Online video has arrived and is very much here to stay, but publishers are still trying to work out the best way of capturing audience’s attention using the medium.

Issues such as what platform to use, how long videos should be, what the quality should look like, who should present them still trouble legacy publishers looking to wrap their heads around online video. Even companies more grounded in the age of the internet such as Vice admit they don’t have everything cracked – Vice only launched a news vertical a few months ago after realising its current affairs content was the most popular on YouTube.

With that in mind, the three approaches to online video from News UK, Meredith, and Don’t Panic from day one of the FIPP Innovation conference may prove handy if you’re still trying to work out how best to invest.

The appropriate-quality approach

“Not all video is good video” said Hamish White, head of emerging platforms at News UK:

“We wanted to work out how to structure our investment – what to do, what not to do. It started by working out what people were actually doing.”

White and his team conducted research that included an in-depth diary study, consulting online forums and pop-up forums and showing focus groups some tested and validated concepts to find out what audiences wanted from video. They found five distinct drivers of video consumption:

  1. Routine distraction – I’m not looking for anything in particular, just distract me
  2. Must-see – Everyone is talking about it. I want to make sure I don’t miss out
  3. Serious enjoyment – Show me my passion. I know what I want to watch and I go straight to it
  4. Help me – When I don’t know how to do something or need advice, I search for a video to show me how
  5. Divided attention – I’ll watch something that doesn’t need much attention because I’m doing something else

One of the questions often asked of online video is of quality: how good should our video look?

“Viewers care about video quality, but only to a point,” says White:

“Too high a quality can be more of a hindrance than a help. People can feel like they’re being sold to. It’s too glossy. It’s too high end. It’s not what I came for.”

White pointed to a video of “mid-level” quality – on the rat ghost ship – that The Sun created that was one of the paper’s “20 second stories” that was the most popular that week and would have only made 120 words in the paper.

White also advised that ambiguous titles and descriptions can put potential viewers off, and said titles should be short and bold and not make any false claims.

When it comes to presenters, celebrities often have a negative effect, says White:

“We worked very closely with Katie Price. We found she is not great on video and has quite a detrimental brand effect.”

Instead, use someone who is either engaging or passionate, or preferably both. White said that over 30 commentators were tested before settling on the final four used for Sun Goals videos.

But above all, experimenting with different content styles and trying something different that’s worth paying for is News UK’s approach, said White, who summarised his advice into three main points:

  1. Experiment
  2. Fail but don’t lose too much money
  3. Research, research again, and test.

“Video on demand is not going away. Video is going to be a bigger part of how people consume news.”

The data-driven approach

Next up was Laura Rowley, VP video production and product at Meredith.

Meredith have made a big investment in video production over the past two years and have created around 1,400 videos in the past 12 months, said Rowley.

The biggest factor in their video success is audience data:

“You need granular data on what the audience wants. What we create is really a marriage of analytics and inspiration.”

Using an in-house team of video professionals and two studios (one in NYC and the other in Des Moines), Meredith produces video content in reaction to what audience analytics data suggests readers want.

Data drivers including SEO, which parts of the site are garnering a lot of traffic, and what’s travelling well on social media are used to decide on what sort of content is produced, which – as Hamish White mentioned with News UK – gets better traction when celebrities don’t have a hand in presenting but experts or brand editors get involved instead.

Another crucial part of Meredith’s video strategy is promotion:

“We don’t shoot a video without knowing where that video will be promoted. You can make the best video in the world but if you don’t have a promotion strategy for it, it’s just going to die.”

The result is that Meredith is getting 40 million video views a month, says Rowley. 20 million of those views are through syndication partners (“We only partner with people that allow us to audit their video views to guarantee real audience, quality audience, all the time”) and around 6.8 million are coming through YouTube, which is a good way of driving traffic back to the site and capturing audience feedback: “YouTube users are very vocal.”

The six-second approach

Vine is something that has both confused and inspired those working in video since its launch last year. But with the six second video platform being just 16 months old, Richard Beer, creative director at Don’t Panic, says there aren’t any experts out there to trust, other than those making good vines:

“I don’t think there are any world experts when it comes to Vine. It’s quite a unique medium. It’s a video platform but also a social network, but unlike most other social media you don’t follow your friends online, or follow celebrities, you follow people who make really good vines.”

And when it comes to brands making successful Vines, it often seems more miss than hit, says Beer, who demonstrated vines from six brands that all seemed creative and of a high quality compared to most content seen on the platform, but had wildly different results.

At the bottom of the pile was this effort from Volkswagen, which, although looks pretty, only managed 15 likes, 4 revines (the most important metric) and 1 comment:

At the top was the following from Lionsgate Films, promoting the release of the movie, Filth. It has so far gained 9,858 likes, 4,728 revines and 282 comments.

The two vines are vastly different in subject matter, but also cost – with Volkswagen’s beetle vine taking considerably more time and effort than the quick and easy Lionsgate attempt.

Beer highlighted the five commandments of vine:

  1. Stop, collaborate and listen (Vine is back with a brand new invention?)
  2. LOL WTF – “Vine has become a comedy medium but also a clever “what did I just see?” medium
  3. Be spontaneous – “It’s not about high production values. It’s not even about writing a good story sometimes.”
  4. Aim Low
  5. Stay open-minded: “No-one really knows yet what Vine is capable of. People are starting to explore what they can do with looping, with special effects, with comedy.”

Vine is a platform that most publishers wouldn’t look twice at, but with 40+ million users and a 639 percent increase in Vine usage among global 16-19-year-olds from Q1-Q3 last year, it’s a platform that publishers will ignore at their peril.

Image via Mike Mozart used under a Creative Commons license.