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From the Tow Center: Research Indicates Video News Is Always Growing, Changing

TowCenterColumbia’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism is producing some important research on upcoming trends in online media, like news video, sensor journalism and longform.

Its most recently released report, “Video Now: The Form, Cost, and Effect of Video Journalism,” highlights the video strategies of popular digitally native publishers like Mashable and NowThis News, longform outfits including Vice Media and Frontline PBS, and legacy papers like the Washington Post and the Chicago Sun-Times, over a five-month period. More than 50 newsrooms were examined during the research for this paper.

Study facilitator and assistant professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, Duy Linh Tu set out to answer three main questions:

  • How do news organizations define video?
  • How do they produce video?
  • What is their return on investment? (ROI)

Now for what Linh Tu found: metrics across newsrooms aren’t very reliable. Typical measurements like plays and page views “are inconsistently measured across organizations,” so the report features mostly editor interviews rather than sheer numbers. The answer to digital video is that there is no answer — at least not now. Publishers are finding it difficult to capitalize on this new medium while bringing in the advertising support they need to produce quality content. In other words, there isn’t a ton of data out there on video ROI that inspires trust in marketers with limited budgets.

As noted by NiemanLab’s Caroline O’Donovan, Mashable’s Bianca Consunji said the publisher does have a numeric goal in mind for video.

“We’re trying to work on videos that will give us at least 20,000 views. Anything less than that, with our limited resources, just isn’t worth it anymore. If, let’s say, 100,000 people will watch a cute viral video featuring a Muppet and a cat, maybe 20,000 will watch the video that we did on 3D gun printing,” Consunji said.

With this smaller goal, Mashable is looking for big results — 1.6 million total video views each month on Youtube. This, they believe, will better leverage their time and resources and prove to advertisers that their video products are worth investing in. For newspapers, though, the story is different. “On average, a single video on a newspaper site will get anywhere from 500 to 1000 plays,” Linh Tu wrote.

Video Now offers a list of tips at the conclusion of their report, including having separate groups of journalists shoot short-form video and in-depth documentary-style videos. Linh Tu also advises newsrooms to focus on metrics outside of just page views, produce evergreen video and create sports and “explainer” videos, since they tend to do really well, especially if they’re relatively short. Another important recommendation states that video is more likely to be watched when part of an editorial package, complete with graphics and text. “Those left in segregated “video” sections get ignored,” the study’s author wrote. Finally, “pre-roll ads” should be quicker and easier to skip through, but more importantly, the ad’s content should match the tone of the video content that follows. “An ad for Disney World before a story about Syria does not make sense,” the research report reads.

You can check out the full Video Now report (told largely in video format) here.

Is there anything that surprises you about the results, or anything you think they should have addressed in the study’s main questions?

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