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The Answer is Video. Now What Was the Question?


Increasingly, media and marketing companies are looking to online video to rescue shrinking advertising rates and capture coveted social traffic. Peter Houston reports.

“At many publishers, no matter the question, the answer is video.”

Peter Houston

That’s the opening thought from a recent Digiday article profiling changes in content strategy at The Meredith Corporation, the business that publishes Martha Stewart Living, Better Homes and Gardens and more than a dozen other lifestyle magazines.

Increasingly, media and marketing companies like Meredith are looking to online video to rescue shrinking advertising rates and capture coveted social traffic. To help quantify the scale of their bet on video content, in 2015 Meredith produced around 3,000 videos; in 2016 it is creating 500 original videos every month.

That level of output requires a significant investment in specialised resources. Meredith now employs 30 people in a central unit to produce video for its magazine brands, everything from fitness routines and recipes to live baking demonstrations from Ms Stewart’s own kitchen. But is the investment warranted?


Publishers think it is because their audiences - and their advertisers - just can’t seem to get enough video. According to researchers GWI, watching video clips online has become a fundamental internet activity. Among online 16 to 34 year olds, almost 95 percent are watching video. Even as the age bracket rises to the over 50s and 60s, more than 80 percent say they watch video content online.

And the scale of online viewing is staggering. YouTube, the granddaddy of online video currently gets almost 6 billion video views a day, with average user session coming in at about 40 minutes. Upstarts Snapchat and Facebook clock up 10 billion video views every day between them.

Video on the move

Much of the recent rise in video viewing is mobile. GWI says six in 10 mobile users are watching videos on their smartphones, primarily thanks to the massive improvements in connection speeds 4G has delivered. Networking giant Cisco predicts that, by 2020, there will be more than 11 billion connected mobile devices in the world and that 75 percent of all mobile traffic will be video.

Facebook has even gone as far as to predict the end of the written word, at least on its platform. Reported in Quartz, Facebook’s European boss Nicola Mendelsohn said recently that in five years’ time, the world’s biggest social network “will be definitely mobile, it will be probably all video.”

That’s clearly hype to get the world to take note how serious Facebook is about video, but Mendelsohn’s rationale, bolstered by solid user data, isn’t completely crazy. “The best way to tell stories in this world, where so much information is coming at us, actually is video. It conveys so much more information in a much quicker period. So actually the trend helps us to digest much more information.”

Over half of Facebook users watch videos on the network, the second most common activity behind clicking the ‘Like’ button. That’s good news for Facebook and its efforts to keep users engaged, and an opportunity for marketers. As Quartz reports, with autoplay videos dominating Facebook users newsfeeds, ‘the potential for targeted branded video on Facebook can hardly be over-stated.’

Making video effective

And it’s numbers like that that see forecasts for video advertising spend rising to over $28 billion by the end of the decade. The challenge for marketers, particularly Pharma marketers, is how to make video advertising effective.

Patient and HCP education probably tops the list. Acknowledging as always the limitations due to FDA regulations, Intouch Solutions took the time to put together a guide to how Pharma can leverage social video.

They focussed on Tumblr, Snapchat and streaming platform Periscope, but the principles outlined apply to any of the growing number of social video channels: ‘Tapping into popular social platforms can help increase awareness and build education around different disease states.’

Live streaming, now huge through Facebook Live, has the potential to allow marketers to engage with patients and HCPs, offering information, building awareness making real-time feedback possible.

Pre-roll advertising is popular but probably less effective. Three-quarters of publisher video revenue advertising comes from pre- and post-roll advertising, but that’s because it’s there and relative easy, not because the ROI is particularly great.

Nic Newman, co-author of the Reuter’s Institute’s report on ‘The Future of Online News Video’, describes pre-roll ads as just "part of the furniture" of online video, but not in a good way. “Our sense is that people are irritated by pre-roll.” He explained that in focus groups pre-rolls were a ‘very strong’ reason people gave for not watching online video.

Another opportunity for marketers, at least in relation to brand building, might be in soft-touch video sponsorships, funding high-quality programming efforts by publishers like The Economist. The Economist Films is a growing series of short-form documentaries on subjects from travel (sponsored by Turkish Airlines) to disrupted industries (sponsored by Ernst & Young) and the future of work (sponsored by Salesforce).

The hard-hitting short ‘What If malaria drugs stopped working’ featuring Bill Gates might be a difficult one for Pharma to get behind, but it’s not impossible to imagine The Economist or another serious publishers producing a series of informative and educational videos that would fit well with a big Pharma brand-building agenda.

Whether it is sponsorships or Live Streaming, video is clearly set to play a huge part in the future digital marketing mix. Meredith’s commitment to hiring 30-staff and Facebook’s vision of a world without the written word may be a little extreme, but marketers need to get ready to make at least some of their pictures move.

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