Can social Stories work for news organizations — without putting them on a platform?

On platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, Stories are cute — they’re perfectly designed for your phone’s screen, they can feel more narrative than disconnected posts, you can be pithy while still including more information than a regular post, and you can communicate more directly with your audience. But they also have drawbacks: the public can’t really see them after 24 hours, and they’re accessible only by users of those apps. Continue reading “Can social Stories work for news organizations — without putting them on a platform?”

Facebook defends itself against social media critics

(Reuters) — Facebook Inc on Friday struck back against scientific researchers and tech industry insiders who have criticized the world’s biggest social media network and its competitors for transforming how people behave and express emotion. Facebook, in a corporate blog post, said that social media can be good for people’s well-being if they use the technology in a way that is active, such as messaging with friends, rather than passive, such as scrolling through a feed of other people’s posts. It was the second time this week that Facebook had published such a rebuttal, signaling a new willingness to defend a business model that translates users’ attention into advertising revenue. Continue reading “Facebook defends itself against social media critics”

BuzzFeed is testing a Stories-like module in its mobile app

BuzzFeed, which built a massive audience by distributing to others’ platforms, is testing a Snapchat-like format in its mobile app.

Over the past couple weeks, BuzzFeed has been showing a daily digest of content, similar to the Stories format popularized by Snapchat and Instagram, in its mobile app.

The BuzzFeed Stories digest, which appears at 10 a.m. for just 6 percent of the app’s audience, features repackaged GIFs, still images and animations that drive readers to BuzzFeed’s quizzes, listicles, videos and news articles. Teams inside BuzzFeed, including its news and shows divisions, are working on original content for the BuzzFeed Stories format, as the platform-powered publisher puts more attention on its own properties.

“We’ve really leaned into distribution over the years,” said Andrew Paulus, a senior product manager at BuzzFeed responsible for the Stories feature. “But we want the app to be the best place for users to consume the best content.”

While several publishers have had trouble growing sizable app audiences, BuzzFeed has averaged over 500,000 downloads per month across the Apple App Store and Google Play and has an estimated monthly active user base of 2 million people, according to Apptopia. It has had an average rank of No. 10 in Apple’s App Store over the past year, per Apptopia.

Two editorial staffers from the publisher’s curation team are testing which kinds of content work best, while others are trying different placements for the module. The Stories digests will also remain ad-free until BuzzFeed is satisfied with them, Paulus said. Reaching that point would help find a more suitable place for the full-screen video ads BuzzFeed added to its app recently, which have displeased some longtime users.

Other publishers have mimicked Snapchat’s vertical content style, like Mashable, which took cues from Snapchat with a recent app redesign. More than 110 publishers now sell vertical video ad inventory on their owned-and-operated properties, according to MediaRadar.

One outcome of the tests was that people preferred consuming BuzzFeed content in a Stories format, compared to the app’s current layout, which offers tabs for brands like Shows, Tasty and BuzzFeed News. By testing a new feature, it’s possible that Paulus and his colleagues stumbled onto a new look for the app.

“If that’s something that happens, it’s a good thing we started on it now,” Paulus said.

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What The Economist learned in its first year on Snapchat Discover

Our editors reveal how they crunch smart analysis for a young audience

Printed copies of The Economist have been landing on doormats every week since 1843. For the past year, our sharp analysis has been appearing on a certain yellow smartphone app once a week too.

Having launched on Snapchat Discover in October 2016, we have published more than 50 editions, on everything from the threat posed by North Korea to the possibility of alien life to the legalisation of drugs.

Snapchat gives The Economist something most publishers are hungry for in today’s media environment: an audience of young, mobile-first consumers of news and analysis. The Snapchat audience is also large: each month an average of 7.1m users visit The Economist’s Snapchat channel.

The most popular edition so far, “How Well Do You Know Your Presidents?”, which coincided with Donald Trump’s inauguration, reached more readers in a week than does in a month. Overall, launching on Snapchat has resulted in “the biggest step-change in the audience of The Economist since 1843,” says Tom Standage, deputy editor and head of digital strategy.

The edition pegged to Trump’s inauguration embodied much of what The Economist’s Snapchat team hopes to achieve, says Lucy Rohr, the paper’s Snapchat editor. One aim is to be what Ms Rohr calls a “trusted filter” that provides analysis and context around a news event. The edition on the inauguration focused not so much on Trump, but on the institution of the presidency and on previous holders of the office.

Choosing a topic for the weekly edition requires careful consideration as Ms Rohr has to be sure that The Economist has enough analysis on a subject to be able to fill an edition — and smartly. “Plenty of what we do can’t be readily translated into a ‘Snappy’ format. We have to take the time to really think about each edition and each snap and how to do it best,” says Ms Rohr. That can also mean creating original content, specifically for the platform.

