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Lewis DVorkin, chief product officer of Forbes Media, agrees. “Video on the web is hard. It’s very stressful,” he says. Since joining Forbes in the spring of 2010, DVorkin has been coming up with new ways to create and distribute Forbes content. But video has him stumped: “We had a difficult video strategy. It was conceived on the broadcast model—produced, highly expensive, and it involved lots of people.” He foresees moving to outside contributors more in video, as he has done elsewhere on forbes.com. DVorkin and nymag.com’s Silberman both say that until they unlock the video puzzle, they are losing opportunities for ad revenue. Silberman says, “Our ad demand outstrips our audience demand.”
The Wall Street Journal’s site has drawn significant traffic and revenue to its video offerings. The site serves around 8 million streams a month, says Alan Murray, deputy managing editor and executive editor, online, for the Journal. And the ad rates are healthy—$30 to $40 per thousand views (or CPMs). The site features live videos before and after the market closes, and they’re often displayed prominently on the home page. Unlike much of the rest of the site, viewing the videos doesn’t require a subscription.
The key to making video profitable, Murray says, is controlling costs. WSJ.com has about sixteen people devoted to video production, and the company has trained many of its print reporters in basic video techniques. “If you go to Bahrain and need a satellite truck, that’s $25,000,” Murray says. “All we need is a $200 iPhone 4.” WSJ.com has also managed to get viewers to watch video during work hours, something that many other sites have found difficult.
The Miami Herald recently noted that its video traffic grew by 25 percent in 2010. Videos that the Herald produces and hosts on its site get about 200,000 streams a month, says Lopez, the interactive general manager. That is a relatively small number, given that the site gets more than 6 million visitors per month.
The Herald has bolstered its video presence with segments produced by the Associated Press and other organizations. It also tried to distinguish itself by producing longer videos of newsmakers talking about various topics, but those are a tough sell online. “There’s a reason that television does two-minute stories,” the Herald’s managing editor, Rick Hirsch, told Poynter.org. “Unless something is super compelling, people’s attention span is relatively short, and it’s even shorter on a small screen.” And it’s not easy to make the advertising numbers work. Lopez says Herald-produced videos earn just $4,000 per month—that is, 200,000 streams a month at $20 per thousand viewers.
Cynthia Carr, senior vice president of sales at The Dallas Morning News, also doubts video will become a significant profit driver any time soon. “We’re not monetizing video. I don’t see that bringing big revenue,” she says. Dallasnews.com got an average of 186,000 video streams a month in 2010, clicked on by 2 percent of the unique visitors coming to the site.
And video traffic is hard to anticipate. Like Hollywood, there are hits and flops—as the Detroit Free Press found in January 2011, when it ran a dramatic video of a shootout in a local police station. It got nearly 714,000 streams, or nearly half the total traffic to video on Detroit’s site for a three-month period. When it launched, the video was preceded by a short commercial. But within seven hours and 70,000 streams, a reader who went by the name “HartlandRunner” posted this comment: “I am glad you are willing to tell this story by showing the video, but why the ad beforehand? Brutality brought to us by UnitedHealth Care? …Very, very tacky, even in an online world. This tape was paid for by taxpayers and shows graphic real violence and you guys put an ad on it. That’s unbelievable and I hope you change it.”