Tips for Developing Engaging & Revenue-Driving Online Video
Editor's Note: This article was reported before the acquisition of Time Inc. by Meredith.
One of the latest digital video channels from Time Inc. has no fixed home on the web. It has neither its own website or app, and most of its videos don’t even have dialogue. But it has more than 132,000 followers on Instagram and about 200,000 pairs of eyes tracking it on Facebook.
Time Inc. houses this video channel, called The Pretty, entirely on social media. Launched in June of 2017, videos from The Pretty show followers easy ways to apply bronzer and how to style hair into fishtail braids. Most clips run no longer than 90 seconds.
“We have a number of other social media-only brands that are launching this year,” says Zoe Ruderman, Time Inc.’s executive director of content strategy for style, entertainment, and sports. “And the idea with all of them was looking at where our users were consuming content, and rather than forcing them to come to where we wanted them to consume content, which was the site, it was about going to where they are, giving them the content they want.”
It’s all part of the embrace of digital video by a publishing behemoth once best known for its iconic Time and People magazine covers. No longer is digital video a nice-to-have editorial feature or a complement to a story but it’s often the main driver of stories. As people turn toward mobile for content consumption, video has also become an even more crucial driver of revenue. Following, executives from Time Inc.'s video division, The Pretty, Real Simple, and People share how online video content is evolving and the many ways it is monetized.
Upping Video Production
Three years ago, when Time Inc. hired Jason Lidofsky as its executive director of video sales, the focus on monetizing the medium accelerated.
“From a [digital video] monetization standpoint, I was actually a first hire,” Lidofsky says. “For a while, it was myself and another guy, going through the marketplace and helping to articulate that value proposition, developing our stories. We’ve continued to grow and see success.” While Lidofsky would not disclose hard revenue numbers, he says that video makes up a significant portion of Time Inc.'s revenue and will continue to grow in the future.
When it comes to output, Time Inc.-produced video clips doubled between 2015 and 2016, from 20,000 to 40,000 videos. In 2017, the company expects to produce 50,000 videos, including 1,500 hours of live programming.
(Time Inc. announced on November 26 that it would sell itself to the Meredith Corporation for $2.8 billion at $18.50 per share, or a 46% premium over the Time Inc. closing price on November 15. A spokeswoman for Time Inc. declined to say how the deal would affect the company’s digital video strategy.)
Getting Creative With Video Monetization
As digital media has become a priority for Time, its advertising has evolved. For The Pretty, ads comes not from pre-roll or mid-roll -- the short ads that often accompany digital videos before or in the middle of the video content -- but from an exclusive sponsorship with L’Oreal.
“We’re really lucky to work with L’Oreal,” Ruderman says, explaining The Pretty produces 10 videos a week. One of those is a branded video with L’Oreal Paris or Maybelline and two of the other nine videos integrate a L’Oreal product into the video. The Pretty’s team uses non-L’Oreal brands for its other videos.
Ruderman says The Pretty’s team receives video pitches from beauty editors across several Time Inc. brands that touch beauty, like People, InStyle, Essence and People en Español. They pool data and analytics to figure out what has performed well for the various brands in the past and utilize this, as well as real-time user comments and feedback, to determine the direction of content for The Pretty. These tend to be how-to and service videos, as well as hacks designed to make life easier, like the little trick of using the shape of the number “3” as a guideline for applying bronzer.
“We’re teaching her something,” Ruderman says of The Pretty’s audience, “but this isn’t some over-the-top, YouTube video where it’s like 15 minutes on contouring. It’s ‘Oh, now I know this, and I’m going to use this every morning when I’m bronzing.’”
Ruderman says the staff is “seeing crazy views. The predictions and the goals we’ve set for ourselves in terms of video views on Instagram and Facebook, we’ve totally blown those out of the water.”
Adam Ochman, vice president of content and strategy at The Foundry, which creates custom content for Time Inc.’s advertisers, says the use of digital video and video for custom content has “increased exponentially over the past couple of years.”
“I think it’s how our consumers and users are consuming content,” he says. “Video is such an engaging format, as we know. As more and more video is being consumed on social and mobile, video is a great medium and platform to actually get that message across, not only with our brand but also with our advertisers’ brand.”
Advertising formats have also evolved as the consumption of video increases.
