While Fairfax is buying up .tv domains and creating channels as a separate entity, other publishers are using their existing Web presence as a host for their long-form video.
Executive Editor Espen Egil Hansen says about 87% of VG viewers access the site through the publisher’s home page, which reaches approximately 44% of Norway’s population every day. The publisher has increased, or scaled up, the quantity of content as revenue and interest have grown.
It now has more viewers than Norway’s two national television broadcast stations combined.
Part of what makes VGTV’s model unique is that it is producing a full spectrum of original content in addition to acquiring it from other sources. The most-viewed programmes involve news, sports, and entertainment.
As the programming has become more popular, VG is wrestling with branding and identity.
“What we are working on now is our strategy,” Hansen says. “Should we build the [video] player as a separate brand and get readers to go directly to that page? Today, the front page is the most important gate. But now we have to look at how this goes into the future.”
Creating a successful station has required an investment in staff, equipment, and education. Today VGTV has nine in-house video journalists producing content, as well as a complete production teams to edit and produce the video content.
VGTV works with “all the major TV companies in Norway” and, because of those partnerships, was able to produce 20 unique, original series last year alone. It is considering adding a 24-hour news channel and continues experimenting heavily with live coverage. HBO is one of many production companies that have reached out to VGTV with an interest in forming a partnership.
“[Video programming] is expensive to do, but it’s not as expensive as TV,” Hansen says. “We are trying to do different models and try different things. Readers like it because when they come to our site, there is a lot going on.”
At the high end of VG’s cost spectrum is a slickly produced, weekly entertainment show that costs a little more than US$35,000 per episode, which Hansen says is near the cost of traditional television production. At the low end is a dating show shot on a hand-held camera that “costs nothing” to produce.
In the open frontier of online video channels, there’s a place for virtually all styles and genres, and VGTV is willing to experiment with different themes and production methods.
“We should be working in the less polished end, which is less expensive to make,” Hansen says. “But when we make more polished shows, it’s easier to get advertisers to sponsor shows. So we are looking into more traditional TV productions.”
The key to making it work, Hansen contends, is being agile, flexible, and responsive: “When we get a creative idea, we try it. We launch it and learn from it. And when we see something that works, and the readers like it and the advertisers are there, then we scale up.”
Because the response is immediate, VG knows whether to forge ahead or change direction almost as soon as a segment airs. Today, the channel is a break-even proposition for the Schibsted-owned VG, and Hansen sees it becoming a “very interesting revenue stream” in the next two or three years.
“As a publisher, you can look on video as being expensive and difficult, or you can see it as a way to connect and tell that story better to give you more business,” Hansen says. “If you define your business as a headline, text, and static picture, then someone else is going to do better than you, because today there are more effective ways to tell a story.”
And traditional publishers of newspapers are the logical choice for telling those stories.
“This is a new possibility for newspapers,” Hansen says. “It’s a way to go into direct competition with TV stations. This puts us on common ground. It’s important for us to be there now — not to wait. You have to be there now.”