News publishers can diversify revenue with video advertising offers

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


In this newsletter, I will focus on two things. Firstly, what about the current trend regarding sales teams selling online video? That is, what basics do we need to grasp before we can head out there into “ad-land” with an appropriate advertiser offering? What can give us a USP? Particularly for those small media houses that are still contemplating taking a foot into the video world, this newsletter is just for you.  

In addition, I will also feature a second new trend which centres around  podcasting. I recently interviewed Alice Sandelson, commercial strategy director for audio at Tortoise Media, here in London. Having pivoted to become an audio-first publisher towards the end of 2021, Alice joined Tortoise in January 2022 with the task of scaling Tortoise’s audio business by expanding reach and driving new commercial  opportunities and revenue models for Tortoise’s audio arm. 

I asked Alice a range of questions which might be invaluable to any publishers thinking of starting off a podcast and then monetising it as part of a new revenue stream.

Selling online video as part of an ad sell: how to get started

One future advertising revenue stream will undoubtedly come from video. But creating the best video content requires time, passion, a real commitment — and it needs to show a decent return on our efforts. 

And there’s very little reason videos can’t provide a significant ROI, given the rising global demand for video content from both digital publishers and advertising brands. 

The three models of monetising video on demand are ad-based, subscription, and transactional.
The three models of monetising video on demand are ad-based, subscription, and transactional.

At the same time, some publishers may struggle to extract adequate value from their video content because they don’t know how best to sell their content online. 

With this in mind, here are a few pointers for those wanting monetisation strategies that go above and beyond the uploading to social media platforms and hoping the platform’s algorithms share their content.  

Publishers with a video catalogue can expand their audience reach and appeal to advertisers. But how can publishers without such a catalogue can get an immediate start-up in this potentially lucrative arena?  

Beyond the obvious advantage of using a video monetisation platform — that is, creating a new revenue stream from a solo asset — there are several other key benefits. Selling videos online allows sales teams to control their audience generation costs. Reaching an audience would traditionally either require driving traffic to a dedicated video page, however video monetisation platforms can help generate revenue, potentially reducing marketing costs in the process.

What are the most popular video types online media can use to expand their client audiences share (perhaps via sponsorship or bespoke creation under our guidance) whilst bolstering our own revenue streams?

  1. Instructional/informative (how to …): These videos can relate to a variety of subjects, from, say, motoring, property, cooking, etc., and they can provide valuable insights/education on a topic with the opportunity for answering users’ questions. Instructional videos can be an excellent pool for of “evergreen” content, attracting pageviews way after the video has been published. 
  2. Reviews (or previews): Potential buyers are always interested in seeing a product “in action” before making a purchase. Publishers can access this demand by teaming up with brands to review their content, helping possible customers develop a better idea of a product’s benefits. 
  3. Entertainment: A long-established method of connecting/engaging with audiences and can take many styles. They might be comedy sketches, short movies, music, or possibly documentaries.
  4. Educational: Online learning and educational courses (since COVID) have rocketed in popularity. They can provide in-depth modules accompanied by a video that delves into the subject matter or is explanatory as to the course itself. 

The basics on how sales teams should sell videos online

  • Client content strategy: Once deciding on the above, the focus should be on building a defined audience profile (e.g. demographics: age, sex, interests, income, lifestyle, etc.) for your advertiser. Basically, great content provides for a specific need once we know who our audience is and what their interests are. It’s important to remember that while a mix of video types will probably appeal to a wider audience, without an appropriate client budget, we will struggle to build strong audience connections quickly. 
  • Content creation: Post-planning is the time then to start creating our client’s video content. Publishers with an existing content catalogue definitely have an advantage, having already formed a specific range to offer to advertisers and a certain style. And remember that there will always be opportunities for growth through experimentation for those with a content pipeline. 
  • Video monetisation: Choosing an optimal video monetisation platform relies on a number of factors: cost, video player quality, and appropriate engagement tools/analytics — and whether or not your model is for selling created video via a range of options on your own pages or offering advertisers the opportunity to insert their own ads into your space. For example, YouTube has somewhat become a default (free) video hosting platform for most media companies (and advertisers/brands). The Web site’s infrastructure and huge audience make it a go-to choice for many for streaming videos.

