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The Carnival of Journalism - The Future of News Video Looks Like Crap

This month’s Carnival of Journalism host is Andrew Pergam, who asks “What is the role of online video in the newsroom of the future?”

The future of online news video hit me for the first time in mid 2009 when I was talking to the editor of a small daily in Northern California. He was telling me how the paper had bought high-end video cameras, trained photographers to use editing software and put together beautiful video packages.

But that’s not what visitors seemed to care about. What did they click on the most? The raw, unedited footage from car accidents and local events that reporters shot and uploaded to the Web while in the field.

Not much has changed since then for a lot of small and mid-size newspapers. The future of online news video looks like it was shot on a camera phone.

That’s obviously not true for the big guys, The New York Times, et al. And if you don’t have NYT-style resources there are apps and tools that make creating OK-looking video easy and cheap. And I should add that low-quality production doesn’t mean the content is without value.

But the drift towards low-quality video is an inarguable and inescapable trend, one that stems from the basic principle of supply and demand.

In an old post on (the sadly defunct) Rebuilding Media, Vin Crosbie writes that an overabundance of news sources leads to competition that actually lowers the bar on the definition of “quality” video.

When there were few suppliers, they used higher quality content (i.e., ‘high production values’) as a competitive weapon against each other. But now that there is an overabundance of suppliers, their competition levers towards being the first to produce content that is at least of acceptable quality. Millions of videos are viewed billions of times each month on sites such as YouTube.com (+3 billion per month) not because of high production values, but because the videos are at least ‘good enough’ to watch.

So What Role Does Video Play? Advertorials, Really?

From a financial perspective, cost-intensive video production faces a big hurdle. The rate that advertisers will pay for video views is relatively low. Let’s look a non-news-media example: Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.

Earlier this month paidContent reported that Marthastewart.com’s July traffic was up 7% to 2.6 million uniques but video views dropped 14% to 382,000. Like the rest of the media world, MSLO’s advertisers aren’t paying much for those views. So Martha ditched the editorially driven video strategy and teamed up with Frigidiare for some good old advertorial content.

Halfway through the paidContent story is a pretty depressing sentence:

As media companies look to refine their video strategies, it might make more sense to go with the custom video as MSLO is doing and wait until CPMs, along with marketer and viewer interest in supporting original, non-advertorial content emerges.

What this really means for small print news orgs is that there is no immediate future in investing in quality news video. That includes small online-only news orgs like the one I work for. If editorially independent news video can’t support itself, either through advertising or other revenue models, then it can’t be done.

There’s hope on the horizon. According to eMarketer, by 2015 US online video advertising will double in size to $2.16 billion.

Get ready for four more years of camera phone video clips.