Striking the right tone is one of the most difficult tasks for the Snapchat team, whose five members are on both sides of the Atlantic. “It’s something we think about in every edition,” says Ms Rohr. Balancing the rigorous analysis of The Economist with the playfulness of Snapchat takes time and is “definitely a challenge”, according to Ms Rohr. Her team must condense large amounts of reporting from the paper into a medium that is not only finishable, concise and elegant — like the paper — but also fun and interactive.

Once the topic is chosen, how does a Snapchat edition come together? After gathering material from the archives and doing more research where needed, a script is written. A Snapchat script is broken down into at least 14 snaps, with words and visual ideas for each, plus links to the articles that might be added as content that the user swipes up to read. Editors, designers and animators then build all the visuals to produce the edition. Articles are fact-checked by the research department and updated where necessary, consulting with other editors when needed to ensure consistency with the paper’s editorial line.

Snapchat’s audience is young. But the idea of giving young people what we think they want is not the guiding philosophy of Ms Rohr’s team. Publishers who talk down to the audience, she says, will be punished by poor engagement. “The readers are smart, they are interested and they always want to know more, so it’s a really amazing opportunity as a producer and journalist to serve this group,” she says.

People familiar with The Economist are often surprised to hear that the paper is on Snapchat. But is it really so surprising? The team has found its audience to be forward-looking, globally curious and highly engaged with liberal causes. “So The Economist is actually pretty well aligned,” says Ms Rohr.

Matteo Moschella is a social media fellow at The Economist.

What The Economist learned in its first year on Snapchat Discover was originally published in The Economist on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Snapchat’s super-secret publisher help page

“They’re dicks.”

I like to ask publishing executives I meet for their appraisal of their dealings with platforms such as Snapchat. This harsh assessment came from a midsize publisher. Platforms all go through growing pains, often made more painful by being the cool, rich kid. Snapchat is smack in that phase. Many publishers privately grouse that the company’s secretive, too-cool-for-school corporate culture bleeds into its approaches to partners. The message, intended or not, is often: We’re Snapchat, you’re not, so do it our way.

The publisher I spoke to brought up a simple matter: follower counts. Publishers want to know their audience on Snapchat. This isn’t just for vanity reasons; the publishers’ business partners want to know this, too. But Snapchat doesn’t think follower counts are important. Instead, it tells publishers to focus instead on a different metric, Story views. There are good reasons for this since Snapchat doesn’t want to be a raw-numbers platform — it will lose in that game every day and twice on Sunday to Facebook — but instead an “engagement” platform. Snapchat might not have as many users, but those it does have are maniacs.

The problem here is that’s good for Snapchat but not necessarily for its partners. This publisher told me he traveled across the country to Snap’s headquarters in Venice, California, for the express reason of finding out from a company rep what its follower count was. That leaves partners feeling bruised. Platforms can get away with being aloof for only so long.

To see this in action, visit the Snapchat publisher help page. This is an unpublicized page that, in true Snapchat fashion, is passed along with instructions not to share.

The super-secret page is a pretty run-of-the-mill help page with a form at the bottom to describe the problem. The very on-brand part, however, is when Snapchat asks for the name of an employee who referred the publisher to the page. Intended or not, it’s a velvet-rope move that left this publisher unimpressed.

State of media in 2017
“What they want to do is have fewer sets of eyes on the thing. It makes everybody a jack of all trades. The perception is that the quality will go down. There’s no way it can’t.” — A New York Times copy editor, speaking to us in Digiday’s latest Confession.

Beware of honesty
The New York Times “Corner Office” spotlight is a nice feather in the cap for any executive. It’s a chance to find deep meaning in a summer job as a waiter or wax lyrically about leadership lessons from Winston Churchill. But sometimes, CEOs can get over their skis. That’s what happened to Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini, who has been roasted on Twitter for this response.

I’m sure Nardini was just giving the typical macho hard-charging CEO answer. And the truth is, every ambitious CEO wants people who are responsive and, ideally, “always on” to a degree. My guess is she didn’t mean all employees, but her top people. That comes with being paid a lot more. But being CEO is also being mindful of how things will be perceived. These days, sleep and mindfulness are in; the 1980s rise-and-grind and sleep-when-you-die mentality is out of style.