Lidofsky says even pre-roll is not just confined to a 30-second ad but rather often comes in 6-second bites. Adaptive video has also been implemented across several of Time Inc.’s sites, like People.com. Considered an outstream format, a user will scroll through a story, and the video content will be embedded in the feed and delivered immediately to the user.
“That’s something Time Inc. has noted is a trend among users in how content is being consumed, so we’ve evolved our video product to be able to deliver that type of unit to users,” he says. “It’s a lot more value to them because it’s creative and natural to how they’re consuming content, which gives more value to the advertiser because they’re more likely to engage with that ad.”
Video That Drives Engagement
Jerry Leu, video director for Time Inc.’s Real Simple brand, has just one or two video editors and producers at Real Simple but can leverage other resources at the company, like its studios in Birmingham where the food videos are filmed and full-fledged studios at its New York headquarters.
Some of the most successful videos for Real Simple, according to Leu, revolve around such service videos as how-to tutorials featuring a pair of hands making frosé (frozen rosé) slushies and chocolate treats. The instructions aren’t voice-narrated but rather briefly shown on the screen.
“You have to look at the platform that a video is going to be played,” Leu says. “Recipe videos do really well on Facebook, or in general. People used to think, ‘Oh, you need to have a host (for food videos),’ but you watch all the videos today, and it’s just all really simple. We call them hand demos. People just want to watch it and not hear too much fluff from a host.”
At Time Inc., the most effective videos haven’t only been short clips. Lidofsky points to a 20- to 30-minute hosted show, People Now, which airs on People.com every morning at 8:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time and highlights the latest pop culture news and human interest stories. At times, it features celebrity guest interviews.
Not only does People Now have a built-in audience (and short video ads, as well as more recently, a Toyota logo on the bottom corner), Lidofsky points out Time Inc. is able to take footage from the show “cut that up into different highlights and distribute that” across its websites and social media platforms.
At Real Simple, one of the most successful videos had little to do with style or home or food. The video, created by Leu and the Real Simple team, featured daughters repeating things they had overheard their mothers saying -- lines like “"I could never wear a dress without Spanx." And "I'm so bad. I ate a cupcake today."
The video continues with the daughters saying what they wish their moms knew: "You're beautiful even though you don't think you're beautiful." And "There's no thing as ugly or fat or anything like that. Everybody's beautiful." It ends with the Real Simple logo at the bottom and this reminder: "Be Kind to Yourself. Your daughters are listening." The video so far has more than 16 million Facebook views.
Finding an emotional connection with the audience is key to video success, says Leu.
“When they asked the kids to start saying those lines, it was, ‘Oh wow, I needed to hear this myself,” he says. “As I person, I needed to see this, I needed to know this message, that the things that come out of my mouth, they matter, they influence people. That’s when they realized, ‘We need to make this video because it’s going to benefit our audience, as well.’”
Know Your Audience. Know What You’re Good At.
Publishers should focus on the stories they’re telling in their videos and not on hitting a certain number of views. If the content matters, the views will come.
“Although people really emphasize production quality and the cameras you want to use in terms of video, cool graphics or what not, we’re actually seeing more that people care more about content,” Leu says. “Being able to leverage talent from your writing team or your editorial team to do these great ideas and then being able to find and have a video team that’s able to collaborate and work with the editorial team is when you’re going to have the best content out there.”
Developing a digital style for your brand and above all, knowing your audience, is critical. “It’s really about, ‘Does this really speak to our audience, or are we just trying to get videos out?” Leu says. “If you’re just trying to make a video to get clicks, the audience is going to see through that.”
Ruderman says that with The Pretty airing only on Instagram and Facebook, users can interact in a way that can inform editorial decisions.
“It’s awesome,” she says. “It’s really the world’s greatest focus group.”
That unfiltered feedback helps The Pretty team know if, for instance, a braiding tutorial is too difficult or if there’s more demand for a specific kind of beauty hack.
She also advises publishers who want to expand their digital video footprints to invest their energies in areas and categories where they’re seen as trustworthy. If your brands have expertise in autos, for instance, stick to vehicular topics; if they are trusted with food, dive into recipe or restaurant videos.
And while incorporating user data and analytics are helpful, when it comes to content, Ruderman says to never neglect “going with your informed gut.”
Lidofsky, the executive director of video sales, calls it “an incredibly exciting time in the market right now with changes to TV and online video. One of the trends we’ll continue to see is video adapting to the platforms that are getting the eyeballs. The publishers that are able to do that are the publishers that are going to win.”