Common sense ideas for making online video work (and pay)

News conferenceThe promise of running video on news sites has been just around the corner for about a decade now. With technology cheap, and bandwidth to spare, news organizations—and newspapers in particular—have reasonably assumed they could compete with broadcast and cable news. Assumed is the key word: while ad rates on digital video remain well above typical rates for text and photos, few news organizations—broadcasters included—have successfully navigated the switch to digital. A report by the International News Media Association sheds some light on why online video has failed to deliver and delivers some common sense advice from the successful few.

The report, Making Video Pay For News Publishers, is only available to INMA members or for a pretty penny on INMA’s website. So here’s a bullet list of what we considered the most intriguing opinions in a white paper that included data on ad rates, various content and selling strategies and interviews with publishers who have gotten it right, sometimes after years of struggling.

Stick to your strengths

If you’re in the publishing business you have a brand and an audience that knows you. Stick to the areas you’re already good at: hyperlocal, sports, business, whatever. Don’t use the new video cam as an excuse to dabble in content you don’t know, and that your audience isn’t expecting from you.

“Whatever you do with video, it has to be very honest to what your brand represents,” Suranga Chandratillake of Blinkx, told report author Paula Felps. “If your audience is 22-year-olds who are very edgy, they’re going to find it odd to be watching a guy wearing a tie sitting behind a desk.”  Canada’s Globe and Mail leveraged its strength in business coverage to produce Market News segments (that could be easier to find). The Daily Telegraph is serious, the Financial Times less formal with its videos.

Go all-in, or don’t bother

“Every medium- and large-sized newspaper could be playing this game tomorrow,” says Michael Rosenblum, president and CEO of RosenblumTV and founder of New York Times Television. “But they’re not.”

Mastering video is similar to mastering social media: dive in and learn what you need to to do it right. With local broadcasters losing eyeballs, advertisers are keen to buy space where those eyeballs have migrated to. (The report cites a typical ad rate of $25 per thousand views for pre-roll and other advertising that’s incorporated into the medium.)

Be honest about costs

Video equipment, and the technology needed to distribute it online, is cheap and getting cheaper. But you still need to spend money to make money and too often news organizations dip a toe by opting to spend little up front in the hopes that money earned on video will have a snowball effect and pay for its own growth. The INMA report suggests that isn’t working. Instead, news organizations that make the modest investment in know-how and equipment will be overcoming barriers to entry in their niche or geographic area. And the investment can be very modest.

Australia’s Fairfax Media is dedicating big resources and hiring broadcast veterans for its online video units while The Guardian and Wall Street Journal are making more modest investments by re-training staff. The Toronto Sun has purchased Canon cameras that shoot video and stills simultaneously. Many U.S. newspaper chains have embraced so-called backpack journalism. Local newspapers are experimenting with new models of what a reporter can and should be.

Featured photo by NASA Goddard Photo and Video via a Creative commons license. Additional photo by Movieing Memories via Creative Commons.

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About Peter C. Beller

Peter C. Beller is director of content at Ebyline. He was previously a staff writer for Forbes and has freelanced for numerous publications. He can be reached at