Facebook and publishers
The platform giant is getting more responsive to publishers’ wants, but there’s often a catch. In the latest example, this week it announced a new tool that shows publishers how their articles perform when they post them directly to the platform via Instant Articles compared to regular mobile articles on Facebook. On one hand, it’s nice for publishers to get something they’ve asked for since IA rolled out two years ago, but the data is limited. Kimberly Lau of The Atlantic, one of the publishers that was part of the project, likely spoke for many when she said she’d like to see more, “but they are moving.”

Watch out for Amazon
Amazon’s making a play for video companies and creators to distribute their work through its Amazon Prime platform, as we covered earlier this week. And it has something that Facebook can’t offer just yet: a consistent revenue stream — that’s not reliant on advertising, either.

One midsize video publisher said it earned $40,000 in less than a month from Amazon after recently uploading a few of its videos to Prime. That’s not breaking the bank, exactly, but it’s a noticeable amount of revenue for very little work and very little internal investment — all video owners have to do is upload the actual videos and set terms on how they want the content made available.

And that’s just in video: It doesn’t include Amazon’s active recruitment of publishers to test and use Amazon Echo, as we also reported. Everyone seems to be waiting for the duopoly to turn into a troika — it’s hard to say Amazon won’t be the company that fills that role.

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State of social platform use in Germany in 5 charts

Germany has had a more reserved relationship with social media than other countries like the U.S. and U.K. That’s largely because the deep-rooted mistrust around data privacy from the Stasi era remains, which has bred a reluctance to fully embrace social networks. But that’s changing. The millennial generation has an affinity for social networks, which is why platforms like Instagram are booming in Germany.

There’s still a ways to go, though. Over 85 percent of all adult Germans are online, but only half of those are on social — far fewer than other European countries, according to a recent study from German public television companies ARD and ZDF.

Here’s a look at social network usage patterns, based on multiple data sources:

Facebook reigns supreme
Facebook is by far the most used social network in Germany with 28 million users, according to the platform. Some have said Facebook’s overall growth has started diminishing, though, as younger users have flocked to its other apps, WhatsApp and Instagram. Instagram has 9 million active users, according to the company. Instagram also released a load of business tools last year for brands, which has helped aid its growth among marketers. 

Agencies love Instagram
Facebook-owned Instagram will be Snapchat’s toughest rival, having launched in Germany earlier and already a favorite among agencies. Instagram is strong in the 14- to 29-year-old bracket but isn’t used much by older demographics. Usage of the platform is lagging behind awareness of it. Thirty-five percent of its 14- to 29-year-old users are active on Instagram, while awareness of it is at 56 percent within the same age group, according to research agency Forsa.

Source: Forsa

Snapchat lenses and stories are liked
It’s early for Snapchat in Germany, and the platform doesn’t separate German users officially yet, though some research firms put its usage numbers in the country at around 900,000 in 2016. Women make up 70 percent of the platform’s users, according to eMarketer data. Predictably, Snapchat Germany users are mostly in the 14- to 19-year-old age group, with 66 percent of users within that bracket, while 29 percent are between 20 and 29 years old, according to eMarketer. A smaller number of users — 2.5 percent — are over 30 years old, and the same percentage applies to those younger than 14 years old.

Snapchat features are getting more popular, though, particularly lenses and stories, according to a study by the University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf. A total 2,165 people were interviewed in January, 1,610 of whom use Snapchat.

Source: University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf

Twitter has always struggled
Twitter has never gotten great traction in Germany. “It just didn’t catch on,” said Irene Waltz, social media specialist at research firm Marketing Helfer. That’s not to say it isn’t used. Twitter is a useful tool for journalists, who use it a lot, as do football clubs. But it hasn’t been a tool for politicians’ campaigns, unlike in the U.S. and in the U.K., where it has played a major role, she added.

Twitter’s former 140-character limit was a barrier for some. But its failure to communicate German user figures early enough with agencies also hurt its growth. Twitter didn’t perform well for brands that launched accounts, either, according to Max Embert, social media specialist at Publicis Pixelpark. “Then, Instagram rose, and the focus shifted from the low engagement on Twitter to the highly engaging visual photo community,” he said. “Twitter didn’t understand the German market and was then overtaken by Instagram.”

Meanwhile, YouTube continues to perform well, commanding the highest media budgets along with Facebook. “YouTube is often separated from social media budgets and counted toward online video budgets or display advertising. So the most spend will be on Facebook and YouTube, with Instagram next,” added Embert.


Source: eMarketer

LinkedIn is catching up fast to Xing
Homegrown site has been the most popular professional network in Germany, with 10.5 million total users there and in German-speaking nations Switzerland and Austria. But LinkedIn has steadily gained ground, now claiming 9 million users across Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Agencies attribute that to people who have previously lived abroad in countries where LinkedIn is the dominant network bumping up the average. New features and tools have also helped. “Xing is very powerful still here,” said Simon Usifo, managing director of account management at Ogilvy & Mather Germany. “LinkedIn has typically been used by people who have studied abroad. Most on Xing haven’t needed to go beyond that.”


