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From broadcast to broadband: a guide to digital video

As a still-nascent format, digital video can be a confusing realm for brands to navigate. So is it all it’s cracked up to be? And if it is, then what? Facebook video or YouTube? Long form or short form? DIY or through a publisher? Pre-roll or standalone? Fortunately, Lynda Brendish has done some of the legwork for you.

October 28, 2015 | features

Last April a couple entered a Uniqlo clothing store in the trendy Sanlitun neighbourhood of Beijing and had a seemingly impromptu in flagrante encounter while filming themselves in the mirror. The video went viral in July and the two lovebirds, along with four others, were arrested a few days later by the Chinese authorities for distributing obscene material. It might not seem like it but this story almost perfectly captures the zeitgeist of our collective relationship and obsession with video. For one thing, the couple became an instant meme and news item, and for another, nobody—not even the Chinese police—is quite sure it wasn’t all a publicity stunt by Uniqlo in the first place. 

It should come as no surprise to marketers and media watchers that digital video is one of the fastest growing mediums on the internet. Thanks to the proliferation of mobile devices and declining broadband and data costs, more people are watching more video overall. And that includes television, which still tops the charts. According to Nielsen’s multi-screen video consumption report, 92 percent of Kiwis (around 3.5 million of us) watch an average of 20.5 hours of broadcast television each week, compared to just 5.1 hours on personal computers, 3.7 hours on phones and 3.6 hours on tablets.

Given TV’s continued dominance, it might be tempting to suggest the enthusiasm over online video consumption is unwarranted. But slice the pie any way you want data wise—views, growth, engagement, reach—the trends are bullish and, as internet-delivered content becomes more popular, whether through the rise of subscription video on-demand services that remove ads or free video content viewed on social or online media, the power of traditional broadcast TV—and the effectiveness of interruptive TV advertising—is on the wane. Cisco says 64 percent of all internet traffic globally in 2014 was for video and predicts that by 2017 it will have grown to 74 percent; meanwhile Google says 98 percent of millennials use their smartphones to watch video and are twice as likely to be solely focused on those videos as when watching on television. Between 2013 and 2014 the amount of video posts loaded per person on Facebook increased by 94 percent and the platform boasts over four billion video views every day. YouTube is the second most-used search engine (behind Google), and searches for “how-to” videos are growing there by 70 percent year-on-year, offering plenty of scope for brands to cater to that demand. 

So while digital video viewing still has a lot of catching up to do to TV, what’s clear is that it’s not so much cannibalising television viewing as expanding the video viewing pie altogether, one video at a time.  

1. Do you really need it?

Television is still tops—and in New Zealand television advertising is cheap compared to other developed markets. But that doesn’t mean you can ignore digital video. That’s just not the world we live in anymore. Unlike television, digital video can be both highly targeted and highly measurable, and it helps brands rank more highly in search engine results. Even if television is working well for your brand, the potential with digital video is to do even better and engage even more deeply with your
core audience. 

“Particularly in this market there has been quite a wedded view towards television, and adoption [of digital video formats] in other markets has grown quicker,” says Jane Stanley, managing director of Omnicom’s Accuen programmatic unit as well as Resolution, the search and analytics arm. “But over the last couple of years clients have been understanding it’s not one or the other, they work in tandem. Multiscreen is probably a bit overused as a term in media and marketing, but it
is fundamental.” 

There are plenty of compelling reasons to foray into digital video. It’s an inherently emotive medium. And there’s a reason how-to videos are so popular: it’s much easier to connect with and understand a well-told two- or three-minute video on building a deck or getting your winged eyeliner just right than it is to read instructions on the same. For another thing, video is a great way to extend a brand’s story from initial television or print touchpoints, and platforms like YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook impose few restrictions on the shape of that story. Importantly, it’s where the audiences—particularly younger audiences—are, it’s measurable and, according to Unruly Media, “more viewers are likely to purchase a product, be favourable towards a brand or agree with brand statements when they are exposed to TV and social video campaigns”. 

With that said, what are the consequences for brands that ignore digital video? 

“Pretty simple when they’re ignoring the people and the trends,” says Spencer Bailey, head of New Zealand Facebook. “Ultimately advertising dollars will follow media consumption and everyone is watching video on a mobile device, so….”. He would say that, and it’s not exactly everyone, but you get the idea. 

News you can view

New media companies like BuzzFeed and Vice might be leading the charge with their video-heavy content offerings, but traditional publishing organisations aren’t exactly sitting on their hands. They’re getting into digital storytelling in a big way. NZME has launched several shows catering to different audiences across its brands, including Anika Moa’s highly engaging (and shareable, we might add) Face to Face series from the NZ Herald, The Alternative Commentary Collective, The Vent with Tony Veitch, Mike Hosking’s Mike’s Minute and plenty more. 

On the flipside, news organisations are increasingly equipping journalists with the skills and tools to record video on-the-go with their smartphones as a way to get engaging news to audiences faster. “All of our reporters and producers have been trained on shooting and delivering video using smartphones and other devices and technologies,” says John Gillespie, TVNZ’s head of news and current affairs.
“Our sweet spot is images and video, we want to revel in what we are good at, for the benefit of our viewers.” Fairfax is doing the same, with journalists being trained to shoot video on their smartphones. And it’s all with an eye towards attracting more eyeballs—and, with so much demand from clients and agencies for video inventory, selling more space in front of it. 

