Storytelling, technology and making news video that pays

Storytelling, technology, the explosion of online news video – and how native advertising can save the newspaper industry

It has been quite a year for online news video. The industry is moving so fast and expanding so quickly.

There have been enormous steps forward in technology, storytelling, the use of platforms and most importantly – how to make it pay.

This became abundantly clear to me this week, when I had the chance to gaze back over the past twelve months and assess how things have changed.

Canon asked me to give the opening remarks at their annual ‘Video News Conference’ at the Frontline Club in London. It’s an event aimed at publishers and newspapers, looking at the changing nature of online news video and what it means to the industry.


I’d been given the same spot last year, so I though it wise to check over my presentation from 2014 – to make sure there was no duplication and to see how things had changed.

It was quite an eye-opener. This year it’s like being on another planet.

But it’s also clear, there is a huge divide of who is getting it right – and who is getting it very wrong.

It’s no surprise the start-ups, the new kids on the block and the digital native news organisations are streaking ahead. A number of the more imaginative and creative broadcasters are making valiant efforts to keep pace – and in some cases lead the charge of developing new technology and telling excellent stories with it.

Where the problems still lie are with the publishers, legacy press and traditional newspaper groups. There is an air of platitude, claiming yes they need video, but then failing to grasp what really works and what doesn’t.

I wanted to highlight some of the key areas, that I have seen advance in the past twelve months and the lessons that can be learnt from those doing it well. This is in no particular order

Finally the realisation that TV news doesn’t work online

This was best illustrated in September, when the Washington Post, with great fanfare, announced it was relabelling its video offering. It was no longer to be Post TV – but rather Washington Post Video.

“Washington Post Video is more than just a new name. It reflects our mission to provide strong journalism through compelling video storytelling that is untethered to the legacy of television news.

Our focus will be on producing the right stories for the right platform at the right time”.

Micah Gelman, Director of Video, Washington Post

This is great, for too long, news organisations have been trying to recreate TV news and putting it online. There is however a health warning here. There is still far too much video being created in the image of the traditional TV package.

It simply does not work online.

Storytelling is king – again

New storytelling techniques which perfectly suit digital platforms are being developed and honed beautifully. The way many of the best operations are using powerful imagery and compelling text to draw people in, is excellent.


Look at some of the stories Vox, AJ+, Now This, Vocativ, Channel 4 News, ITV News and BBC Trending are producing – especially on Facebook to reach huge audiences. They’re very good.

The numbers 3 and 8,000,000,000

Two statistics stand out – the figures of 3 and 8 billion. Far apart – but intrinsically linked.

You only have three seconds to grab the attention of viewers, which becomes incredibly important when you realise there are 8 billion videos viewed on Facebook everyday (Yes I know there is much discussion about auto play and the validity of this figure – but it’s still very impressive)

The mobile newsroom

The mobile, led by the iphone, has become an even more powerful tool. You can now shoot 4K video at @75mbps on an iphone 6s with the filmic Pro app. To put that into context, the top end broadcast TV requirement for Europe is 50mbps.

We’ve known for some time, the iphone is a quality piece of equipment, with the right sound kit. Now it’s proven to be a robust live platform. The coverage of the refugee crisis in the past few months has seen periscope come of age as a newsgathering and live broadcasting tool.


News organisations now understand the different platforms available to them – and who is watching. Video is no longer about producing one film and clipping it into different durations and aspect ratios to suit websites, youtube, facebook, twitter and instagram, whatsapp and snapchat. Each platform requires a different way of telling the story.

BBC Panorama’s excellent documentation of the refugee crisis on Snapchat is a very good example. One that raises the uncomfortable truth – that sometimes it is OK to film in portrait – rather than landscape – oh how we have moved on!

360 and Virtual reality

Clearly this is far from mainstream – but for how long? There is a great deal of work going into virtual reality and 360 filming. BBC News Labs and the New York Times are experimenting widely in the field. This could be the next big thing.

How to make it pay

Of course the elephant in the room – and a question that was asked again and again of me at the conference was,

“How are we gong to pay for this?”

Publishers are quite rightly terrified of ad blocking. Essentially the traditional online ads are dead and should be consigned to the great digital grave in the sky.

Native advertising is the way forward and it can pay handsomely. Creating content that people want to share, tell stories that are engaging and draw people in. Make native advertising content part of your strategy and there is a bright future.

Philip Trippenbach from Edelman has some wise words here.

“There’s only one answer to this: don’t interrupt the content they’re consuming with ads. Create the content they want to consume”.

There are several examples of success in this field. Samsung must have been delighted, at the number of times its ads with Jack Whitehall, Martin Johnson and Lawrence Dallaglio et al, were shared during the rugby world cup.

Innov8now Media’s partner Channel 2020 has been producing native adverts, highly successfully for many years, and Buzzfeed partners has been doing very interesting work with Costa Coffee in the run up to Christmas. Much to learn.

Add to this Facebook instant articles (albeit with a few teething problems) and the revenues from other social media platforms and you do have a real chance of making money.

However to make this happen, the legacy newspapers and publishers need to start again. Look at the digital news natives. It’s the perennial problem of turning the battleship, but they need to do it and at the moment that is not being done quickly and comprehensively enough.

There is still too much reliance on UGC, agency footage and the platitudes of putting video on their sites and social media platforms. They are not taking advantage of the developments – and not producing the right video for the right story for the right platform.

There is a chink of light in the regional press – Trinity Mirror are advertising for 12 video editors and producers, but does this go far enough? Can they deliver the radical overhaul that is needed in these organisations. That leadership needs to come from the very top.

Sadly unless they change – the demise of the banner and pre-roll ads – and yet another form of funding, they will fall apart and they won’t have anyone else to blame.

Be interesting at the conference next year, to see how far we have moved on again.