Sources: LinkedIn and Xing


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Newsonomics: In Norway, a newspaper’s digital video startup is now generating more revenue than print

— Yes, there’s even a Trump Bump in Oslo.

Take 56 million, the number of views VGTV has gotten so far on its “satirical masterpiece” of “tupéfabrikk”, the company’s discovery of Donald Trump’s secret wig field in Tromsø, Norway’s Arctic Circle city. But that bump is just a collateral benefit of VGTV’s innovation engine.

In the three and a half years since its founding, VGTV has become a global model, with its leaders speaking at numerous media forums.

This spring, the latest spun-off Schibsted division passed an important milestone: VGTV, the video operation of the leading Norwegian daily VG, now produces more monthly revenue than does VG’s seven-day print product. VG, like many dailies, is losing double digit percentages of print revenue each year, but that revenue loss is being made up by the video operation. Of course, the new money is not nearly as profitable as the old — but for Schibsted, it’s all about the all-in bet on the longer-term digital future.

“What I hear [from journalists at conferences] is that people get inspired…that we are optimistic of the fact that we think we are going to manage to monetize video,” explains Helje Solberg, VGTV’s CEO and editor. Solberg moved over to VGTV more than three years ago, after serving for nine years as VG’s executive managing editor.

In 2016, VGTV pulled in 83 million Norwegian kroner, or about $10 million in total revenue. Into early 2017, it’s now seeing a steep ramp in growth, with a 51 percent increase year over year in the first quarter.

It’s not simply a maturing of the market — it’s audience growth. Year over year, VGTV grew audience 29 percent, accounting for 420,000 daily unique users in the first quarter. It can count more than 25 million video streams started per month, or almost a million a day.

That’s a good number given the sparsely populated northern terrain — Norway’s only got 5 million people.

Given that small, well-read population, why do so many publishers buttonhole Solberg at media events?

First and foremost, it’s the unique story of Schibsted’s serial and widening innovation. Schibsted is the biggest publisher most other publishers have never heard about. Based in Oslo, with strong newspaper publishing positions in both its home country and Sweden, Schibsted has become a Top 10 global company in revenue among legacy news providers, with operations in 30 countries and three continents, employing almost 7,000 people. As one executive of the now hyper-innovative Washington Post recently told me: “We like Schibsted. Some smart people there.”

Today, Schibsted’s media houses (publishing) contribute about 25 percent of its overall revenues, with the company’s marketplace/classifieds business and “growth” divisions still generating good growth. (We’ve chronicled Schibsted here at the Lab for years.)

It’s the innovation at Schibsted’s media houses that compels attention — for its early impact, its restructuring, and its results, with VGTV only the latest installment. The most recent critical result: Schibsted’s Norwegian news businesses now show small growth. In the first quarter, revenues were up 4 percent, with earnings (EBITDA) up 8 percent.

Overall, for VG (a popular Oslo daily, which operates alongside Aftenposten, Schibsted’s “quality” daily), the numbers show that investments in innovation are paying off. In the first quarter, VG saw 27 percent growth in digital subscribers (to 108,000) and a 28 percent growth in digital advertising, a good amount of that attributable to VGTV. Another good print-to-digital crossover number: Operating expenses were down 7 percent.

As it crosses over, the video strategy fits well with Schibsted’s vision of a next-generation platform vision. That plan emphasizes a signed-in engagement that seeks to compete against the always-signed-in world of Facebook.

For innovation watchers, the short story of the Schibsted model is clear: Transforming the news business means separate and reintegrate, separate and reintegrate. That’s what Schibsted did in 1999 when, ahead of its peers, it funded a separate — and competitive to print for audience — digital operation. Later, it did the same with mobile.

Then, in late October 2013, it applied the successful model once again, to video and VGTV. Both “digital” and “mobile” have been folded back into the VG mothership. Solberg says she expects that VGTV will be soon as well. Once innovation is well enough established, resourced, and acculturated, it folds back into a bigger, smarter, and now digital savvy newsroom and company.

Today, VGTV includes a staff of 65. They remain organizationally separate from VG, though the operation is housed in the VG offices and works often as if the two are one — which is the point.

When I first wrote about VGTV three years ago, then-VG CEO and editor Torry Pedersen told me of this and other Schibsted forays: “Make sure you lose money for at least three years.” In fact, VGTV first became profitable in April, a few months past its three-year anniversary, says Solberg, though she doesn’t expect 2017 to be in the black overall.

