The State of Video at Newspapers
October 2011

by David Proeber

I'll add a few observations from our web experience with video at a 48,000 circulation paper and an 8 million unique views per month web site.

We have seen little growth of video views for most categories of video over the past six years, particularly sports, which has been the most disappointing. As for sports video, only state playoff games seem to get unusually high traffic.

The exception is breaking news. That one categoy continues to grow and indicates that the public can't get enough of it. We will average 3-4 significant disasters/news events a month where viewer numbers indicate the public will tend to view and review that video over and over during a week's time - resulting in some impressive numbers. Even lower level breaking news stories (car accidents, typical fires, bank robberies) tend to out shine feature or sports videos. I have a standing order to our photo staff that we will try to shoot video of these events if at all possible, even if it means sending a second photographer to the scene. Even raw, unedited video seems to click with our readers if it is breaking news.

When I set out to build a video workflow at our paper, I set a standard for a financial model even before we shot our first video. That included the use of locally produced (or canned) 15 second pre-rolls that would generate income and help pay for staff or just add to the paper's profit level. It never seemed to takeoff because I do not believe newspaper advertising departments, in general, know how to sell it. There is a built-in financial incentive to sell print where a full page sale might yield signficant bonuses for the ad rep. That's the bread and butter of newspapers and why they are so profitable. I believe that even at a small paper like ours, the lost revenue from video would have funded at least two staff positions we've lost over the last two years. At a larger paper, it could mean the difference between hiring or laying off a full-time videographer and maybe even a full-time video editor.

I don't believe the case is closed for newspaper video. While the last six years haven't proven the experts' prediction that video will make still photography obsolete, I do believe there is still time for the industry to rethink the use of video on its websites and its funding model. Video and still photos can and must live side by side as complementary content on newspaper websites. Our readers love both.

Until delivery bandwidth from newspaper websites has increased to the point where .flv or .mov files play as smooth as HD television over cable, I would consider newspaper video to still be in an experimental stage. I still hear too many viewers of our website complain that video still hickups and spurts and stops making the experience less than ideal. I see the same sort of thing from even major sites like NYT and Washington Post. This hurts traffic over the long term. I believe it is an issue with the medium that won't be totally resolved until the nation can achieve the 12-15 MB/sec delivery times we see in Europe. If that can happen, and newspaper advertising departments can be taught how to sell video ads, video will get a second chance at newspapers.

David Proeber is the photo editor at the The Pantagraph in Bloomington, Ill. DProeber@PANTAGRAPH.COM

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