Print-brand owners embrace Facebook, TV licensing after making missteps in the area
By Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg
This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (July 17, 2017).
When Condé Nast launched its video hub, the Scene, in July 2014, it envisioned a sophisticated website that would showcase content from such titles as Vogue, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, with media partners that included ABC News.
But the site offered so much choice that users found it more overwhelming than entertaining, and traffic eventually sank. Condé Nast didn't shut down the Scene; instead, it reoriented the platform as a vehicle to distribute videos on Facebook aimed at an 18- to 34-year-old audience, with the tagline "videos for women who get it."
"We learned you can't be all things to all people and expect people to come to you," says Dawn Ostroff, president of Condé Nast Entertainment, which like Condé Nast is owned by closely held Advance Publications Inc.
Condé Nast and other legacy magazine publishers are redoubling their efforts in online video after learning from their stumbles over the past few years. Those who tried unsuccessfully to build centralized, destination-websites for their brands are now more concerned with distributing their work on platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and MSN. Publishers are also plowing cash into in-house studios to increase production volume and quality, and they are getting more aggressive about developing TV series around their brands.
As magazine print advertising revenue continues to weaken, video has become more critical. Advertisers are expected to spend $15.4 billion on video ads next year, according to eMarketer, up nearly threefold compared with 2014.
"If they miss the video market, what's left?" asks Jon Hammond, chief strategy officer for Galvanized LLC, a digital publisher and consultancy.
At Condé Nast, traffic at the Scene and its related branded-video channels declined from a peak of 13.5 million unique visitors in October 2014 to 4.9 million unique visitors in June 2016, according to comScore Inc.
But the switch to publish and distribute stories on Facebook, mainly for young women, has worked. In May, the Scene attracted 98.3 million video views across Facebook, according to video analytics firm Tubular Labs -- nearly triple the 36.4 million online video views the Scene generated in October 2016.
Condé Nast is also building up its long-form video. Its digital unit sold a behind-the-scenes sports series, "Last Chance U," to Netflix Inc. in 2015 and is producing two major movies based on stories that appeared in Condé Nast magazines.
Since late 2011, Condé Nast has invested between $50 million and $70 million in its video arm. Ms. Ostroff says the unit turned an operating profit in 2016.
Relying on Facebook for distribution can be a double-edged sword, however, presenting risks when the social network tweaks its news feed algorithm. And tech giants are big competitors for video ad dollars in their own right, with Google's YouTube far and away the biggest player and Facebook ramping up its offerings.
Time Inc., like Condé Nast, created a centralized video destination called Daily Cut several years ago, but it never caught fire and is now in the process of being closed.
The company is experimenting with different models to distribute its biggest brands on streaming-media platforms. The People/Entertainment Weekly Network -- a free streaming service that the company says has more than 1.6 million downloads as an app -- is advertiser-supported. Ian Orefice, Time Inc.'s head of programming, said a free service was the best strategy in a crowded entertainment media space.
Time Inc. will try to lure paying subscribers for the upcoming Sports Illustrated video service it expects to launch in the fourth quarter. Mr. Orefice believes passionate sports fans will be willing to pay for the service, even though it won't have live sports programming at launch. Instead, subscribers will get a blend of expert commentary, documentaries and swimsuit features. Time Inc. is still working on price points and distribution partners, he said.
The publisher is learning how to program for a digital audience. Traditionally, Time Inc. would have treated its search for a new model for the next Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue as a closely guarded secret. Instead, this year the publisher live-streamed a three-day open casting call on Instagram, Mr. Orefice says. The company came up with the concept too late to sell advertising against the event.
Time Inc. is also tapping its vault of intellectual property for long-form video projects. This August, ABC Entertainment will air a four-hour documentary about the life of Princess Diana, produced by Time Inc. At least three Time Inc. magazines will publish related stories about Princess Diana's legacy, Mr. Orefice says.
"Princess Diana has been on the cover of People magazine more than anybody in the history of the magazine," he says.
Spurred by the growing appetite for video, Hearst later this year will open a 26,000-square-foot video studio around the corner from Manhattan's Hearst Tower. It's also building a video-first health-and-wellness brand, expected to launch later this year, and developing a TV series with the FYI television lifestyle network around Delish, its video-first food brand.
More so than rivals, Hearst has placed bets on other digital ventures. Its Entertainment & Syndication unit is a minority investor in youth-focused AwesomenessTV and, together with Verizon Communications Inc., owns Complex Networks. Complex operates its own digital channels as well as creating short-form videos, distributed primarily on YouTube, and premium videos, mostly distributed on go90, Verizon's mobile-first video platform.
Learning how to produce content tailored for each digital and social platform is essential, media executives say.
"The lessons are: Start to move the organization towards a very different type of content creation; get very close to the places and rules where you distribute; and measure yourself ruthlessly around what people are watching," says Troy Young, president of Hearst Magazines Digital Media.
Write to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 17, 2017 02:47 ET (06:47 GMT)
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