MediaWorks’ group head of news Mark Jennings expresses a similar sentiment. “Absolutely, this is now an integral part of any journalist’s arsenal as we move to newsrooms that are more agile, faster and more dynamic than ever before in a digital environment. We have journalists that have shot whole stories on their phones.”

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2. The long and the short of it

Leaving aside the media mechanics of it all—platforms, metrics, targeting and the like—the most important part of digital video will always be the content. It needs to be compelling and grab viewers quickly. “You’ve got three seconds to stop a user and pull them in – a three-second audition while the video auto-plays,” says Bailey, speaking here specifically about what makes videos successful on Facebook, though the lesson is applicable more widely, especially in YouTube pre-roll ads where viewers can skip after five or so seconds. Facebook’s New Zealand team and its global Creative Shop works with brands to help develop the best approach to video content specifically for a mobile world (as Facebook’s video autoplays in the newsfeed without sound, that adds another hurdle to gain attention). But the point is, with so many content options viewers need to be hooked quickly or they won’t be hooked at all. 

Whatever you choose, the content should be driven by who the audience is and what it will connect with, which should then help clarify decisions around format and platform. “Everyone gets carried away with format,” says Stanley.

“It goes back to who are you targeting, and what is the technology and the format to be able to relate to that person in the right way?” So if your audience is time poor and won’t tolerate a 90-second video but they are active in social media, then a seven-second Vine video might be just the trick. If not, there’s another strategy and another platform out there. 

In Corona New Zealand’s case, its Someplace Else video was a long-form film that could also be broken down into four shorter pieces focusing in on different participants: a surfer, skater, musician and artist. Each a population important for Corona’s positioning as a lifestyle brand. “We tried to have all bites of the cherry,” says Stephanie Scard, brand manager at Lion, of the decision to go both long
and short with the content. “The key reason for going longer form was it allows us to tell a story that’s impactful.” 

Length isn’t the only thing to think about, of course. How the video is used is also important. We’ve seen the rise of video merchandising on e-commerce platforms, and now we’re seeing the rise of interactive video. “Interactive video refers to the ability to engage audiences with overlays, additional content, and [calls to action] on the video ads,” says Toni Knowles, general manager at the New Zealand office of ad technology platform Vena. Knowles says interactive formats increase engagement, click-through and completion rates. The format takes advantage of mass customisation to deliver relevant information to viewers, and has already been successfully used by a number of companies, including US telco AT&T to better explain its bills to new users. With the makers of streaming content player Roku announcing their rollout of personalised interactive video ads over the coming months, it’s definitely a technology to keep an eye on. 

The other part of the equation here is how the content is actually produced. You could do it in-house if you trust that you have the talent on hand to make that work, but as Ross Beck, managing director at Orly Productions, which has just opened a purpose-built production facility in Christchurch, points out, the early days of DIY video chic have faded in favour of a more polished and professional look. He’s right. Amateurs just don’t cut it; even YouTubers vlogging from their bedrooms at home have pretty slick setups. 

And to paraphrase another local production company honcho, Pure Productions’ Jamie McKenzie, video shootin’ ain’t easy. “Wrangling talent, location, crews, equipment, scripts, editors, animators, graders etc is not only time consuming for the client, but also requires a good understanding of all that’s involved,” he says. 

A good production company’s role doesn’t start or end with the actual production. McKenzie says they can help with everything from the creative concept to the approach (the best bang for your budget buck and your message), and offer film-making expertise in visual storytelling. 

Not every video shoot requires the whole nine yards, though. If you do have the talent and tools (and confidence) in-house to do it yourself, then companies like Brightcove have software to streamline production and distribution. The rest of us need to hand the hard work over to the professionals though, and these days there are more options than ever. There are crowdsourcing platforms, like Tongal and the homegrown 90secondsTV, that let brands farm briefs out to distributed networks of creative professionals. Then there are the host of local offerings, ranging from production companies and agencies who have historically focused on big TVCs but are now offering online and social content, to the two-people-in-a-bedroom-with-a-GoPro. 

TVNZ’s production arm Blacksand works with brands even if they aren’t making a media buy across the broadcaster’s platforms (although it often throws in production to get media buys across the line). “The versatility of our Blacksand team,” says TVNZ GM of media solutions and insights Lyndsey Francis, “means they can enter a project at any stage from strategic input to ideation, production and post for any client.”

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Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the cadre of media-savvy millennials at BuzzFeed know a thing or two about creating shareable video content. Its videos regularly reach viral status and the company is a pioneer of branded and native advertising content. According to BuzzFeed’s GM of video Jonathan Perelman, its success lies in creating video to be shared, not consumed. In a talk Perelman gave to attendees at the 2014 ReelSummit conference (a video of which can be found on YouTube, of course), people share video for two key reasons: to form a community and to build their personal brand. So try to create content that speaks to these needs. In that vein, BuzzFeed has three main pillars for the shareable video it creates. 

