In this opinion piece, Brian Fieldman of New York Magazine argues why video is the solution for digital publishers wanting to remain attractive to advertisers and their audience.
It’s been a big, weird year for the media industry. Gawker, the pioneering blog, declared bankruptcy and was sold off to Univision, whose millennial-focused digital endeavor Fusion has been having trouble finding an audience. The Awl, an heir to a certain version of Gawker, moved to Medium along with a number of other small websites. Medium’s own in-house editorial product, Matter, has turned itself into a… studio? Or something? BuzzFeed missed its early revenue goals by a wide margin, and has reorganized internally to emphasise video. (A better outcome for employees than at Mashable, where dozens were laid off in April, in preparation for a “strategic shift” toward video.) Vice launched a cable channel! Which no one is watching. Not that the executives at Disney, who seem likely to purchase the company, mind.
And then there’s Tronc. Tronc! Whatever it is.
What’s going on? At the root of these changes is a change in how digital publishers and advertisers do business. Selling display ads – banner ads and other advertisements you see alongside articles on websites in your browser – is no longer really lucrative enough to support a business. At the same time, sponsored ads – article-like pieces of content that are created at the behest, and with the input of, brands – haven’t been able to replace them. So what’s next? Video ads. And to sell video ads, you need video.
You can see this on Facebook, as much as anywhere else: the social network has shifted the formula by which it sorts your News Feed to prioritise video over outbound links. (Facebook, after all, has its own ads to sell.) It’s easy to talk about this in the abstract as a set of levers and incentives that digital publishers are forced to apprehend. But the change in priorities of advertisers and distribution channels like Facebook is more than just a minor new hurdle – it’s a requirement for those publishers to enter an entirely new business. We’re living through the effects of an ongoing shift away from text and pictures and toward video as the primary product of digital media companies, a break that even the best-capitalised media brands are navigating only with difficulty. Smaller publishers are calling it quits or offloading their technical infrastructure to Medium. Larger ones are cosying up to telecom giants, partnering with the hydra-headed conglomerates like Disney and NBCUniversal, or subsidising themselves with conferences.
The pain of the new regime is probably felt most keenly on small sites. There are a few ways to sell ads on websites: you can sell space and inventory more or less directly to advertisers (and make more money), or you can set up with an automated network like Google AdSense (and make less money serving up janky ads). Small websites – like the recently defunct and sorely missed The Toast – have trouble attracting an audience of the size necessary to get a foot in the door with big brands, and generally can’t make enough money off of programmatic advertising to pay the bills.
Read the full article here.