Even without any prior context as to the state of online video, the viewership stats for BuzzFeed Video are amazing. In an interview with BuzzFeed executive producer Andrew Gauthier, we’re treated to these numbers:
Unlike many text publishers that have pushed into video, BuzzFeed’s videos aren’t boom and bust. They regularly rack up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. For example, the last 10 videos BuzzFeed created have view counts between 221,000 and 1 million on BuzzFeed’s primary YouTube channel, BuzzFeedVideo.
I think the average consumer could reasonably assume that a website that already has millions of monthly visitors and millions of social media followers could start regularly producing web videos that rack up thousands of views. The reality is that success stories like BuzzFeed’s are far from the norm.
There’s been a trend in recent years of major news outlets, galvanized by the promise of higher CPM advertising rates, launching more robust video departments. How hard could it be to simply replicate the cable news talking heads model? Just put a few pundits and journalists in a room and have them analyze that day’s news. After wasting significant money and staff resources, many of these publishers have learned a difficult lesson: It’s harder than it looks. In fact, getting a significantly-sized audience to not only sit down and watch a video, but then go on to share it on social media, is a gargantuan task.
Don’t believe me? Look at the recent videos uploaded onto YouTube by the New York Times, arguably one of the largest and most well-funded news sites in the U.S. Of the 30 videos uploaded in the last five days, only one has more than 5,000 views. Most have fewer than 2,000. Or look at Post TV, the ambitious video project from the Washington Post. It launched in 2013 with the goal of producing several live shows that starred the newspaper’s most prominent pundits. It was met with dismal reviews, and by December of that same year the company announced that it was already rolling back its shows in favor of shorter videos. When you visit the Post TV website today you’ll mostly find a repository of short Reuters videos.
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And god forbid you decide to forgo YouTube and only use your custom-made video player. YouTube’s ecosystem is massive (it’s the second largest search engine after Google), and its video recommendation engine has enormous influence. Unless your video is absolutely groundbreaking, without YouTube’s help it’s likely to get fewer than 100 views.
So the fact that BuzzFeed is able to regularly produce videos that attract hundreds of thousands of viewers proves that it isn’t a one-hit, listicle-dependent wonder. It has succeeded among the wreckage of hundreds of abandoned video departments that were launched by overly-eager news organizations.
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When the Washington Post announced last year that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had purchased the paper for $250 million, it was met with a degree of optimism in the media sphere. If anyone could reboot a legacy news publication, it’s the ruthlessly innovative Bezos. But while reading this Digiday list of 10 ways the Post has changed under Bezos’s leadership, I was struck by how cosmetic most of the moves have been. It’s begun to expand the newsroom — bringing in 50 new editorial staffers — and its digital traffic is growing, but then again most news sites’ digital traffic is growing as more of the world gains smart phones and access to the internet.
It may be too soon to pass judgement, however, since several of the items that show the most promise are for projects that aren’t yet completed. The Post has expanded its computer engineering team, for instance, is building a new commenting platform, and is in the process of a major redesign.
The paper announced a website redesign, but it’s a long way from being completed. Chief among the goals is improving the article experience; article pages are cleaner, and photo galleries have better resolution and sharing features. But article pages are still marred by Google AdChoices and take too long to load — four to five seconds to load — which the Post wants to cut to two to three seconds. “Speed is something we need to get better at,” Prakash said. “We’ve made progress, but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Explaining his decision to leave the Post for Vox Media, Klein criticized the paper as lagging in technology and for being tied to a daily-journalism publishing model. Here again, the Post is just getting started. Its new blog Storyline allows for storytelling in different formats and to be told over days and months. A new CMS that will build in analytics to inform and guide news staffers as they post content is still in the works. And the holy grail of being able to personalize content to readers based on their point of entry and interests is still a ways off — as it is for most publishers.