepares to eliminate Flash entirely from its DoubleClick Digital Marketing ad platform by July. Recently, several publishers complained that some agencies and vendors are not doing enough to move away from Flash creative.

Before NBC News flipped to HTML5, the organization’s ad sales team made sure clients were aware of the coming change. “When we switched, we had no issues at all,” Ascheim said.

Improving the overall user experience has been a major initiative for Ascheim and his digital team. At the end of 2015, NBC News turned off autoplay video on its site, which almost immediately cut video starts by 45 percent. Nearly a year after the change, NBC News has rebounded, topping 100 million monthly video starts. Last month was NBC News Digital’s best month to date with 130 million video starts across its properties. (These figures are all according to NBC News’ internal data from Adobe Analytics — comScore’s May numbers have not been released yet.)

NBC News Digital is also producing more original digital video with teams dedicated to different brands. For instance, the 30-person video team under the NBC News umbrella has people focused on NBC News and MSNBC, as well as new verticals such as Mach, Better and Think. NBC News has created a six-person team to do original digital video for Today.com.

Ascheim acknowledged other factors that have contributed to video growth: Donald Trump has spurred audience gains for NBC News, like for countless other news publishers; new video features including playlists of related and recommended videos based on what viewers choose to watch; and an overall move toward focusing on the types of videos that viewers are gravitating to on the site. If that means covering more viral fare such as a video of a young girl being pulled underwater by a sea lion, great; if it’s more serious stuff such as Lester Holt’s interview with Trump or a video covering the Manchester terrorist attack, that works, too. (All three of those videos were among NBC News’ top four in May.)

“If something is popping on a regular basis, we want to put more resources toward making that type of content,” said Ascheim. “Sometimes it’s good, old-fashioned blocking and tackling and paying attention more than anything else.”

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‘Focused on profitability’: Why The Atlantic is shifting its focus to YouTube

Forget food videos on the feed: The Atlantic is sailing against the winds, opting for longer videos as part of series that are distributed through YouTube.

The 160-year-old publication, which has a small video operation compared to the distributed-media publishers that get billions of monthly views on Facebook, is focusing on creating longer videos that dive into serious topics such as science and politics. This includes weekly video series featuring its lineup of star editors and reporters, as well as animated videos and documentary features. At the same time, The Atlantic is prioritizing YouTube as the platform to distribute this content. The reason: Not only is YouTube the place where this type of content performs best, but YouTube is still the best place for publishers — especially smaller ones with a limited amount of resources — to reach a lot of viewers while also generating consistent revenue from pre-rolls. (YouTube typically takes a 45 percent cut of ad revenue from pre-rolls.)

“We tend to be pretty focused on profitability — new investments require that revenue comes along with them,” said Kim Lau, vp and gm at The Atlantic. “The big shift for us is the realization over time that while our audience at TheAtlantic.com is interested in and increasingly aware of our video, being able to grow [our video business] with just that audience is a little bit of a limitation.”

With a billion daily users on YouTube and countless videos to watch, YouTube certainly offers a reach that few others can match. It also offers a lot of noise.

The Atlantic’s approach to standing out is focusing on distinctive content that works well on YouTube’s platform, rather than pushing out as many videos as possible. Today, it’s launching a new science video series called “You Are Here,” which will feature The Atlantic’s science, health and technology writers exploring topics such as why Americans smile so much, the science of cool and whether social media is changing friendships. “You Are Here” joins other weekly video series such as “The Atlantic Argument,” a commentary series covering the latest news and political issues, and “Unpresidented,” which explores the new American political landscape. These shows follow a weekly release schedule.

“We know YouTube rewards consistency,” said Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg, gm and executive producer for Atlantic Studios, “but we also try to jump on the news cycle, especially with ‘The Atlantic Argument,’ when there is something of huge interest for our audience.”

The Atlantic is also focusing on animation and explainer videos. These can be a combination of animations placed within existing editorial video series as well as animated interviews with interesting guests like Bill Nye. Both formats have performed well on YouTube; CNN’s Great Big Story, for instance, has an entire team devoted to creating cartoons, while Vox has grown a substantial YouTube following by focusing on in-depth (longer) explainer videos that frequently feature animation.

While these shows aim to bring more regular viewers — and subscribers — back to The Atlantic’s YouTube channel, they are also in the service of a handful of longer documentaries The Atlantic puts out every month. The publisher typically releases two or three documentary features, typically running for 10 minutes or longer, every month. These go in-depth on topics ranging from Nazi Richard Spencer to American towns that welcome refugees.

With this approach, people are beginning to come to The Atlantic’s YouTube channel and spend time watching videos. The average watch time among The Atlantic’s 41,000 subscribers was more than three minutes last month, the publisher said.

“Among the distributed video platforms, YouTube is so strong at creating an experience where people are watching longer videos and with the sound on,” said Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg.