Another factor to think about when choosing which type of video platform is which monetisation model that platform supports. There are essentially three models, which are:

  1. AVOD: Ad-based video-on-demand. This give users access to video content for free, with the quid pro quo being to watch pre-, mid-, or post-roll ads. 
  2. SVOD: Subscription video-on-demand: This gives users an option to be charged a recurring fee in return for unlimited access to content.
  3. TVOD: Transactional video-on-demand: This gives users the chance to pay once to either own or rent a specific video.

Video optimisation

As is the case with written content, it’s crucial to undertake some basic search engine optimisation (SEO) for videos when trying to raise their visibility. 

Differing platforms will have differing options for writing and optimising video titles, explanatory descriptions, tagging and scripts, so it’s good practice to check which SEO options are available and then to leverage them when practical.

A decent platform choice will give you not only control over basics such as title/description but will also allow media to add keywords to each video to help improve its SEO.

My top 10 tips for selling video online

  1. Educate advertisers about the benefits of online video advertising. Many advertisers are still not fully aware of the power of it. Make sure you are able to clearly articulate the benefits of the arena, such as its high engagement rates, its ability to reach a targeted audience, and its potential to drive conversions.
  2. Demonstrate the effectiveness of video advertising with data. Advertisers are more likely to be persuaded by data than by anecdotal evidence. Be prepared to provide advertisers with data that demonstrates the effectiveness of online video advertising — whether buying into your own content or creating their own. This could include data on click-through rates, view-through rates, and conversions.
  3. Offer a variety of video advertising options. Not all advertisers are looking for the same thing. Some may be interested in pre-roll ads, while others may be more interested in sponsored content or native advertising. Be sure to offer a variety of online video advertising options to meet the needs of different advertisers.
  4. Make it easy for advertisers to buy it. The easier it is, the more likely they are to do so. Make sure your sales process is as streamlined as possible.
  5. Focus on the advertiser’s goals. What are the advertiser's goals for their online video advertising campaign? Are they looking to increase brand awareness, drive traffic to their Web site, or generate leads? Once you understand the advertiser's goals, you can obviously tailor your sales pitch accordingly.
  6. Highlight the unique features of your platform. What makes your platform different from the competition? Do you have access to a unique audience? Do you offer special targeting options? 
  7. Follow up with advertisers regularly to see how their campaigns are performing — all part of building relationships with advertisers and increasing the chances of repeat business.
  8. Create high-quality videos. Advertisers are more likely to pay for video insertions that are well-produced and engaging. Invest in good equipment and learn how to edit your videos effectively.
  9. Offer a variety of pricing options to meet the needs of different advertisers.
  10. Create video bundles. Offer discounts on bundles of related videos.


So, grasp the basics first: content strategy, production process, content creation, video monetisation, and optimisation. Get the groundwork done first, then offer what your clients generally either wouldn’t have appreciated or maybe hadn’t thought of. 

And what you will have is an appealing range of video options that will be valued, will save clients their time, and will help your revenue diversification efforts for the future.

Interview with Alice Sandelson at audio-first Tortoise

As an expert in this space, I wanted to know what things Alice Sandelson, commercial strategy director for audio at Tortoise Media, thinks media companies need to bear in mind when setting up a podcast venture. I think you’ll find the following enlightening:

Mark Challinor (MC): Alice, thank you on behalf of INMA for talking to me today. Can I start by saying that it seems you have pivoted to an audio-first approach to your operation. Why is that? 

Alice Sandelson (AS): Tortoise is a deliberately different type of newsroom. As our name suggests, we take news slowly. We analyse and investigate what’s driving the news rather than report on breaking news. At first we published long reads, via our own app and Web site, but soon found that asking people to read two or three thousand words on a mobile wasn’t landing. People were getting two or three paragraphs in and we would start to lose them. 

