Behind the pivot-to-video: What to learn from millennial influencers?

Adjustments in news organisations’ content strategies have been increasingly revolving around one phenomenon: focusing more on video news content, sometimes restructuring the newsroom to allow it.

Despite the Reuters Institute’s recent Digital News Report 2017 pointing out that behaviours towards video do not evolve as quickly and significantly as expected, many publishers take the plunge and bet on the medium to drive their revenues. Mic’s publisher Cory Haik expanded on this topic recently, as the organisation is shifting their focus.

Video is an appealing medium indeed, hailed as the one element sure to be boosting revenues for publishers. But how should news organisations approach it? Will it be an all-or-nothing situation with the increasing use of the term ‘pivot to video’ in the foreseeable future?

Millán I. Berzosa, journalist, Professor of Digital Journalism at Madrid’s Universidad Francisco de Vitoria, Google News Lab’s representative for Spain and Portugal, and author of Youtubers y otras especies: El fenómeno que ha cambiado la manera de entender los contenidos audiovisuales (Youtubers and Other Species: The Phenomenon That Has Changed the Way We Approach Audiovisual Content), answered a few questions on the topic after he conducted his own research for his book, on the impact of video, the rise of influencers, and how YouTube’s influence, and the advent of other social media platforms, have shaped a whole generation.

Ad spend per segmentation, by IAB via Digiday ‘ What’s driving the publisher to video in 5 charts (hint: ad $$$$)

GEN: What has been instrumental in the rise of video as a super medium?

Millán I. Berzosa: What we are talking about here is technology and its power in terms of impact, adding on top of that people and creativity, beyond product marketers and engineers. Key ingredients of videos are: people, curiosity, and technology.

Video has never been more accessible than it is now, both in terms of how easy it is to produce, watch or share. Video content production got more sophisticated, with an eased-up access to advanced tools, and easy-to-handle gadgets, such as camera stabilisers, noise reduction microphones, etc.

What must be considered as well, when video is taken into account, is the obvious importance of mobile and apps. On this point, YouTube’s early Android app was a hit, where people were watching videos like they were snacking on food (‘snackable contents’ is a term I often use).

The top Facebook video publishers of summer by Newswhip

How has video changed the way editors and publishers distribute their content ?

The influence — the pressure in many instances — of having more and more video (video everywhere seems to be a goal shared by many), has pushed editors to take into account the relevance of this kind of visual content. Producing video is the new normal – not only to distribute content, but to engage and build a community. Editors and publishers have more metrics at hand than ever to measure the impact of their visual content; proving that video is key to connect exclusively with their audience.

It is undeniable that the rules have changed. As an example, I was recently interviewed on Facebook Live by a small agency in Spain with a very modest Facebook page following. Despite this low number, the interview reached 11,000+ organic-only views. I’ve had interviews with big media outlets (print, radio) with much less impact. The possibilities are more here, but a redefinition of the roles of platforms for some organisations is indeed necessary.

The Washington Post Hate Mail draws in its format a strong inspiration from YouTube influencers

Has this evolved in any particular way over the past couple of years?

There’s more access to high-speed mobile internet. Live streams are combined with shows recorded in a studio, adding some weight to the content. Also, small pieces with a clear ‘youtuber’ influence like ‘The Washington Post Hate Mail initiative’, where reporters respond to readers’ comments in short videos, have become more widespread.

Video content specifically produced by major news organisations for social media platforms is a good example, too. CNN launched earlier this month a daily news show on Snapchat called ‘The Update’, replacing the Discover magazine they had on the platform. NBC did the same, dedicating more of their editorial team for this format. We are living a moment of much movement!

‘CNN Using Snapchat News Show to Target Millennials’ by Wochit

What should news publishers and professionals know about video content production and distribution? What should they emulate?

For those who still show reluctance, the advice is to go deeper, observe. Last year’s most retweeted tweet wasn’t from Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, but this tweet from Spanish youtuber El Rubius saying ‘Lemonade’. Today, news publishers are faced with the battle of influence, impact, and engagement. The most searched queries on the internet incorporate ‘live news’ and ‘video’, so I would say the combination really makes sense. Also when it’s about prescription and media brand awareness, the youtubers phenomenon should be a great source of inspiration: more focus on the audience, more focus on connections, being open to real diversity, more inclusive storytelling, and so on. Where YouTube is concerned, it is not only about the big players, but the power of content creators. Publishers could learn and inspire their own journalists to develop real identities, which would become their most precious asset. In terms of new formats considering a strategy combining vertical videos, ephemeral content, and mixing YouTube with other platforms is the way to go.

The ‘youtubers’ phenomenon may be a great source of inspiration for news: more focus on the audience, more focus on connections, being open to real diversity, more inclusive storytelling, and so on.
Illustration from ‘Youtubers y otras especies: El fenómeno que ha cambiado la manera de entender los contenidos audiovisuales’ by Millán Berzosa

What specific aspect of this distribution model can be improved by news publications to reach their base and expand it?

Being aware of the importance of building a community, connections and engagement is no small feat: it comes with putting the right resources behind it, supporting the rest of the newsroom’s work, taking some time to build a base, etc. Social media impact is what is going to make a real difference. As the technology becomes a commodity, talented people are called to become influencers, and will compete for the audience’s attention. In terms of reach, you can either insist on asking your readers, viewers, audience, or users: ‘Hey! Come to my site! Watch what we have done. Discuss here.’ Or you can focus on what you do best. For news organisations it would be content creation, and finding people where they choose to go. That would be YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, and other platforms.

Bloomberg’s ‘Publishers are Making More Videos — Whether you want it or not’ and Reuters Institute ‘The Future of Online News Video 2016’

Who are the people using videos as their main medium for news?

In my book, I quote a study about Millennials (Generation What?) done by different broadcasting groups around Europe, highlighting the well-known gap between this generation and their habits with older generations, but also giving a lot of insight into the younger part of this group. This type of research is a must, as there’s a very intense consumption of video content by younger generations. We’re seeing more and more people of different ages (mostly between 16 and 45) coming to Youtube, Netflix, or Facebook. The younger ones, however, show less loyalty to a unique platform.

How has video shaped this new generation of consumers to get informed?

This is an era of new references and new habits. People used to say that nobody would be willing to pay for music via internet; now, more than 60 million people around the world do pay for Spotify. Some people said: ‘YouTube is about cats; Facebook about your birthday.’ As more content is consumed on social media, editors have two options: be aware of it, and act on it, or ignore it. But again, whether or not they are aware of this fact, things keep moving. I think this is a challenging moment: never before were so many people consuming such volumes of content in such collaborative ways. The contribution of YouTube to the culture of sharing is unquestionable. Now is the moment for editors and their audiences to write the next chapter. Being aware of the new video-creators phenomenon puts us in an advantageous position, we must make the most of it.


About Millán Berzosa

Millán Berzosa is a journalist, consultant, and professor of Digital Journalism at University Francisco de Vitoria (UFV), and with Google News Lab in Spain and Portugal since October 2015, training more than 7,000 journalists since then in Iberia region.