2007: The Online Video Era?
If collective consciousness has any power over the magazine publishing industry, nowhere is it more evident than in the pursuit of video content. During 2006, chatter about online video reached an all-time high at tradeshows as more publishers hopped onto the video bandwagon. As a result, last year became a build-up, working-out-the-kinks period for many. It was all in preparation for 2007—the year that some have dubbed as the official start of an online video era for magazine professionals.
Sure, a few publishers were ahead of the game, and, certainly, others are straggling behind. When all is said and done, 2007 will see a fusion of two seemingly incompatible entities—print and video.
But, why now? Are readers settling for nothing less, and are advertisers finally embracing the video phenomenon?
The Time Has Come
Who better to represent this significant event than a magazine designed specifically for gadgetry types: Wired.
According to Publisher Jay Lauf, Wired turned to video a year ago because, “It’s a natural extension of what we do in our magazine. It provides a new way to show content, including material that might end up on the cutting room floor. It’s in high demand, by readers and advertisers, and is a pursuit deemed necessary at this point in time.”
It’s almost as if the universe conspired to allow Wired to debut video in what could be described as the launch extraordinaire. This is how it all broke down: CondéNast bought back Wired.com in July 2006, bringing the site under the same ownership as Wired magazine. In September, the truth behind lonelygirl15—a pioneering online video venture depicting the Web-based diaries of a teenage blogger that was actually a scripted serial featuring an actress —was revealed, and a month later, Google bought YouTube. Meanwhile, Wired had been prepping for its video launch and couldn’t have asked for two more fitting stories to cover in its December issue.
Guess what was embedded in both the lonelygirl15 and Google features in Wired’s December online version? Clickable video of lonelygirl15 along with an array of other YouTube spectaculars, including Noah Kalina’s “Everyday/Work in Progress,” which depicts daily photos of Noah for six years streamed into a 5-minute video.
Just as Noah’s video reminds us that we’re all a work in progress, interviewees for this story consistently returned to one theme regarding the online video quest: It’s all a work in progress.
With any work in progress there is a starting point. And although many publishers don’t service audiences similar to Wired, they can still experience a successful reader bond with video. It all comes down to the market—the seed for aggregating the most eyeballs, and revenue. So says Eric Shanfelt, Penton Media’s director of online media. Before getting into video too deep, he suggests publishers brainstorm programming ideas to create content that will tune-in to audience and advertiser demand.
“And you don’t have to be a consumer magazine to do this well,” he says. “Video has a strong place in b-to-bs. … I believe carefully crafted content combined with sponsorship-based models will work for them,” says Shanfelt.
He also says a little trial and error wouldn’t hurt, and he should know. The pool of Penton publications is undergoing a sort of video experiment in which various forms of content are bubbling, swirling and boiling.
For starters, there’s the Lodging Hospitality site—LHTVOnline.com—which Shanfelt describes as a direct-revenue-producing entity with interviews with CEOs and general managers for major hotel and motel firms. The video guests talk about their latest endeavors to an audience of real estate developers anxious to build their own chains. This site got its legs at the end of 2006 and will be running with more style in 2007, reports Shanfelt.
“This is an interesting model in that the content is also our sponsorship,” he says. “Companies pay us to be interviewed for this, but the concept won’t work for every market.”
Hence Penton’s indirect-revenue-producing sites, EEPN.com/video and all other electronic-related publications. These sites make use of YouTube videos in sort of a social way, allowing readers and vendors to submit their own electronic engineering video to editors for possible broadcast. One such video is “Teardown of Sony PlayStation 3” submitted by Semiconductor Insights, in which a PlayStation 3 console is deconstructed to “see what makes it tick.”
Shanfelt adds that all of Penton’s magazine sites also feature trade show and conference coverage through a more “semi-amateur approach for now.”
Richard J. Koreto, editor-in-chief, Wealth Manager and Advising Boomers magazines, who won a gold American Society of Business Publication Editors award for best Web community while at another publication a few years ago, suggests informative and entertaining content as a winning combination—maybe with a columnist broadcasting opinions on a weekly basis.
“I think we’ll also see videos serving as instructional tutorials for installing software, similar to VHS tapes that accompanied instructions for this purpose. You could pause, rewind, go back,” he says. “Because I cover a lot of how-to copy for completing taxation forms, it would be great to have a video featuring Jane Doe, the CPA, who walks viewers through their 1099s.