Towards the end of 2019, we started experimenting with audio, and what we found was that people kept listening. We were seeing a nearly 90% listen-through rate on our podcasts, and our listeners were far younger than our readers.

Armed with the knowledge that audio was a better vehicle for the kind of journalism that Tortoise wanted to be doing, we shifted more and more towards audio and, just over 18 months ago, made the decision that Tortoise would become audio-first. 

We still publish our newsletters, taking a “slow news” approach to daily news, and we continue to run events and forums for our members and business partners. However audio is now the primary output of our journalism and it’s published on our audio app, our Web site, and, crucially, on the open RSS feed, which pulls into all audio platforms: Apple, Spotify, etc. 

Fast forward and thanks to a couple of hit shows, we have grown a mass audience of listeners and that has been a significant change for us that has propelled our growth. 

Alice Sandelson is commercial strategy director for audio at Tortoise Media.
Alice Sandelson is commercial strategy director for audio at Tortoise Media.

MC: What portfolio of products do you now produce? 

AS: In audio, we produce award-winning, dare I say, explosive narrative investigative series that tell untold stories. Our newly launched Tortoise Investigates feed is the home of the best of our investigative podcast series. 

The feed includes Pig Iron, which won gold for Best Documentary in the British Podcast Awards this month, and Dr Anti-vax, the new series from Alexi Mostrous, who reported No. 1 podcasts Sweet Bobby and Hoaxed.  

Plus, we have a number of daily and weekly shows that focus on the stories that really matter in the U.K. and around the world. Our slate includes the daily Sensemaker, weekly investigative show The Slow Newscast, The News Meeting (which takes listeners into the newsroom to discuss what should lead the news and why), and our most recent addition, Trendy, where Britain’s top pollster Sir John Curtice and former Downing Street advisor Rachel Wolf explore the key political, social, and economic trends that shape what voters think and what politicians do. 

MC: Do you commercialise them? 

AS: Certainly! Our business model in podcasting spans ads and sponsorships which we sell ourselves and via our distribution partner Acast. Also, we have branded content, co-productions, commissions, subscription, and membership revenue and licensing our IP, either for translations or film and TV exploitation.  

Excitingly, we signed a first look deal with Sky Studios last year and work closely with them on TV adaptations of Tortoise stories, and we’ve also sold podcast IP to a number of other production companies. 

MC: Which platform do you use for distribution? There is a confusing myriad of platforms. How do you choose yours? Which are best for distributing your podcast episodes to the likes of Apple, Spotify, etc.? 

AS: Tortoise podcasts are available everywhere: Apple, Spotify, Amazon, and all the other major listening platforms. For these platforms, we distribute via Acast. We also offer early access, bonus content, and ad-free listening for subscribers via our Tortoise+ channel on Apple Podcasts (which we distribute directly on Apple). We also publish on the Tortoise audio app, which is the curated home of Tortoise audio, with features including personalised feeds and podcast playlists curated by Tortoise journalists. 

MC: How do you market the future/coming podcast episodes? Social media? Own channels, newsletters, etc.? 

AS: We run 360 campaigns for most of our show launches: across our owned channels — social, Web, app, and newsletters, paid marketing campaigns and partnerships, including trailer swaps with publishers and podcasters with relevant audiences. But we tend to find that the most effective way to build an audience is to move them from existing shows to new shows via feed drops and host reads. 

AS: Our audio team of executive producers, producers, reporters, sound designers is over a dozen, supported by other reporters, commercial and marketing heads. We’re getting a lot of content out every week.

MC. What’s your view on advertising embedded into your podcasts? Or sponsorships?  

AS: The boom in podcasting advertising and sponsorship is great news for podcasters. Since the IAB started measuring podcast advertising in 2020, advertising spend has doubled in just three years. There’s increasing appreciation that podcasts engage listeners more intimately than other digital advertising mediums.  

Listeners are less likely to skip a sponsorship read by their favourite podcast host or an ad that they’re hearing whilst on a commute with their phone in their bag. And thanks to the ever-growing number of positive and newsworthy campaigns, there’s also increasing awareness of the potential for popular podcasts to deliver significant reach and smaller shows to deliver targeted brand communications to specific audiences. 

