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News media companies must unlearn old lessons to succeed in online video

Ilta-Sanomat got serious in the online video business about two-and-a-half years ago. We have learned a lot since we started, but we are still practicing. 

Personally, I think I have learned more in these few years than in my entire previous work history. The hardest lesson for myself has been, however, to unlearn just about everything that I had learned while masters degree in business administration.

The most important things I learned in getting my MBA were setting objectives, creating strategies, and making plans. When I started with ISTV, I tried to do the same things I had always done: set objectives, create strategy, and make plans. It’s essential to analyse the markets, critical success factors, and strengths and weaknesses of one’s organisation, as well to discover the opportunities and threats.

It is also crucial that videos are a key part of the whole organisation’s strategy, and this is something companies want to succeed in. However, I have seen so many media companies failing with online videos because they wanted to “try it a little bit.” That strategy just doesn’t work.

Even though anyone who owns a mobile phone can make a video and post it on YouTube, succeeding in making online videos is one of the most difficult tasks for news media companies. Legacy news companies don’t have experience with videos, and the way they often try to resolve this is by buying into a television company or hiring a team of television professionals.

They quickly realise that doesn’t work either. Their readers simply don’t want to watch B-class TV shows produced with minimal resources on news sites.

What audiences want is native online video content. What media companies need to do to succeed in providing it is analyse what their own critical success factor is for content – what is the reason their readers are reading their media? Then, they must learn to do the same thing using a native video format.

Yes, learning. You can’t buy that knowledge from somewhere or copy somebody else’s model.

Speaking of learning, let me go back to what I started writing about. The market of online videos is growing and developing so rapidly that it is almost impossible to make very long-term objectives, strict strategies, or exact plans. What you need to do instead is to learn to live with constant uncertainty.

I’ll give you an example: From the very beginning, we realised that our profit model, which is mainly based on pre-rolls, isn’t sustainable if we produce our online videos with a television style and cost (that is, linear TV technology and production costs). Everyone knows the average CPM of pre-rolls, so it’s quite easy to figure out how much production can cost.

Instead, we wanted to train some of our editors to become video reporters so they could shoot the videos with their mobile phones. That looked like a good plan on paper, but didn’t work in reality. The technology just wasn’t ready for that – yet. We fought against windmills for almost two years before the technology that enabled it to be done professionally was ready.

Then, as so often happens, when the things finally started moving after a long wait (remember the start of e-commerce?), they moved faster than anybody could have estimated. And, as it often happens, it happened half by accident: We had been looking for a convenient editing tool for mobile videos, but none of those on the market fulfilled our requirements, and we didn’t want to get stuck with technology that didn’t work for us.

Last month, I was in a seminar in Europe, and I met the developer of the tool we were interested in. I heard about its latest developments and that it had now solved the issues with the tool that we were concerned about. We agreed to a test use of the tool two weeks later.

Before the test period started, we had already planned a mobile video training for the first group of our editors. So two weeks ago, the first group of our editors started to systematically make mobile videos. The editors got to test use a tool to edit, text subtitles, etc. for videos.

With that, we took a giant step forward with our video production.

About Hanna Kouri

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