This is a small story about creating a big event.
On the same weekend Ukraine was making history by winning its first Eurovision Song Contest, another much less loved product from that country was creating a huge stir on the other side of the world.
(For Americans who know nothing about Eurovision but vaguely remember ABBA winning in 1978 with Waterloo, here’s is a recap from my Euro-tragic colleagues at The West Australian.)
OK, now that you’re up to speed with this major pop culture event that most of you missed, let’s get onto the real story.
Earlier this year it was announced that that world’s biggest plane — the Antonov AN-255 — would be flying to Perth, Australia, with huge piece of heavy machinery in its belly for a mine site.
Not much of story, seemingly.
This lumbering beast of the sky had been traipsing around European airports for years. The Ukrainians originally built the Antonov to piggyback on Russia’s space shuttles into semi-orbit.
This meant it needed to be big, fat, and sturdy with 32 wheels of pneumatic muscle.
After the Cold War wound down, the Antonov became an unglamourous truck occasionally carting stuff that wouldn’t fit into the cargo holds of smaller planes.
By a stroke of good fortune, we happen to have one of the world’s most-respected aviation writers, Geoffrey Thomas, working for us. He wrote a small story a few months back on the Antonov’s planned trip to Perth, which we ran on the Web site. The story included the only video we could find.
This seven-minute video was long and boring. It showed a big plane slowly landing with no commentary, graphics, music, or anything to make it vaguely watchable.
But something strange happened.
That story and video rose up to near the top of our digital analytics that day. And it refused to go away. Day after day.
We thought it was an anomaly, one of those unexplained mysteries we’ve all seen slip into Web site analytics. But the next time Geoffrey wrote an update on the Antonov — with the same boring video — it happened again.
This time we took more notice.
What we eventually realised was two things:
- There was an unexpected audience of plane spotters who loved Antonov, both in Australia and around the world.
- We desperately needed more videos to satisfy the demand from our pre-roll advertisers.
We have an extremely interesting newsroom (which I’ll write more about in future blog posts because I think others will want to learn from our experience). Our single newsroom produces a daily newspaper, 90 minutes of nightly top-rating live television news and current affairs, and a bunch of Web sites. It’s a bustling, competitive environment that thrives on ideas.
What it allows us to do is pick up on trends then brainstorm how we can make the most of them for our viewers and readers across all mediums.
In the Antonov’s case, the canary in the coal mine was the odd figures that kept reappearing on Google analytics.
News sense manifests itself in many different ways, from the serious to the unusual. But it’s vital you back a hunch then run with it. So in the way media companies have always planned for big events, we started planning for the Antonov’s arrival, even though some doubters thought we were a little crazy.
We started producing videos about the Antonov to educate readers and viewers about what was coming.
There was a fun one for social.
We produced promotional videos like this.
And we generally published useful information for readers about what to expect, flight paths, arrival times, and how to see it.
We generated so much interest, the airport started getting worried about how it would handle all the spectators and traffic
Our current affairs show, Today Tonight, even flew to Kuala Lumpur to hitch an exclusive ride on the windowless Antonov into Perth.
Finally, the big day arrived.
Geoffrey was in the control tower sending iPhone selfie video updates via Hightail to our Web site.
Our TV chopper shadowed the Antonov with a live shot beamed straight back to office while a photographer beside the cameraman ripped off funky 360-degree images.
Below them, between 15,000-20,000 people lined the airport fence. Others caught in a traffic jam watched from the roof of their cars.
We even broadcast its arrival live across the national breakfast TV show of Australia’s biggest TV network, channel 7.
And throughout all out this, we were clipping up videos for constant updates on the Web site.
The story became so big, even CNN and the BBC ran international reports on the Antonov’s arrival in Perth — even though it had probably landed in London dozens of times.
The initiative was a great success across all our platforms. The TV station had terrific ratings. The newspaper ran a great front page photo and long report inside.
And, as for the Web site and social, well, the results were quite extraordinary.
That original “boring” video is our most watched for the entire year.
In fact, the Antonov is now responsible for 12 of our top-20 most-watched videos of the year. And two of our top-10 stories.
Plus, one of the social videos on the 7 News Perth Facebook page of the plane arriving has had 3.5 million views.
Quite amazing, really.
But the point of this little story is not to gloat over figures. The point is we could easily have missed the story.
It could have been one of those Sundays in the newsroom when we suddenly got taken by surprise when loads of people turned up at the airport waiting for some big plane to land.
But we didn’t because the analytics identified early that the interest was already there, and our collective news sense, gut instinct, and experience took over. What we succeeded in doing was turning a small opportunity into very big experience for even more people to enjoy.
Of course, such an event won’t happen every month or year.
But what it taught us is the value of creating mini-events around single and seemingly small stories in future.