Despite the lack of industry-wide excitement, video continued to be a focus of investment for publishers in 2021. There are still benefits to using video well, particularly when tailored to the audiences that are primed for it. Chris Sutcliffe looks at the year in video as part of our Media Moments 2021 report.

It would be tempting to say that we’d finally put the long shadows of the pivot to video behind us. However, over the course of 2021 even more information emerged that demonstrated why the overextension into video was such a mistake: the Facebook Files showed that Facebook itself was potentially harmed by the pivot, with users leaving in part due to an overabundance of video on the platform. 

Having had their fingers burned, publishers’ video ambitions were scaled back – or at least less visible. Despite that, short form video continued to perform well among audiences, and the platforms that specialised it have continued to rise in prominence. 2021 began with media companies tentatively dipping their toes back in the water, this time with a better plan in mind than “let Facebook take care of it”.

A question of ownership

The watchword for publications looking to succeed in video seems to be ‘control’ – control over creation or distribution specifically. In February The Big Issue, still in the midst of its rapid transformation, launched The Big Issue TV to host its suite of documentaries. It notably focuses primarily on its own SVOD (Subscription Video On Demand) platform rather than distribution via platforms like YouTube or smart TVs. 

At the time group CEO Paul Cheal told What’s New In Publishing: “Great specialist media brands have always acted as trusted curators for highly targeted audiences. As content consumption continues to diversify across new platforms, it is those brands which are well placed to take advantage of opportunities such as SVOD, offering their audience a new and complementary experience while also deepening overall engagement.”

Patreon, too, sees value in having control of its own video product. In November its CEO confirmed that it is launching its own native player for its creators’ videos, rather than relying on external players. And Spotify, while still primarily audio-focused, announced it is set to expand its video features for podcasters, driven by the large proportion of podcast content already consumed on rivals like YouTube. It’s all an attempt to take back control of the environments in which video is consumed – and monetised.

Over the course of the year, boosted by early successes, The Independent accelerated its own video ambitions – this time with a wider commercial imperative in mind. While its video content is free-to-access across platforms like YouTube and Facebook, the newspaper has invested significant time and resources into ensuring its own platform is the most effective way to keep people on-site and watching the next video. MD Christian Broughton said that rather than adopting a ‘if you build it they will come mentality’, monetisation is built into the product right from the start with sponsors approached early in the process.

While those and other publishers focus on creating and monetising distinct video content, much of the growth in terms of viewership was happening around social video. Short form video content on Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram saw continued growth – and consequently investment from brands and publishers too.

The Washington Post’s Head of Editorial Video Micah Gelman told Insider it sees social video as the lure by which a viewer can be pulled into the wider newsbrand’s ecosystem: “Most video consumption happens off platform, whether that’s YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and so it’s very much about reaching people who may not be familiar with the Post at the start but will come to sample other types of our journalism.”

It’s a similar approach to that employed by Harvard Business Review, which uses its presence across TikTok and YouTube not just to boost the profile of individual presenters, but as the antenna that draws the viewer onto the rest of its content. HBR, however, is very open about the fact that it sees younger audiences – more likely to exist on those platforms – as the primary target of its efforts in video.

While some publishers like The Independent and The Big Issue have been concentrating on the creation and distribution of premium long form video on their owned-and-operated channels, platforms still have a huge role to play in reinventing video formats and – most crucially of all – leading younger audiences back towards publishers’ brands.

Experimentation, and blurred lines

Social video is in many ways becoming indivisible from AR and XR. Users create videos using platforms’ filters or lenses, which act as the link in a chain between viewers and ultimately brands. Expect to see a blurring of the lines between video creation and that of the metaverse, as resources that might have been put to the one instead move across to the other.

There will also be further launches of publisher-specific SVOD services like that of The Big Issue, particularly among lifestyle titles. Many magazines have a cache of high-quality video content that is yet to be monetised or repackaged to bolster other subscription offerings. Health and lifestyle content has potentially the best opportunity for this – but other consumer brands that focus on high-value items like cars and bikes can also take advantage of that stock of content.

The lion’s share of the video market, however, will still belong to platforms. As we’ve mentioned in previous reports the fact that those channels now exist alongside SVOD and other services on smart TVs and mobile devices means that they are still the effective default choices, both for viewers and for the brands looking to reach huge audiences habituated to the creation of video. That will in turn lead to greater transparency of viewing metrics – even among historically secret platforms.

Above all, though, expect publishers to continue experimenting with video – especially when there’s sponsor money already on the table.

This article is an extract from our annual report, Media Moments 2021. For more on this chapter including case studies and key statistics, download it now for free.


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