On November 13, 2015, terrorists coordinated multiple attacks in Paris, killing 130 people and injuring hundreds. On the day of the attacks, the BBC experienced the highest online traffic day in its history; the following day, November 14, 19 percent of the visitors to the BBC’s site watched video, compared to 11 percent on a typical day.But the rest of the time? Online video news is less of a force than publishers might hope. The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2016, which came out earlier this month, noted that only about a quarter of 50,000 respondents across 26 countries watch online news video in a given week.
“Website users in particular remain resistant to online video news,” write the authors of “The Future of Online News Video,” the new Reuters report released Tuesday. Analyzing Chartbeat data from 30 news outlets across the U.S., U.K., Germany, and Italy (17 of the outlets were American, nine were broadcasters), the researchers found that the sites’ users spent “only around 2.5 percent of average visit time” on pages that included videos, and “97.5 percent of time is still spent with text.” That 2.5 percent of time spent was even lower than the total share of pages that have videos (6.5 percent).
We keep hearing about the boom in online video, so what’s going on? To be clear, the report’s authors distinguish between “news video” hosted on publishers’ own sites and video on social networks or centered around “softer news and lifestyle content (or premium drama and sports on demand)” rather than hard news. They researchers urge caution in conflating the fast growth of online video in general with the growth of, specifically, hard news video.
“So far, the growth around online video news seems to be largely driven by technology, platforms, and publishers rather than by strong consumer demand,” Antonis Kalogeropoulos, one of the report’s authors, said in a statement.
Facebook adds a further wrinkle. On Facebook, almost 40 percent of the most successful videos from the 30 brands that Reuters looked at “related to lifestyle or entertainment content (for instance about animals, babies, or cooking) rather than harder news subjects such as current affairs, politics, science, or the environment.” And “even for brands associated with hard news like The Telegraph, The Guardian, or The Independent, their top or second videos in terms of Facebook engagement numbers turned out to be animal videos.”
Monetization of online news video remains a big challenge. On their own sites, publishers still tend to monetize videos with preroll advertising. That’s a problem: Of the users in Reuters’ previously released survey who hadn’t watched online news video in the past week, 35 percent said preroll ads put them off.
“We think that preroll is one of the crummiest innovations of digital video,” Xana Antunes, Quartz’s executive editor, told Reuters. “Can you imagine a broadcaster forcing you to watch an ad every two and a half minutes?…I am astonished to even find myself having that conversation sometimes.”
But Quartz’s attitude isn’t shared by many other publishers, at least not to the extent that they’re changing their business models. Alison Gow, Trinity Mirror’s digital innovation editor, said, “What we know, right now, is that advertisers are happy with prerolls. It’s what they want. The consumer is fairly familiar with them.” And Jason Mills, head of digital at ITV News, wishes that the advertising business would create more “five-second prerolls” instead of the more common 30-second ads. (Facebook, meanwhile, doesn’t allow preroll ads in the News Feed.)
“Video is clearly going to be a much bigger part of the future news landscape, but it is unlikely to replace text,” the report’s authors conclude. “We should also not expect a new format like video to solve the fundamental problems of the news industry any time soon.”
The full report is here.