‘You care more about your user experience than we do’: Insights from the Digiday Video Summit Europe

Publishers have adopted a practical view of how to tackle the ongoing challenges of producing and monetizing video on social platforms.

On stage and during closed-door discussions, as well as at the Guinness bar, at the Digiday Video Summit Europe in Dublin, publishers spoke candidly about their biggest challenges, ranging from how they’ve weathered platform algorithm changes, new ideas for on-site monetization of video, and internal organizational issues. Here’s what we learned:

Balancing resource for platform publishing
A strong theme was figuring out how to balance resources and shape editorial products to cater to social platforms whose algorithms shift continuously, particularly Facebook. Lingering questions remain regarding whether publishers give too much content away to platforms like Facebook; how to ensure focus is spread out; and how content production is mastered for more than just one platform. Figuring out the right kind of content and resource to put into social publishing, as well as achieving monetization targets, has gotten harder given the social platforms are now attempting to emulate the broadcasters in terms of content quality and desire for TV ad budgets.

Key takeaways

  • Publishers must continue to be more proactive when platform product changes occur.
  • Assigning people specifically to look after the data and technical layers of the platforms and how the algorithms work is a must.
  • Set clear internal business drivers as to what it’s worth to publish to that platform. Assign reach, marketing, monetization, on-site traffic or ticket sales targets, depending on the business objective.
  • Products like Instagram Stories remain more curation than algorithm led, for now, so are good places to test.
  • Create more modular content to use across multiple platforms to maximize resource.

Bottom Line: Dealing with the ever-changing algorithms has become the new norm at publishers. But in order to not be at the mercy of algorithm changes, publishers need to establish the business objectives each platform can help with before leaping in as soon as any new feature is released.

YouTube is an imperfect beacon
YouTube has been accepted as the platform that offers the most robust route to revenue for some time. The Google-owned platform favors consistent, original and longer videos (compared to Facebook). That costs time and money. But newer programs are making it easier for publishers to monetize on-site video through a YouTube player without committing to upfront costs. During a working group session about on-site monetization, YouTube emerged as the option publishers were most bullish about for driving revenue in 12 months time.

Key takeaways:

  • YouTube is all video; the user behavior is established.
  • Google’s engineering team sit closer to their partnerships team, meaning that algorithm changes can be more effectively communicated to publishers.
  • YouTube can be challenging as a sales partner.

Bottom line: YouTube’s Player for Publishers — where publishers embed YouTube’s player on their site, have priority sales rights and keep all the revenue — is a promising sign for publishers.

Created by Mick Greenwood, director of visual content at Culture Trip.


The ongoing tradeoff between revenue and user experience
Publishers have prioritized video strategies on their own sites, where they have more control over the relationship, data and revenue, than on third-party platforms. During a working group session publishers debated the merits of different video ad formats, how they drive revenue and when video ads were too disruptive.

Key takeaways

  • Autoplay video is often worth it from a revenue standpoint, but it depends on how pure a publisher wants to be on user experience. “You care more about your user experience than we do,” said one publisher to another who had sworn off muted autoplay.
  • Cutting down long ads is a tough problem. One European publisher has succeeded in only accepting 6-second ads on 60-second video, albeit within a small market.

Bottom line: Publishers need a blend of on-site monetization streams from syndication, programmatic and direct sales, and branded content, to build up a robust on-site video business.

Video compounds the need to marry tech and sales skills
Video is a complicated ecosystem. Publishers during town hall sessions complained about the difficulty in cultivating the right talent within sales teams to fully understand what clients need, a blend between technical product knowledge with sales savvy. Several media companies have brought ad-ops into all client meetings from the start. Others have changed commissioning structures to incentivize ad ops teams.

Key takeaways:

  • Beyond publishers’ internal structures, video is causing more complicated communications with their clients, where simple errors can easily be avoided.
  • “On the buy-side, the frustration is people not knowing what the error codes are. You have to educate them on what a 901 is, a 401, a 303,” said a publishing executive. “People are so used to having a tick box in the DSP, they haven’t had to put a click tag in. With video specifically it’s more complicated: Pipes break down when it’s something relatively simple, like hosting a video off-site.”

Bottom line: Video has expanded the number of ad formats and complicated the ad delivery process for publishers, continued education is a constant effort. Companies explore new structures to more easily share this knowledge.

Speaker highlights:
For Hearst UK, establishing control over what video content it creates, distributes and monetizes, outside of the social platforms, has become core to its video goals. Here are the key points from Betsy Fast, chief content development officer, Hearst UK:

  • In order not to be at the mercy of Facebook or other platform algorithm changes, Hearst has focused far more on creating content and monetizing video on its own site.
  • Hearst currently creates between 40 and 60 videos a month. It has recently tasked video content leads who now film between 5 and 10 original videos a month.
  • Like an increasing number of publishers, Hearst’s video team is focusing on targeting watch-time over views as the more effective way to measure how its content is resonating with viewers.
  • As a result of focusing more on video production for its own site, rather than social channels, the publisher ensures that the majority of its video revenue comes from on-site pre-roll ads.

David Alter, director of programs at Economist Films, detailed what video means for the subscription publisher and how it’s changing. His key points:

  • The four-year-old Economist Films produces editorially-led, brand-sponsored, 30-minute long documentaries as well as more regular, quick videos for platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Snapchat. The unit has grown from eight to 20 people.
  • There are still questions around what branded content video can deliver for its audience.
    “The sponsor’s interest is a B2B audience, ours is B2C, how do you square that? There are questions on whether you can deliver, but we all engage in video content as humans.”
  • For the wider group, video is “The Trojan Horse. Sometimes it’s the entry fee, you can’t bid for a request for proposal without video.” Last year Economist Films was profitable for the whole year for the first time as a standalone unit. It also contributed £3.5 million ($4.4 million) of digital business to the group.
  • Besides reach and awareness, The Economist is exploring how video fits in the customer acquisition and retention journey. In September it’s launching a weekly YouTube series to grow platform and onsite traffic, funded by the Google News Initiative.

Athena Witter, head of digital for Freemantle’s Thames TV, outlined how broadcasters and production studios are investing in digital beyond a marketing vehicle.

  • The production studio behind entertainment shows like “Britain’s Got Talent” and “The X Factor,” Thames has to sustain audience engagement on social in between linear broadcasts.
  • Spoilers are fine. Ahead of an episode of “Asia’s Got Talent”, the label published a clip of illusionist “Sacred Riana” on Facebook, which has been one of the most watched Facebook videos with 644 million views.
  • Like others, the whims of Facebook’s algorithm impacts business. As platforms like Facebook ask for content over three minutes long, Thames has to renegotiate deals with broadcast partners on how much content to post.
  • There’s anecdotal evidence that social drives linear tune-in for the label.

“We’re fighting this weird ecosystem with platforms because they’re pushing us to create certain kinds of content, which now jar with what the audience expects on those platforms.”

“We’re ending up focusing too much on producing content for one platform because of the algorithm changes catching us out.”

“With digital they are used to buying on impressions rather than television rating. There needs to be one trading currently [for addressable to scale]. [Digital buyers] are used to spending between €5 (£4.44 / $5.66) and €10 ($8.89 / $11.32) CPMs rather than between €50 (£44.43 / $66.81) and €60 (£53.32 / $67.95) CPMs. It’s hard to do a like-for-like comparison,” said Malcolm Murray, sales director, Sky Media Ireland.

Summit attendees share their biggest painpoints.

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