It’s telling that both Solberg and Pedersen have held both top editorial and business-side titles simultaneously. The Schibsted model seems to recognize and promote shapers, and some of those shapers should come from the editorial side of the business as well. Earlier this year, Pedersen, well known and respected in the broader media world, became head of Schibsted’s media house businesses in Norway overall.

Live news, and the challenge of a Facebook-like integrated experience

In those three years, Solberg, a long-time VG news executive, has learned lots about what works and what doesn’t in digital video. She’s now intent on better integrating the VGTV experience into VG’s wider news delivery, and wants to apply lessons from its Snapchat and Facebook tests.

She’s had to make ongoing decisions about the kinds of video VGTV emphasizes. The site offers a lively mix — its offerings translate fairly well with Google Translate — of news, interviews, and popular culture. News and sports lead viewing time, with a variety of other programming, created and licensed, filling out the picture.

Given VG’s overall pre-eminence as a breaking news site, VGTV prizes its advances in live programming. “In the terrorist attack in Belgium last year, it was the first time we documented a major breaking news story with live images before still images,” she says. “Now, that happens again and again. On U.S. election day, more people followed our live coverage than read the most-read article on”

For global coverage, VGTV uses both wire services and its own correspondents, transmitting live images from the news spot. Its anchors also host news programs.

“We don’t necessarily go live every day,” says Solberg. “It’s very important for us to go live if there is news that we have to report. All we need to go live is a journalist and an iPhone. The technology works with us. It’s easier and easier to go live.” By the numbers, viewers responded, with “live” viewing more than quadrupling in 2016 over 2015.

At this point, somewhat surprisingly, more viewers watch VGTV on their desktops than on mobile, though in April, mobile topped desktop. Why is desktop so strong? Solberg believes getting the mobile user experience right is one of her greatest challenges. A prime goal: “integrated native video.”

“We need to integrate video much better into the news journey. I used to say that you have peer-based video, [where] users go to the platform to watch video, [and] push-based video. Users go to the platforms again to get updated. Both are served video seamlessly like Facebook. For us, the big question is: Is it possible to challenge the peer-based platforms such as YouTube, that established play channels on time spent? We think we need a different approach. Facebook did some smart moves — it’s muted, it goes very fast, it has no ads interrupting the content — while we have a click-to-play model and interrupting ads.”

So, Solberg’s team studies Facebook, and its new partner, Snapchat. VGTV began producing VG’s first-in-Norway Snapchat Discover channel in January. “Snapchat is a good place to learn and experiment what makes a good video on the mobile phone. We really like it as a place to publish stories. It’s also a good carrier of advertising. It remains to be seen, however, how easy or how difficult this will be to monetize. It’s still an investment case for us. The test period for six months was sold out within two weeks.”

Steady, above-web digital ad rates

In its short history, VGTV has managed to gain healthy ad rate for its video ads — a CPM of 180 kroner, or a little more than $20. That’s better than VG’s average non-video digital ad yield, says Solberg.

Digital video ads come out of digital ad budgets, she says, so in this arena, VG is up against Facebook and Google. Together, the two dominate Nordic digital advertising, with a two-thirds share of the market.

At this point, 15-second pre-rolls predominate, but VGTV is experimenting with shorter forms less than 10 seconds.

“It is possible to tell a story, even in six seconds,” she says. Storytelling is key: It’s noteworthy that, along with VGTV’s increased ad revenues, it’s branded content that has also helped make up for print losses. Initiatives such as The New York Times’ T Brand Studio have found that combination of branded storytelling and video, the virtuous mating of two post-display ad formats.

Solberg hopes to find other ad rhythms that work, just as VGTV is doing editorially. “We saw two years ago most of the clips were, like, two and a half to three minutes. Now they are less — about one minute. But the time spent on VGTV has increased. So we make shorter news videos, but people spend more time with us. We also have a higher completion rate,” says Solberg. “We make the short videos and then we make the longer videos and documentaries and programs.”

“It’s possible to tell a smart story in 43 seconds,” says the former political journalist. She shows me one video — a quick-moving, graphics-centric piece, one that indeed tells its story well in less than a minute.

Very short, or longer and explanatory. The web isn’t a medium medium.

One goal: The digital news leadership

For long-time print journalists like Solberg and Pedersen, “TV” learnings have opened unexpected doors. Yet, all the efforts remain focused on a singular goal, which Solberg puts simply: “If VG is to keep and strengthen our No. 1 position as Norway’s largest online news site, we need to succeed with video.”

