‘We’ve gone headlong’: Inside Time Inc.’s video strategy

Over the past two years Time Inc., the magazine company, has attempted to position itself as Time Inc., the digital content brand.

Core to the push has been video, which Time Inc. has produced in multiple forms. On the Web, its video team, now at 60 people, is producing around 200 videos each week across Time’s 25 titles. That video output includes short, lightly produced one-off news bits (“Florida Toll Worker’s Firing Doesn’t Sit Well with Regulars”), longer, more in-depth series and live Web shows such as SI Now, People Now and its 120Sports live streaming digital sports network. Time Inc expects to produce 10,000 videos this year.

Time’s commitment to video over the past two years has given it a relevant position on the Web, or at least so says Time Inc. svp of video J.R. McCabe, who joined in 2013 to lead and centralize the company’s video strategy.

“We’ve gone headlong into the business understanding that our brand equity allows us to speak to our consumers this way and expose our brands to people who didn’t know we did video,” he said.

Beyond Web video, Time Inc. has also pushed into longer full-length documentaries. Last week, it inked a deal with digital production and distribution company Rampante for “New Orleans, Here and Now,” a six-part series that will be distributed on Time Inc.’s properties. In a similar vein, in April, it announced SI Films, a sports video unit that it hopes will build on the success of the documentary “A Boy Helps a Town Heal,” which won Time Inc.’s first sports Emmy last year.

Time’s ongoing video push comes at an uncertain time. Not only is it a year into its tenure as an independent publicly traded company, but its core print business continues to face hurdles. Digital video, where CPMs and advertiser interest continues to climb, is for many publishers a way of combatting the revenue contractions elsewhere.

While Time Inc.’s video programming has attracted advertisers such as Siemens and Geico, it still faces some hurdles when it comes shaking its print reputation among advertisers and viewers. “You can scream, ‘We’re a digital content company’ until you are blue in the face, but at the end of the day, they’re still a print brand for most people,” said Will Phung, media VP at M&C Saatchi Mobile. “When I go to something like Sports Illustrated, I’m still not in the mindset where I’m looking to watch video.”

Phung said that when it comes to video, he’s more likely to think of a pure video player such as Hulu or ABC before a convert like Time Inc.

The challenge isn’t lost on McCabe. “We have great brands that have been around for a century but haven’t been looked at as video sources by consumers and advertisers,” he said. To turn that around, he said, Time Inc. has to produce content on a regular basis and push further into live programming, which over time trains viewers to keep coming back.

So far, that viewer interest is mixed. While Time says it gets 300 million user-initiated video streams across its properties, a 139 percent increase over the same time last year, traffic to The Daily Cut, its dedicated video portal, is too small for comScore to measure even six months after its launch.

Distribution remains a core issue for publishers, which have been able to produce more videos but still struggle getting eyeballs to them. Condé Nast, for example, launched its own video portal, The Scene, to be a home for all of the brand’s videos but hasn’t had much luck getting people to come directly to the site.

In an effort to distribute its series more broadly, Time has inked deals with Amazon, CBS Local Digital Media, subscription video service Vessel as well as other local distributors.

“There’s so much to watch out there that it’s vital for us to expose our content more so than ever before,” McCabe said.

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