Of course, many scale-seeking digital publishers are still prioritizing Facebook because that still remains the best place to grab a lot of views in a short period of time. The Atlantic, like other publishers, is not ignoring Facebook. But it’s honest about Facebook’s limitations right now. The Atlantic will cut shorter versions of its videos — and include captions — for Facebook.

“Focusing on YouTube now allows us to bring monetization and high-quality storytelling all together in one place,” said Lau. “We’ll continue to dabble on Facebook.”

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Publishers’ candid thoughts on video: ‘Facebook is taking a cut of what used to be ours’

Publishers are facing a raft of issues when it comes to video, from figuring out how to make money off Facebook, to finding the right way to integrate advertising, to teaching clients that not everything fits neatly into a spreadsheet.

For the past two days, over 100 top publishers have gathered in New Orleans at the Digiday Video Anywhere Summit. They participated in town halls and working groups, which we held under the Chatham House rule: on the record, but without attribution. Here’s some choice sound bites from those discussions.

Platform issues
“We’re developing a Facebook audience, but we’re not monetizing it in any meaningful way. We’re not where we want to be. I’m wondering what works.”

“Facebook is not made for third parties to monetize. You can do some of that, but an open source video platform with ads is always going to monetize better than a platform that exists to monetize itself first.”

“Facebook is taking what a cut of what used to be ours. Zuckerberg is saying thanks for the content and here are the likes. But that is where the audience is, and if we don’t get in front of that and embrace it, we’re going to be left behind. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it’s going to happen.”

“The monetization on Facebook is terrible for us. The question for us is how far do we play. Do we just treat it as a marketing vehicle?”

“I want to scare [ad clients]. If you only run ads through platforms, there are always going to be things that get through that your ads will sit next to. So I’m going to bring that up as much as I can.”

“I would not spend a ton of money on Snapchat. Facebook and Instagram are where the business is. It doesn’t mean I’m ignoring Snapchat. But there are only so many resources I can use for all these platforms. And Snapchat doesn’t care about anyone but themselves. They’re at the extreme end of the spectrum, while YouTube, on the other end, cares about publishers.”

“It’s really hard to tell what the sweet spot is. What is it to keep the experience going so you don’t alienate the audience. What I’m hearing is the audience bails when the mid-roll hits.”

Monetization issues
“Me and a few colleagues have a running joke: You can’t make money in online video. If you think you are, you’re fooling yourself because you’ve diluted your operational costs, your tech costs by using third-party platforms. You’re helping them before you’re doing anything for yourself.”

“We struggle with syndication. The problem is people can get our content for free on YouTube and Facebook, so why would they want to pay?”

“The clients want a lot of control. It starts becoming like a commercial. It’s tough. You need to be able to tell the story in a way that’s genuine to your brand and audience, but you have to satisfy the person who writes the check.”

“As I look at my company and how we can scale revenue, there has to be some sort of paid content play. We have to find something that [our audience] is willing to pay for. But it is a challenge. Do we get our own ? How do we experiment with windowing? How do we monetize that? We’re still a little at a loss.”

“We don’t want churn, so you gotta strike value with the customer. Two years ago, everyone was talking about [subscription video on demand] products. Some of the lessons we learned when we jumped in is that if you’re a media company, don’t try to be a tech company. We learned that the hard way with our SVOD product.”

“How do we translate a U.S. format into a foreign market that we are not going to produce original content for? How do we package that aesthetic? Vice does a great job of selling the Vice aesthetic wherever they go. We are trying to figure out how we can do that.”

“[When it comes to licensing], what we haven’t figured out is how to nail the pricing. Do we do a percentage of revenue? A fixed cost? Or do we waive it because it’s a huge partner for us?”

Measurement issues
“For as much progress as we have made, we still have to ask fundamental questions like: ‘What is a view? And how do you value it?’ It can take me 10 million views on Facebook to make the same amount of money as I do on YouTube.”

“They live in this world where they want your audience, but they want brand lift and research and it to show conversion and ROI — and by the way, pricing has to live within their media plan. The expectations are tough.”

“You have to live and die by metrics. The biggest problem is they don’t know their KPI.”

“Platforms are being chained into using Moat. Facebook has an arbitrary view metric. YouTube has an arbitrary view metric. Where is the IAB in this conversation? Who is going to stand up and represent publishers in this conversation?”

“It’s hard for us to talk about anything in measurement because everything is viewability, viewability, viewability. Advertisers want viewability because they decided that’s the KPI. But viewability is a bad proxy for what you’re trying to get to, which is attention.”

“The buy side is looking for simple absolutes. The more you target toward viewability, you end up with terrible products. Remember when a 300-pixel-wide video player was a no-go for buyers? But now because of viewability, no one gives a shit.”

“Everyone is using Moat. But I’m not sure Moat is a third party anymore after the Oracle acquisition. So now, we’re going to let Oracle decide who’s going to be the independent auditor?”

Contributing: Brian Morrissey, Sahil Patel

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