As it strategizes, VG also makes interesting use of old-fashioned linear TV. VGTV runs several channels on cable and satellite and gets payments from companies for carriage. Solberg is quite clear that Oslo’s two major TV news providers — commercial TV 2, and public broadcaster NRK — will remain the near-term linear TV choice of consumers. As strong as VG is for breaking digital news, consumers haven’t transferred that habit to old-fashioned TV. “What we learned was that, when there is big news happening, people go to VG, digitally, and to established TV channels. That didn’t turn out — that people would also watch us on linear TV,” says Solberg.

How likely is that to change? “I don’t think that’s possible to change,” acknowledges Solberg. “We have said from the very beginning with the linear TV channel, that everything we do has to gain us digitally. Our core strategy is digital.”

And that strategy includes ad revenue that is now “broadcast,” even if current VGTV revenues largely are bought out of the digital bucket.

“Traditional TV is still very strong in Norway,” says Solberg. “Norwegians like TV and watch almost three hours a day on linear TV. I think it’s just a matter of time before this shift [to digital video] in consumption will pay off.”

Put it all together and linear TV is a means to VG’s digital end. Those cable and satellite distribution payments represent the majority of linear TV revenue, with advertising a secondary source there.

After testing news on linear TV, VGTV now runs largely documentaries on the channel around the clock. “It’s about six to eight documentaries a day,” says Solberg. “Some news — a news loop and a sports loop.”

Intriguingly, it is these same documentaries — about 20 were produced last year — that have now moved behind a digital paywall. Documentaries such as “Stuck,” a series on human trafficking, used to be largely free via the web; now they support that significant digital subscription growth. And yet they remain free on VGTV’s linear channel. Consumer confusion? Not really — just a different distribution channel.

As VG and Schibsted’s other dailies in Norway and Stockholm work through the possible delivery channels of 2020, they have to deal with the economics of 2017. How well is that big overall strategy going — the establishment of VG, a brand established out of the ashes of World War II, as a digital brand of today and tomorrow.

In 2017’s first quarter, digital revenues — including VGTV’s — totaled 48 percent of all VG income. That’s close to a real crossover, and the highest percentage of any daily-based operation of which I’ve heard.

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

The post Publishers’ candid thoughts on video: ‘Facebook is taking a cut of what used to be ours’ appeared first on Digiday.

Two years in: What Bleacher Report has learned from Snapchat Discover

Bleacher Report U.K. has experimented with hundreds of different formats on Snapchat Discover over the last two years. The upshot: Don’t get too comfortable.

Bleacher Report is somewhat unique among U.S. Snapchat publishers in that it got its start in the U.K. The London team has four people dedicated to creating two English-language Discover editions a day, one for international audiences and another for domestic. It regularly calls on a pool of independent contractors when extra skills like motion graphics are needed.

Football is the main focus for the publisher’s U.K. and international Discovers (the U.S. now has a separate channel), meaning there is an infinite stream of updates either relating to matches or football culture, around which the team can create content. Here’s what Bleacher Report has learned.

Avoid recurring templates
To keep its editions sharp, the team is strict with switching up formats. As soon as a highly popular format starts feeling easy to re-create, it’s dropped. That can be as quick as after 12 editions. The goal: to ensure its editions remain unique to Bleacher Report, while keeping its audience highly engaged.

“With Snapchat having such a young audience, any type of content you’re running can get boring fast if you’re using a recurring template,” said Lee Walker, global managing editor of Bleacher Report. “So as soon as something becomes the norm, we change it.”

That’s not particularly good news for any publisher that hopes to one day reduce the number of editors required to create great Discover content. But it’s not so much a problem for Bleacher Report, which takes a more BuzzFeed-type approach to platforms, rather than using them to bring eyeballs back to its own sites.

Separate geographies, separate teams
In the U.S., Bleacher Report is far newer to Discover. It began publishing there in January, but it has an 11-person team. Naturally, the other main difference is that the U.K. and international editions focus on football, while in the U.S. the emphasis is the NFL and the NBA. That also means there are no typical economies of scale when it comes to sharing content between the international teams because the audiences are totally different, according to Walker. Some snaps will generate global interest, such as a recent one listing Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo’s cars. But mainly, the U.S. editions will look markedly different from the international ones.

“It’s more of an ethos that we can share; it can’t be a replica. The main thing we stressed to the U.S. guys when they started was just ensure each snap has a purpose, like using long-form pieces, which help grow loyalty and connection to the brand,” Walker said. “Whether loyalty or engagement, we want to tick that box.”