At Tortoise, we make sure we are working with brands that we believe will be of interest to our listeners and those who want to listen ad-free can become a subscriber. Subscription serves another purpose for publishers: As with all advertising, podcasters are at the mercy of the market, so subscription is one way to diversify revenue streams so you’re not wholly reliant on ad revenue. 

MC: Let’s talk about content. In your experience, is a publisher better to produce podcasts around specific content verticals or a generic overall offering? 

AS: Tortoise are focused on “slow news,” so all of our podcasts try to take a slower approach to provide more considered reporting — whether that’s revealing untold stories in our investigative series or more of a focus on context and underlying forces that are shaping the headlines in our news shows.  

One point to note is building an audience is the holy grail but can be tricky if you have a number of podcast feeds that require new audiences to be built from scratch each time — especially if you have limited marketing budgets.  

So it can be useful to think of content in terms of feeds: How can you develop content for a particular feed and existing audience. Our Tortoise Investigates feed is a good example of this. We’ve consolidated our investigative series into one feed so that we are meeting our audience where they already are and fostering habitual listening by releasing regular content. 

MC: What equipment would you need to get started? Could, for example, a starting position be to record on a platform like Zoom and upload audio from that? Then move to studio recording/better quality audio and other features (such as special guest interviews, etc.) when established? Or not? 

AS: It depends on the nature of the podcast. For our investigative series, brilliant sound design is often the key to elevating a podcast into a hit. For our more conversational podcasts, we always try to have people record live in the studio as it makes for better conversation and sound quality. But we recognise that isn’t always possible on podcasts involving hosts and guests with busy schedules. 

MC: In terms of uploading, say, to Spotify for Podcasters or similar, do they charge? What for?  

AS: The business model for distribution platforms is to take a cut of any ads and sponsorship revenue they sell against your content. 

MC: So, which platforms are best for distributing your podcasts to the likes of Apple, Spotify, etc.?  

AS: It’s less about distribution (all of them can distribute to most platforms) and more about monetisation. 

MC: Do you use your existing archive content and repackage it into new podcast episodes?  

AS: No, as an audio-first newsroom, we tend to focus on investigating and reporting new stories. An important part of Tortoise’s mission is to take the time to see the fuller picture, to see stories through, and to care what happens next. That means we do come back to stories if there are interesting developments, but we don’t “rehash.”  

To give an example, in winter 2021, we reported on a mountaineering tragedy on K2 Disaster at Camp 3, where the competing pressures of corporate competition, national glory, sponsorship deals, and “adventure influencers” collided. Last month we went back to K2 to tell another story of the commercialisation of K2 and the effect of record-breaking Killer Mountain: Abandoned on K2

AS: Meet your audience where they are. The RSS feed enables you to publish your content across most podcast platforms. Be open to experimenting with your content — podcasting is still a new medium, so there’s huge potential for creativity and innovation. And be open with your audience. Some of my favourite podcasts (not just Tortoise!) have the host taking listeners on the podcasting journey with them. 

MC: Finally, any other tips can you offer to other media companies who are thinking of getting into podcasting?  

AS: For many businesses, podcasting used to be treated as a side project, but that approach is self-limiting. Like you would with any other business line, make sure you have a podcast strategy in place: Define your goals and ideal outcomes (from reach to revenue), your target audience, and what you want listeners to do/think/feel.  

Ambitions must depend on these overall objectives, and that doesn’t always mean scale. There’s more value in reaching 1,000 ears made up of the right audience than 10,000 uninterested ears!  

Once agreed, this ambition should drive everything from broad content strategy, right through to editorial decisions: tone, structure, guests, branding, marketing, and release schedule. 

MC: Alice, thank you for you time and expertise. 

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Mark Challinor, based in London and lead for the INMA Advertising Initiative. Mark will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media advertising. Sign up for the newsletter here.

This newsletter is a public face of the Advertising Initiative by INMA, outlined here.

E-mail Mark at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions or follow him on Twitter (@challinor).

About Mark Challinor

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