How to win at video is the modern Web publisher’s dilemma.

The online news world can’t strategise enough around it.

Mark Zuckerberg is doubling down so the amount of money we — ergo, he — stands to make out of this storytelling format is trumpeted as enough to sustain business models for years to come. It could run a mid-size country. It’s the new river of gold.

Media bosses are instructing newsrooms the world over to go hard after it.

An archive of photography has helped fuel the Herald Sun's video content.
An archive of photography has helped fuel the Herald Sun's video content.

The dilemma for these newsrooms isn’t realising how much people want video and the revenue opportunities on the table.

The dilemma is this: Producing traditional video isn’t cheap for a newsroom built around the printed word.

And it turns out making money from it isn’t easy.

Getting people to watch videos on your platform so you can surface ads to pay for it? That is difficult. Facebook owns that conversation, and it’s difficult for most publishers to separate their content and make YouTube work.

And deciding what video to create that’s a point of difference? Another whole headache.

At the Herald Sun in Melbourne, we’ve been through it all.

First we thought we’d need to be like a television station, setting up a studio and training key staff to be slick and polished in front of the camera, employing a whole video team. We spent days editing and polishing video packages.

Nobody watched them.

Next we tried the video news bulletin experiment. We dumped that pretty quickly. 

We rationalised our video resources and went hunting for low-touch, high-yield content: CCTV of things you wouldn’t believe. Dash-cam footage of crazy drivers. Cats doing funny things.

Traffic was better and the production effort lower.

We struck a deal with Australia’s major sports provider, FoxSports, to run fast-response highlights packages on top of that video candy, and soon we were breaking our own video engagement and traffic numbers.

Numbers were going in the right direction, but those rivers of gold were a trickle.

Why? We had no real point of difference.

Everyone was (and still is) doing this. We didn’t stand out from the crowd. We couldn’t make that important cut to excite our audience enough and take numbers to the next level.

We decided to look internally, to look hard at what we could offer in video that was different. It became apparent that the rise of mobile had opened up a new door that could start paying dividends.

The answer? Photos.

Being a newspaper and Web publisher that cares deeply for pictorial storytelling, we had at our fingertips a rich source of material — and much of it wasn’t seeing the light of day.

Photographers are one of our greatest strengths. Ours are the best in the business, but most of their images are never used.

With some basic editing software and a plan, we started to turn those photos into videos.

Moving pictures with audio and a narrative.

And a funny thing happened: Our audience responded.

It has started as mostly a social play to test if audiences like this format and as a springboard to expose more of our content offering (we are a subscription news business).

We’ve decided in the early days to ride the Facebook algorithm and go native with as many of these video packages as possible. In one week, six of our top 10 social posts across all channels were native video packages, mostly these photo stories.

The packages are helping push our overall social numbers higher.

We are also placing these moving picture specials into our video environment with pre-roll advertisements to generate video revenue directly.

These moving picture specials work because they are short, translate well to mobile, and are highly shareable.

And it’s just really good content.

From the emotional (remembering our veterans) to the dramatic (best moments in Australian football), the packages our photographic team is turning out are just good to watch.

Of course, using pictures as video is not a new idea. It’s been around since the dawn of the Web.

But the rise of video on social media allows us to engage a huge audience with what we do better than anyone else.

And we’re using this great strength to help solve our video dilemma.