Identity

Videos that fall into this category appeal to viewers’ identities, their communities and generational commonalities. Example: What it’s Like to be Left-handed in a Right-handed World, one of BuzzFeed’s most successful. 

Emotional gift

Videos that make viewers feel something, connect to their emotions, relieving stress and uplifting moods. A gift they want to share with others. Example: The Time You Have Left (In Jellybeans).

Information

Present old information in a new way, support beliefs people already have or give them the chance to learn something new or settle arguments. A great brand example that surpassed 10 million views in its first week: ‘Dear Kitten’, an ad for Friskies hidden in a ridiculously watchable (and cute) video. 

According to Unruly Media, New Zealand and Australia over-indexes in propensity to share metrics compared to the rest of the world. And while the number of branded videos has gone up by 91 percent since April last year to 5,756, the number of shares has gone up 636 percent in the same time. Not surprisingly, entertaining videos are the most shared and are growing fastest (782 percent), with travel up 406 percent. 

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3. Distribution dilemmas

With 300 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute and Facebook video shaking up the online video market, you best have a plan to get your content seen without it sinking into obscurity, regardless of which platform you ultimately choose (Unruly says 62 percent of total views take place outside of YouTube and Facebook, so that’s also a consideration). As with any marketing, if you don’t have the audience yourself you either need to create it or partner with a publisher that already has one. “To make a digital campaign successful you’ve got to tell people you’ve done something,” says Scard. Fortunately, Kiwi media organisations are all more than happy to help. NZME, TVNZ and MediaWorks are just a few of the local media organisations offering up not just their audiences and platforms but their services as well, to collaboratively create video content with brands. 

If you build it, they likely will not come. As Unruly Media’s managing director for Australia New Zealand Lance Traore says: “Every second is a threat to your brand. Coke doesn’t just compete with Pepsi like they do in the store. On YouTube it’s Coke vs. user generated content, Shakira’s latest music video, the Game of Thrones gag reel AND Pepsi.” 

So any way you look at it there’s a good chance a large chunk of responsibility for driving views will come down to paid media. That’s the approach both Mitre 10 and Corona New Zealand took for their respective campaigns, though in very different ways. Easy As, made by FCB and Blacksand, is backed by a TVC campaign driving visitors to the videos, which also have a dedicated home on the chain’s website. It’s a strategy marketing general manager Dave Elliott says worked well for tracking upticks in sales. “We’ve got a very good correlation from advertising a video through to sales of a product,” he says. “We started with about 10,000-15,000 views a week and now we’re getting that many a day. It’s quite phenomenal.” Although it’s worth noting the how-to formula itself was a calculated choice in driving organic discovery, given the search term’s high growth rates.

In Corona’s case, a big part of the beer brand’s strategy was in partnering with niche media in the surf and skate space to raise awareness of the film. Local publications like Manual and Damaged Goods Zine got access to content first and exclusive interviews with the artists involved with the film. It also ran display ads, YouTube mastheads, street posters and had a distribution partnership with Vice. “If you want to get reach and lots of impressions YouTube, Facebook and Yahoo mastheads gave strong reach effectively comparable to a TV campaign,” says Scard. “And Damaged Goods and Manual brought the street cred for us to talk to a niche audience.”

YouTube isn’t the only player in the game. More publishers are offering their video inventory programmatically in New Zealand, with both TVNZ and MediaWorks about to join the fray, according to Stanley. When it comes to the old insertion order way of buying versus programmatic, Stanley says there’s no contest. “Now with the majority of publishers plugging into a SSP [supply-side platform], there isn’t any reason why you wouldn’t buy programmatically with an offer of guaranteed buys, private marketplace and open exchange.”

4. Measuring success

No metric is perfect and digital video metrics are no different. Playing a video isn’t always the same as watching a video, and different platforms have different definitions of what constitutes a view in the first place. YouTube’s definition is a closely guarded secret while Facebook’s is three seconds, but that includes videos that autoplay without sound as people scroll through their feeds (it does also provide a ‘clicks to play’ metric for those that actively click play). Still, knowing how long someone played your video can be a good guideline for engagement (as is sharing: see sidebar page 61). And the more engaged, the better the brand metrics. “It certainly gives you more insights because if they weren’t interested they’d stop it or close it,” says Mark Blair, Brightcove’s VP of Asia Pacific. He says integrating those engagement metrics with marketing automation platforms allows marketers to do things like scoring longer view times as a stronger lead, and automate the appropriate response. 

A different response to the issue is viewability, a more recent metric developed in an attempt to bring more accountability by measuring whether a video is actually in view when playing. The IAB supported standard is 50 percent of pixels in-view for two seconds. Stanley says the metric is a hot topic, particularly overseas, but is becoming more so among Kiwi clients of the agency. “Reach is one thing, absolutely, and on mass awareness campaigns reach is fundamental and still a key metric for us,” she says. “But increasingly we’ve got to check the engagement levels and viewability obviously allows us to do that.”

  • This story first appeared in the September/October edition of NZ Marketing magazine.

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