A snap needs a singular purpose
Another core lesson has been to ensure each snap is created for a singular purpose to avoid wasting resources and to keep users’ attention. Bleacher Report has three simple rules for achieving this. A snap must be created to do one, rather than multiple things, to drive high usage. When wanting to drive swipe-ups, the team will give teasers of stories that are impossible to tell in one top snap. For example, the snap “The Cristiano Ronaldo story, told through his goal celebrations” drove high swipe-ups, though Walker wouldn’t reveal particulars due to its agreement with Snapchat.

The team uses another format when it decides it wants to drive people to share snaps. Users will be asked to pick or vote on something. Questions like, “Who will win the Champions League? Juventus or Real Madrid?” have been particularly successful at driving high shares. The third format is for video, and naturally the purpose is to drive high views and repeat views of videos.

Talking heads don’t work
Finding the right video formats is still a work in progress, and some formats have been quickly abandoned. A talking-heads video was used as a top snap to tease a longer-form video. But the format was dropped when it didn’t gain traction. Bleacher Report has also worked on a spinoff Snapchat edition called “Saturdays Are Lit” in partnership with video production house Copa90. The aim of the show is to reinvent the traditional TV-style football shows for the Snapchat generation. The series is still ongoing.

“What you’re trying to achieve on Discover is very different to Instagram, where it’s about conversation and great aesthetics, and on Twitter which is about capturing the moment. For Snapchat, it is that 24-hour window, and you have to be careful it never looks dated,” Walker said. “There is a balance needed, and it’s somewhere between topical and evergreen.”


The post Two years in: What Bleacher Report has learned from Snapchat Discover appeared first on Digiday.

A marketer cheatsheet for Snapchat’s latest lens, filter options

Snapchat is making several updates to its branded lenses and geofilters today.

The key updates:

  • The global sponsored lenses update lets users play around with not only their faces, but also the world around them. Brands, for example, can add floating 2-D or 3-D objects to their sponsored lenses, be it film characters or products to the outward-facing camera.
  • Advertisers in the U.S. can now buy lenses that target specific audience segments for the first time, based on age, gender and Snap Lifestyle Categories — the platform’s own audience segments based on users’ viewing habits in its various channels such as Discover and Our Stories.
  • With today’s update, brands can add location or other real-time information to their nationwide and chain geofilters in the U.S., including names of high schools, colleges, airports, states, cities, neighborhoods and zip codes.

The key numbers:

  • Daily users spend over 30 minutes on Snapchat each day on average.
  • Over 3 billion snaps are created every day.
  • Over 60 percent of its daily users create content every day, and daily users open Snapchat more than 18 times per day on average.
  • Snapchat makes 90 cents average revenue per user.
  • Sponsored lenses have been a huge moneymaker for Snapchat, costing advertisers anywhere between $300,000 and $750,000 for a single day.
  • Both lenses and geofilters also offer advertisers a ton of engagement. Per Snapchat, one in three daily users play with lenses every day on average, and snaps with geofilters are viewed over 1 billion times a day on average.
  • Snapchat has now run over 100 sponsored lens branded campaigns.

The marketers’ view:
Jill Sherman, head of social media at DigitasLBi: “As an advertiser, the ability to provide a more contextually relevant experience is key. Personalization trumps reach when connecting with younger audiences, and these updates help the platform move in that direction.”

Bold Worldwide CEO Brian Cristiano: “While audience targeting on lenses is a good improvement, we’ve been using age- and gender-based targeting on other platforms for ages. It feels a little fluffy, especially after its first quarterly earnings last week; I wouldn’t do broad marketing on Snapchat yet, unless I see more meaty updates.”

The big picture:
Snapchat has entered the trough of disappointment. Many marketers (and publishers) would like for it to become a counterweight to Google and Facebook, but there’s an open question as to how quickly it can innovate while Facebook keeps copying its features. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel has engaged in plenty of hand-waving for marketers (and Wall Street) to look at engagement, not daily active users.

These updates play up engagement once again, with Snapchat also touting that it has sped production timelines for sponsored lenses from eight to six weeks. They also come on the heels of the platform rolling out a number of other updates for marketers, including a self-service ads manager that makes it easier for brands of all sizes to buy video ads. The key is for Snapchat to keep innovating at speed and also bring in as much data as possible.

“Snapchat must be able to provide advertisers with the tools, data and results that parallel or exceed the rest of the industry,” said Cristiano.

The post A marketer cheatsheet for Snapchat’s latest lens, filter options appeared first on Digiday.

The New York Times brings its (even briefer) morning briefings to Snapchat Discover

The New York Times, which started publishing on Snapchat Discover on Monday after a couple of years of sending out updates through the regular app, sees a couple of audiences for the new product.

