There was a static nature to linear television news, despite how rapidly their content changed. While the news changed with every bulletin, the actual form in which that news was presented was dictated by the television schedule and targeted at a broad and amorphous audience. 

Online video news, by contrast, offers creators and publishers a much greater variety of form. They can do a 30 second video news bulletin largely comprised of slides of text interspersed with images; or a 15 minute shortform documentary optimised for mobile; or an hours-long documentary that could play in theatres.

However, the corollary of that is that publishers looking to excel at online video news have to make many more choices about how they reach their audiences than ever before. As Jo Webster, global editorial director for Reuters TV, explains, publishers have to examine:

“How we differentiate ourselves on a variety of platforms; our editorial content; and how we reach our audience on their terms.”

And Reuters TV’s success since dropping its paywall in favour of chasing scale in the short- and medium-term is testament to the idea that the recieved wisdom that ‘shorter is better’ online isn’t always true:

Webster said:

“In the morning our users tend to opt for the iPhone, Anroid and iPad app. Our web offering tends to dominate the lunch break while our Apple TV app draws the majority of the audience in the evenings.

“Our viewers tend to ‘snack’ on the desktop. In contrast on the iPhone and Android our viewers watch for on average 11 minutes per session [and 15 minutes on Apple TV]”.

That essential plurality of choice is something Ryan Smith, supervising producer for CNN Digital International, agrees is something publishers need to embrace. 

Speaking at news:rewired, he argues that there are hard decisions to be made that even relatively large organisations still have to grapple with. He notes that his organisation is cautious when it comes to YouTube, noting that the content on your own platform is now competing with your content elsewhere. He does say, though, that:

“For us we tend to find that Facebook, Snapchat, those emerging video platforms are where we want to hedge our bets for the future.”

But the relatively lost cost of entry now for online news content combined with the vast new geographies that the internet opens for publishers means publishers have much more competition. Webster said: “I feel like we’ve got limitless competitors.”

One potential method of differentiating yourself is to take advantage of the flexibility online video can offer in regards to user interaction. While linear television was a one-way broadcast which the audience could barely influence, experiments like Al Jazeera’s Palestine Remix allow the audience some degree of audience control.

Konstantinos Antonopoulos, senior interactive producer at Al Jazeera English, explains that what they wanted to achieve with the project could only be done online:

“We didn’t find any other way to do it rather than making it scriptable and interactive like that. This was started by the filmmakers allowing us to get their films and adapt them to the web in this format.

“The ability to create videos to share on social media, that is something we will definitely experiment with.”

So establishing key points of differentiation in terms of editorial content as well as form are key for any publisher looking to succeed online. Webster said:

“Our packages are very much driven by imagery and raw authentic reporting. Differentiation is clearly one of our key strategic drivers. We try to tell stories with emotional resonance and the analysis we provide is authentic.”

And in order to discover what differentiates your online video platform from those competitors, digital publishers can look to their analytics for help – though all the panelists were quick to point out publishers shouldn’t be limited by that data. Smith said:

“The metrics always come in incredibly handy, but there’s different metrics for different things. It’s changing because we now look at enagagement more. We look at video completion rates.

“That doesn’t mean we have to be led by analytics. We shouldn’t give up on telling stories that aren’t clicking well. We have a service to provide in working for the news. You have to strike that balance, commercially and with the features arm of the business.” 

With online video set to be an even bigger part of the digital content mix than it is today…

… it’s clear that it’s beholden to all publishers, even those with resources and legacy like Reuters, CNN and Al Jazeera, to demonstrate to an audience why they deserve a share of the their time.