Premium Video: Raising the Bar

As our 2019 predictions foretold, video is still an evolving space for marketers this year, a code to crack as user behavior becomes more fluid across mobile devices and wall-mounted screens. Last week, Michael Dub from DXagency made sure to remind all of us caught up in March Madness: “images are still the currency of the web.” Interactive content like brackets certainly pull in brand audiences and keep users busy, while ratings, comments and surveys glean emotions and customer intention. But if you’re a brand or a publisher, content is still an essential way to reel your audience in and keep them clicking on your assets and wares. A regular TV consumer wants to view short clips or longer-form features when traveling. News audiences desire moving visual embellishments that add to the stories they read.

For publishers specifically, video is the ticket to wider exposure and monetization through pre-roll ad inventory.

Lindsay Stewart, CEO of Stringr, told me: “Publishers have been through a number of transitions, and with them I think they believe video is part of their premium offering. They believe that video is part and parcel of what will drive viewers and subscriptions as well.” However, she adds, there “has yet to be a breakthrough for monetization” and she sees “a lot of publishers slogging through to see what works in the monetization of their sites.” In the video space, Stewart challenges publishers to look outside the box toward OTT and other iterations that resemble more traditional TV. She pointed to the expansion of business news outlet Cheddar, which has increasingly “flexed its vertical chops” on satellite and cable providers, as well as OTTs like Sling TV and Philo, while also streaming over Facebook Live. Stewart also applauds a client of hers, The Weather Channel, for continuing to “refine” their vertical offering. “That’s what’s so nice about The Weather Channel,” Stewart explained. “They say ‘we have our vertical: premium, up-to-the-minute weather.’ They don’t have to struggle with that.”

And Stringr looks to make this offering even more premium through a new partnership with The Weather Channel that draws on the vendor’s network of over 75,000 videographers to provide live content anywhere that weather news is breaking.

Stringr provides an Uber-like service for publishers and corporate clients where videographers are rated and deployed to various gigs in any major U.S. market. Live videographers go through an additional vetting process, but the principles of scale and affordability apply here as well. The bar is being raised for video content.

While Stringr uses a network of talent and a ratings system to scale their services, which include post-production editing and publishing expertise, a digital creative agency like Undertone is asking the same questions about creating compelling brand content in the form of ads. Technology can bring people together, but it can also bring more eyeballs to content and track the results.

Jaime Nash, Undertone’s Director of Creative and Technology, described how video content can be optimized with the latest advances in artificial brainpower. “Auto optimization is the use of machine learning, or an AI, to optimize campaign creative, placements, platforms etc…in lieu of having a person pull reports, make recommendations for changes, have those changes implemented, and then hope to see an improvement in something like CTR (click-through rate) by the next time you check a report,” Nash said.

“Most brands,” she added, “are optimizing toward VCR (video completion rate) because they believe watching the full video builds awareness or consideration in taking the next step of making a purchase, though some brands still look for click through (or swipe ups on social) on videos.”

Amit Golan, CEO and Founder of Minute.ly, had a slightly more cynical view about completion based on his experience and data analysis of video viewing habits.

Golan told me, “We spent the last three years analyzing all kinds of videos from different publishers and content creators…and we saw that when users are actually watching the best content, even though these creators have 100,000 followers and are making the best content, the audience will consume only 30 to 35 percent of the content. If it’s a two-minute clip, the audience will watch 20 or 30 seconds.”

For brands and other content clients, Golan uses algorithms to boil down video highlights to help discern what makes the clip such a compelling piece of content. “We figured out how to detect the highlights and generate the teasers out of them,” he explained. “Different algorithms search within those videos and see how users are engaging with it while watching the content. We see what the world uses the content for outside the [publisher’s] platform, if the videos appear in different places, or if users are writing content about them…all kinds of inputs.”

Data-driven analysis still has its challenges, requiring human oversight. Golan said, “Machine learning will help you understand and analyze thing’s you’re actually looking for. What is harder for deep learning and AI in general is how to define subjective things. For example, there was an amazing goal [used in previews] for the World Cup. But, the most interesting moment (based on the data) was when a couple had a fight in the stands.” Based on how users interacted with and talked about this content, the fight became the unexpected main draw. He added that the actual time people spend viewing content depends on what kind of content it is. Stringr’s Lindsay Stewart holds that two minutes is the maximum for news features.

According to Golan, video multiplies revenue for publishers up to 20 times. The problem is that high production costs lower the net profits. His AI solution maximizes the value of the content to increase ROI. Similar to Stewart’s position, Golan sees the power in content creators expanding their reach across platforms. Video on the web can evolve through lower-cost, yet premium, production to the point where it can be picked up by OTT services, following the Cheddar model.

“All the clients who use us are having great value with what we generate for them,” he said. “They are now extending to OTT and other platforms, so they can use it however and wherever the audience is, increasing inboard traffic within the site and helping bring in users from social and search back to their assets. The key for them is how they leverage what they have today.”

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