“The point is: are you getting out of video what you couldn’t get from the text? Otherwise, why bother?” adds Koreto.
Ads and Delivery
Even with the most creative ideas, it all comes down to attracting advertisers, which Lauf concedes is a challenge. “I mean, we’re still figuring it out,” he says. “Print is a known entity with a definitive quantity. We know that the printed page is not enough for our audience, but the lay of the land is still not clear. So, we take a consultative approach and persuade advertisers to trust us.”
Shanfelt’s approach is to demystify. “In b-to-b, advertisers are just not used to video, so you have to develop out a video creative upfront that serves their messages,” he says.
He says Penton uses a ‘secret sauce’ to draw advertisers into the video phenom, and would reveal just one ingredient: that professionally produced ad agency clips are not necessary. “I tell advertisers we can leverage in anything they’ve got,” he says.
Understanding effective delivery might also help. Though those interviewed say no steadfast rule is in place, they all agree that video clips running three to seven minutes work for most markets, and that placing ads at the end of segments is useless.
If anyone has experience testing formats, it is Forbes magazine CEO and President Jim Spanfeller. He says Forbes began pursuing video more than four years ago. Today, Forbes.com is so advanced that it airs news-like broadcasts simulating the TV experience. Typical feeds include an in-studio anchor introducing a segment, then a 20-secondish ad followed by the remainder of the anchored broadcast. Over the years, Forbes constructed six mini-studios from which to air professional-looking online segments covering everything from financial news to celebrity break-ups.
Shanfelt says Penton will run similar video with ad reels on some sites. “On the other hand, our LHTVOnline.com videos are ads. They’re like infomercials,” he says.
Shanfelt adds that in terms of viewer measurement, metrics they use indicate which segments are viewed and at what point viewers bail out.
Aside from having an advertiser sponsor select videos for certain periods of time, Shanfelt believes some will step up to the plate and pay for a joint venture, which is a nice way to monetize video from the get-go. In fact, Penton just launched EngineeringTV.com, which airs two to five editorially driven features per week that consist of cutting-edge engineering technology and applications, with behind-the-scenes clips of that technology and the people involved.
“For that site, we had two charter sponsors—National Instruments and Analog Devices—come on board to buy out all 96 episodes,” says Shanfelt. “They were both very excited about this opportunity and, in this case, they own the entire EngineeringTV.com entity—ads, video clips, Web sites, the whole experience.”
Shanfelt predicts other monetizing opportunities could include pay-per-view, or pay-per-click models.
Spanfeller says Forbes was fortunate in getting its video venture off the ground by finagling an early partnership with Samsung. “We bartered their presence on the network for resources, like equipment …,” he says. “That helped a lot in those days, but now it’s not a big deal. Equipment required to get started is not so expensive. The biggest issue is bandwidth, but even that’s become more economical.”
Spanfeller makes it sound easy. That’s because he believes pursuing video doesn’t have to be complicated. “Don’t worry about looking professional. It’s just not that important right now,” he says. “The Web showcases everything from homemade handhelds to professional rock star videos and, as different mediums have proven, both have been popular in their own right.”
He adds that the experience is more about what publishers are trying to accomplish, what the right look and feel is, and what the audience will respond to. Other than that, Spanfeller says it’s just a matter of trying to find sponsors, investing in video equipment and having the appropriate bandwidth.
Lauf says Wired initially was “as nimble and entrepreneurial as possible. As we grow, we’ll probably need freelancer video personnel,” he says. “But we make do.”
Koreto suggests that publishers first concern themselves with format and hosting. “Hosting is not cutting-edge, publishers already have hosts for their sites, so it’s more a matter of having good hosts,” he says. “For do-it-yourselfers, a visit to Geocity.com, which offers multimedia components, should do the trick.”
Shanfelt says, “It’s still just publishing. We’re still creating content that is valuable …, developing an audience around that content and selling sponsorship against it.”
Spanfeller takes that philosophy to a whole new level. “We don’t even look at ourselves as a magazine Web site. We look at ourselves as a best-of-breed destination content site that shares a brand with Forbes magazine,” he concludes. “We get 20 million viewers a month on our site compared to 5 million readers of our magazine. Maybe it was dumb luck, but we wound up developing a huge audience online, and, over the past four years, it’s all been a work in progress.”
Sharon R. Cole is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.