One is Snapchat’s native audience. The other is the olds who, like me, might have spent several minutes Monday morning trying to figure out how to fill out the Times’ mini crossword on Snapchat Discover: For them, there is a Times Insider explainer to how to find the Times on Snapchat Discover, how to tap through its offerings, and how to fill out the crossword. For these people, there are even video how-tos. The explainer post’s slug is don't-worry-you're-not-the-last-person-on-snapchat.

The Times is aiming for a bit of a “morning briefing,” commute-friendly feel with its Discover edition, and it sees a separate mission there from the Snapchat Stories it’s been publishing for the past two years or so. With Discover — where it joins newspapers The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and the Daily Mail, as well as dozens of other publishers — it hopes it can capture some of the success it’s seen with its Morning Briefing emails (which now have 1.3 million subscribers; plenty of others read on the web or in the app) and its The Daily podcast (which had over 20 million listens in its first two months); you can see a similar goal in the paper’s redesigned pages A2–A3. “We will never pander to the audience,” said Talya Minsberg, Times social strategy editor. “One thing we’ve heard loud and clear is that even though Snapchat pulls a much younger audience, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to learn the news or see powerful photography.”

The New York Times will publish to Snapchat Discover every weekday morning. A team of about 20 worked on the launch for a couple months; that’s now down to around 10 people who will work on the Discover edition each day, some full time. Monday’s edition included a three-snap version of Mike Isaacs’ story on Uber’s risk-taking; a vertical video story about the fighting in Mosul; a one-snap update on France’s election; a five-item Monday briefing; a condensed version of Bill McKibben’s Sunday editorial on climate change; a “that should be a word” (“bagriculture)”; a three-snap version of a Times Magazine story on Lorde; and a mini crossword (but not the one that ran in the Times’ own app, site, and page A3 on Monday) that you fill in by scribbling with your finger. Minsberg sees the mini crossword as a possible conversion point to the Times’ paid product: Maybe a user gets hooked on it in Snapchat Discover, then gets a digital crossword subscription (less than a dollar a week!), then maybe one day decides to get a digital subscription to the paper too.

For the most part, the Snapchat team is working with editorial staff to repurpose content for the Discover edition — “people on the Snapchat team are going in and editing, rewriting, and reframing content specifically for Snapchat,” Minsberg said. Content from the Opinion pages, however, is an exception. In Discover, it’s explicitly presented as Opinion (unlike the other content in the edition, which isn’t identified as coming from any one section), and it’s never touched by anybody on the Snapchat team. Somebody on the Opinion desk edited down McKibben’s editorial for Discover, and most of the time, there will be no Snapchat-specific edits to Opinion content at all.

The five-item briefing is written by senior staff editor Sean Alfano, who had previously worked on NYT Now and the Times’ longer morning briefing before shifting focus to do the Snapchat briefing. “Five things is pretty limited, compared to the briefings as they exist elsewhere,” he said. “But we don’t have any expectation that we can hold onto you for more than 300 words if you’re 20 years old.” The items in Monday’s edition: Barack Obama’s return from his post-presidential vacation; Trump’s agenda this week; Congress’s return to work; Ann Coulter’s vow to speak at Berkeley this week despite the university administration’s decision to cancel her event; and the Cassini spacecraft’s exploration of Saturn.

It will take time to settle on the right mix of content for Discover; the team will be watching the analytics provided by Snap to see what people are sticking around for and where they’re spending most of their time. “We’re not starting every day thinking we need X number of stories or X number of snaps,” Minsberg said. “There may be times when we have 10 stories across 12 snaps. There may be times when we have 3 stories across 12 snaps.”

As for the actual five-item briefing, “our thinking is that it needs to be as quick and as matter-of-fact as necessary,” said Alfano. “We’re gonna roll with that for the first couple weeks and see what the response is. We’re absolutely open to going with what our audience seems to gravitate to.”

Why The Economist’s strategy rests on being “an antidote to Kardashian coverage”

While the majority of the world is panicking about the destabilising effects of Brexit, a Trump presidency and other potentially catastrophic developments, some publications are rejoicing.

Choice quotes:

“Standage estimates that, while around 50 percent of the Economist’s revenue came from advertising at the turn of the dotcom boom, that figure will be closer to 14 percent next year.”

“The Economist saw 13.9 growth in digital subscriptions in the year to December 2016, demonstrating that there’s an appetite for its global approach to explaining the issues.”

“We make these mini-doc series that are editorially independent but are sponsored, but then we do short extracts of those and short films derived from those which we put on social. We do other short films to keep the audience warm on social, and those two parts of the model reinforce each other.”

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