Why Warner Bros. Discovery is leaning harder into YouTube and Threads to monetize and engage social audiences

This article is part of Digiday’s coverage of its Digiday Publishing Summit. More from the series →

Money coming in from YouTube has grown by double digits year over year, said Rashidah Bashir, director of editorial and audience development at Warner Bros. Discovery’s HGTV, onstage on Wednesday at the Digiday Publishing Summit in Key Biscayne, Fla.

But in a fragmented social media landscape, Warner Bros. Discovery-owned HGTV’s audience development team focuses on different platforms for monetization, user engagement and traffic referral — and the current standouts may surprise you.

YouTube is bringing in the most ad revenue, which may be unsurprising. While she declined to say how much money YouTube was bringing in, Bashir said creating video content specifically for YouTube and committing to a regular cadence of posting videos up to four times a week has driven the revenue growth.

Facebook and Instagram are driving the most referral traffic and engagement (measured in likes, comments and shares), with carousel posts and videos doing particularly well, she said.

But Threads – despite its infancy – is driving more engagement from users than X (formerly known as Twitter).

Digiday reported last month that referral traffic coming from links shared to X to publishers’ websites has declined sharply in the past year. This is also what WBD is seeing, said Bashir, who primarily oversees the HGTV brand.

When Elon Musk acquired the company for $44 billion last October, “the engagement rate per follower dipped by 40%, and it hasn’t really come back,” Bashir said. 

As a result, Bashir’s team is taking a “keeping the lights on approach” when it comes to X, posting questions like “What’s the worst design trend from the last 10 years?” a few times a week, Bashir said. “We’ve scaled back… We just aren’t leaning into posting link posts that weren’t really doing anything.”

But she’s not concerned about the decline. “I don’t really care because X is not a huge source of referral traffic for us,” Bashir said. Just one-tenth of a percent of referral traffic was coming from X, and that’s remained steady. “We can let that go and focus on other areas,” she said.

HGTV also doesn’t promote paid media content, such as influencer campaigns, on X due to concerns around the toxic comments they attract, especially around Pride or Black History Month posts. “It’s become even worse on X,” Bashir said.

Warner Bros. Discovery’s HGTV team has moved resources away from X and into Meta’s newest social platform, Threads. So far, this has fared well for WBD. 

In the first week after Threads launched and HGTV joined the platform, HGTV had 270,000 followers, representing about 5% of its Instagram audience, Bashir said. Her team clocked 36-times the engagement rate per follower on Threads compared to X in the same period, even with fewer posts shared on Threads. And despite the sharp drop-off in user activity on Threads since its July launch, Bashir said HGTV is still adding new followers, with a total of 370,000 followers at present.

As a test, HGTV posted four similar pieces of content on X and Threads and saw five-times higher total engagement on Threads compared to X, Bashir said.

And HGTV isn’t the only publisher to get more out of its audience on Threads compared to X. BDG’s deputy editor of The Dad, Jared Warner, told Digiday in July that The Dad posted about half as many daily posts on Threads compared to X, but had about the same number of followers and twice the engagement.

The nascency of Threads also provides HGTV with an opportunity to try out a “fresher, more current brand voice” compared to its tone on other social platforms, Bashir said. Her team is sharing memes, celebrity images and posts with questions to “elicit feedback” from users, she said.

However, Bashir noted that she has received no word from Meta on any plans in the near future for monetization options or analytics that publishers can use to help inform their strategy on the platform.

“I don’t think it’s going to replace X,” Bashir said of Threads. “The thing that makes X so special is that hint of anger. And I think Threads is not for people who like X — it’s too nice.”

This article was updated to clarify that Bashir was representing HGTV, not WBD as a whole. Bashir also clarified that HGTV was posting to YouTube up to four times a week, not five.


More in Media

NewFronts Briefing: Samsung, Condé Nast, Roku focus presentations on new ad formats and category-specific inventory

Day two of IAB’s NewFronts featured presentations from Samsung, Condé Nast and Roku, highlighting new partnerships, ad formats and inventory, as well as new AI capabilities.

The Athletic to raise ad prices as it paces to hit 3 million newsletter subscribers

The New York Times’ sports site The Athletic is about to hit 3 million total newsletter subscribers. It plans to raise ad prices as as a result of this nearly 20% year over year increase.

NewFronts Briefing: Google, Vizio and news publishers pitch marketers with new ad offerings and range of content categories

Day one of the 2024 IAB NewFronts featured presentations from Google and Vizio, as well as a spotlight on news publishers.