In the wake of video’s growing popularity, news media companies have made efforts not only to engage audiences in this space, but to test monetisation strategies as well.

At Alabama Media Group, engaging audiences means tapping into to local pride.

“But we’re also looking at how video can help use rethink how do we connect with people who have a very deep sense of pride for where they live,” Michelle Holmes, vice president for the company, told the audience at the INMA World Congress of News Media on Tuesday.

Michelle Holmes of Alabama Media Group, Catherine Kim of NBC News Digital, and Andrew Pergam of McClatchy discuss how they are bringing in revenue from video.
Michelle Holmes of Alabama Media Group, Catherine Kim of NBC News Digital, and Andrew Pergam of McClatchy discuss how they are bringing in revenue from video.

Five years ago, Alabama Media Group was in a place many news media organisations were. If it moved, Holmes said the news team would create a video for it. But that was not a sustainable business plan. After refocusing the strategy on a popular topic in the state, American football, the company entered a whole new era.

“Where are we now? Video is monumental for us in terms, again, in reaching audience — an engaged audience,” she said. 

And that engaged audience is valuable — not for the number of views they collectively create, but for their connection to the company’s video content. Knowing this, Alabama Media Group has worked to create brands that appeal to who Alabamians are at their core.

One of these brands, “It’s a Southern Thing,” has even become popular outside of Alabama, in other Southern states and in states interested in the South. Holmes showed a video called “If Southern moms had their own pit crew,” which highlights the importance of sweet tea and purchasable T-shirts featuring Southern phrases. 

“It’s the kind of integrated marketing campaign that we are kind of doing that’s involving content that’s really focused around serving advertisers with stories,” Holmes said.

Already a dominant player in video, NBC News Digital had to carefully consider how to differentiate itself from other big players in the video space. Catherine Kim, executive editor at the company, said it was a constant state of self-reflection, asking: Are we making the right decisions?

One of these decisions came in 2015, when the company decided to turn off autoplay on its videos to create a better user experience and test what types of videos their audience was engaging with.

One month later, video viewership had dropped by one-third.

“It was a brave move,” Kim said.

Now, the company has reached a record number of starts on its video content, far surpassing its previous views across NBCNews.com, MSNBC.com, and Today.com.

Kim said three strategic points help guide NBC Digital’s current video efforts:

Strategy #1: Video must be a “see it to believe it” moment.

“Over and over again, the videos that performed the best were the ones that best captured on video where words couldn’t do,” Kim said.

The company first recognised this lesson when it received exclusive original footage from a woman recording police shoot her husband. The video was clearly marked with a graphic image warning, and ads were turned off.

“We clearly knew this was a ‘see it to believe it type’ moment where words wouldn’t be able to capture the (images) on screen.”

Strategy #2: Leverage your assets and create differentiated content.

The amount of content coming into NBC can be daunting, Kim said. The video team is divided into three groups to manage this content. The first looks for major moments on television, and cutting and posting those peak clips. The second team looks at hours footage coming into the building from outside sources. The third looks for both daily moments and combs through footage from big events, like condensing the most important moments from Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony in front of the U.S. congress.

“We tend to look at big event moments like that that are hours long and take different bites of that apple, and weeks like that, they tend to be the most popular video for the whole week,” Kim said.

Strategy #3: Go where the audience has the intent to watch.

“We think a lot about what we’re putting on YouTube,” Kim said. “We think a lot about what we’re putting on OTT. We get an incredible amount of video views on those platforms and apps.”

The company has recently invested in creating a news programme for Snapchat called “Stay Tuned,” which has taught the video team many skills, like becoming experts in vertical video.

“We’ve got 30 million monthly unique visitors on our ‘Stay Tuned’ show on Snapchat,” Kim said. “And what we really are proud of: we have 75% of our audience is under 25. So that’s a whole new audience and they just celebrated 1 billion views.”

Video is nothing new at McClatchy, but the strategy for 2018 is a strategy of expansion.

“This year has been about even more investment in ourselves,” Andrew Pergam, vice president of video and new ventures at the company, said.

In McClatchy’s New Ventures Lab, the staff aims to craft a strategy that will continue to reach audiences in the video space, Pergam said: “This is where we are figuring out the future.”

The company experiments with both short- and long-form video, both adding value when used appropriately to the content, he said: “For us, video is what illustrates a story. If there’s something moving that’s connected to a story, you’re going to want to see that.”