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How the ‘Pivot to Video’ Content Strategy Backfired

Starting in late June 2017, layoffs began happening at major online and editorial publications in an effort to pursue more short form video-focused content. Editorial teams were let go in large numbers as big brands placed a priority on video content and less of a focus on text-based content — these publishers called this the “pivot to video”. Online publishers decided that video-centric content is more appealing to their visitors than text, and that video content is more valuable than text content when it comes to ad revenue.

But, was this “pivot to video” a worthwhile effort or more of a half-baked trend? We decided to get some insight into this online media move by reviewing data since the layoffs began up until now, to see how these pivoting publications have performed.

Using the ZQ Intelligence software, we measured the overall audience count, age range, and device usage for the major online publishers who took a chance on ‘pivot to video’: MTV News, Vice, Fox Sports, Sports Illustrated, Huffington Post, and Mic. We gathered our data from the start of the layoffs at the end of June 2017 up until February 2018 in order to determine whether the ‘pivot to video’ push was a worthwhile endeavor.

But First…What is ‘Pivot to Video’?

Some online media publishers decided that, in order to appeal to the rise of Generation Z and to capture the slipping attention spans of their audience, they would move away from text content and publish more video-based content instead. After the success of popular short video series like Tasty from Buzzfeed, many content and online-based publications decided that video was the next, more important vertical to address … and more important than just text-only content.

This was all because there was an industry rumor that popular platforms like Facebook would be putting extra value on video content, and so major online media publishers were taking the plunge to get ahead of the curve. Publishers wanted to produce videos that were short, interesting, and eye-catching. They wanted something that could be enjoyed with or without audio, and there was the continual chase for more ad revenue that is directly associated with video, as video advertising has a better ROI and gets better visibility than standard sidebar or banner ads. These publishers didn’t want to miss out on their piece of the pie in an ever-growing segment of the digital advertising market, and thus they went all-in on video.

This popularity of video ads (and the money associated with it) is continuing to rise, and appears to be the next battlefront. eMarketer predicts that brands will spend $22 billion on video ads in the U.S. by 2022, which is a 68% jump up from 2017.

So Was the ‘Pivot to Video’ Move Successful?

According to data from our ZQ Intelligence software, the overall number of visitors to the sites we identified in our survey have dropped since the ‘pivot to video’.

In the case of MTV News, who started their content team layoffs in late June, the numbers obtained from ZQ Intelligence show a steadily declining audience; they lost about 28% of visitors between August and October. And the numbers slowly deteriorate from there: they lost an additional 22% of visitors between October and December.

MTV News lost an additional 22% of visitors between October and December

The same happened to popular alternative media publisher Vice, who laid off 60 people to put more of a focus on “both nonscripted content and for Vice Studios, which is focused on scripted entertainment for TV, film, mobile and digital platforms.”

Vice lost just over 22% of visitors between August and October.

According to our data, Vice readership has steadily declined after the company announced the layoff of employees across the editorial, branded content, and sales departments. Vice lost just over 22% of visitors from August to October; and then lost around 3% of visitors from October to December.

Interestingly enough, ZQ Intelligence also unveiled another trend during this ‘pivot to video’ movement: after they pivoted to video, these sites generated less mobile traffic, while rates of PC traffic increased. This shift may have been due to the fact that video consumes a large amount of bandwidth, and thus a large amount of mobile data. And for users without unlimited data plans, choosing to not watch videos on their mobile devices could be a big data saver.

Online publishers who pivoted to video saw a decrease in mobile traffic.

Where Does the ‘Pivot to Video’ Go from Here?

Based on the data, ‘pivot to video’ hasn’t caught on as the publishers had hoped it would. And despite the number of efforts (and layoffs) that were in support of this market trend, the bad news is that social media platforms like Facebook and even internet browsers are going to be shying away from autoplay and low-quality, clickbait-like ads and video.

Social media platforms like Facebook ... are going to be shying away from autoplay and low-quality, clickbait-like ads and video.

Instead of being hasty in their layoffs, companies should have instead taken a data-based approach to survey the market as well as their intended audience. It could have greatly benefitted these online publishers to find out how their current audiences were behaving, and whether video was appealing to their audiences before pushing it.

It will now be important for these online media publishers to reassess and organize new content strategies that are more tailored to today’s users. Companies like Spotify are finding ways to bring video into the user experience without overriding their process or forcing users to embrace new formats.

And as suggested by The Atlantic, one big thing remains clear: online media companies need to find a way to make money beyond the traditional advertising route. To aid in this process, Luth Research offers today’s businesses their ZQ Intelligence technology so companies can take a look at their audience data to determine the best content marketing strategies possible.

Category: Market Research, Video
Tags: Video content, content creation

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