According to a recent report by Pew Research, 36 percent of all U.S. adults, catch up on their news via online video. This is roughly the same percentage of Americans who now watch cable news channels regularly. But after digging into the new survey data, I discovered a couple of even bigger stories and at least one paradigm shift. The report from the Pew Research Center, "News Video on the Web", found that those under age 50 are the heaviest consumers of digital news videos. In fact, 48% of 18-to-29-year-olds, and 49% of 30-to-49-year-olds now watch online news video.
User-generated Content, and New Tech Changing the News
Although no market research firms break out digital video advertising revenue specifically for news, the category of digital advertising as a whole is up sharply, growing 44 percent from 2012 to 2013, to an estimated $4.15 billion, according to eMarketer. However, is that enough money to feed a hungry new generation of online journalists and news videographers?
Technological improvements have lowered the barrier to entry for those in the news business, which has spurred a wave of new entrants into the digital news video space. With 36 percent of U.S. adults recording videos on their cellphones, citizens are also playing a valuable role in the news process, sharing videos of eyewitness moments around news events small and large. This means the latest digital video content is just as likely to come to you from friends, parents, siblings, and colleagues as you are to go to digital news outlets like Vice Media as well as legacy outlets like NBC to watch the news.
Digital News Video: Still a Long Way To Go?
However, a closer look at the Pew report suggests that digital news video does not necessarily have a clear or simple path to becoming a major form of news in the future. Producing high-quality video – or even streaming it live – can be costly, and the payoff is not clear. Video advertising, while on the rise, amounts to just 10 percent of all digital ad revenue and just 2 percent of total ad revenue. Large distributors of video content like YouTube already account for a large portion of video watching on the web, and a hefty share of the revenue. And for traditional legacy providers – local TV stations and national networks – most of their audience and revenue are still in the legacy platforms, which may reduce these companies’ desire to invest in digital video in a big way. Non-digital news revenue on local and national broadcasts, as well as cable, now amounts to $16 billion a year. It’s hard to leave that much money on the table.
On the consumer side, television viewing has been the most popular form of news consumption for decades. But, it’s still not clear how much that will translate to high levels of video-based news online. The growth rate has slowed considerably since 2007 – the year after YouTube was purchased by Google and the year the iPhone was released. From 2007 to 2009 the percentage of adults watching online news video increased 27 percent, but the next four years – 2009 to 2013 – saw just 9 percent growth. It’s true that mobile devices are accounting for a larger share of video viewing, which could generate another spike in growth, but at the moment that increase remains only hypothetical. And hypothetical increases may not attract enough venture capital.
Viewers Want to Watch News Online
The Pew report examined the state of digital video – from the audience for digital news videos, to the digital video advertising market, to developments in online news video content by citizens as well as news organizations. It includes original survey data and a new audit of 32 local television news sites, which found that 18 had YouTube channels.
Over all, the report found that online video has clearly become a part of the news media landscape. News is a part of what people watch online, and, now more than ever, the public is a part of creating this news. Nevertheless, online video is also very much still in development, and the revenue opportunities, while they exist, are complicated. Some who have moved most powerfully into this space are digital natives, who aren’t tethered to legacy platforms that still account for a good portion of their audience and revenue.
Among the report’s other findings:
- Those under age 50 are the heaviest consumers of digital news videos. In fact, 48 percent of 18-to-29-year-olds and 49 percent of 30-to-49-year-olds watch online news video. That outpaces the 27 percent of 50-to-64-year-olds and 11 percent of those 65 and older who do the same. So, Millennials and Generation X are strong consumers of digital news videos, while Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation aren’t.
- User-generated video content can play a critical role around breaking news, although a fairly small segment of Americans produce and share those videos. Pew Research Center survey data finds that 12 percent of social media users have posted their own videos of news events on social networking sites. Plus, 11 percent of online news consumers have submitted their own content – including videos, photos, articles or opinion pieces – to news organizations or blogs. Factoring in those who are not online news consumers or social media users, this translates into 7 percent of U.S. adults posting their own news videos to social media and 7 percent submitting content to news sites. That’s a lot of “newsies.”
- For now, the digital video market is small – about $4 billion, a tiny fraction of the broader digital ad market. And of that $4 billion, Google – through YouTube – accounts for nearly a quarter of the pie. And Facebook, which quickly jumped to the top in display ad revenue a couple of years ago, just entered the digital video market earlier this year. That leaves a narrow space for news publishers to compete with other online video content properties, such as AOL, Yahoo! Sites and NDN, or online video ad properties, such as LiveRail, AOL, and BrightRoll Platform.
- The last year saw some major investments in digital news production. HuffPost Live’s overseas expansion, Vice Media’s launch of a digital news channel, and NBC’s acquisition of Stringwire all point in the same direction: News organizations are becoming more aggressive about video on the internet. And in the fall of 2013, The Texas Tribune held a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the purchase of equipment to enable it to stream live video coverage of the 2014 Texas governor’s race.
- Local TV news outlets are moving into digital video, but at varying rates. A Pew Research audit of 32 local TV news websites found that all but four offer video on their homepages, but the amounts range from 92 percent of all homepage stories to just 6 percent. Roughly half, 14 of the 32, offer live streaming of their broadcast programs. In addition, 24 of the 32 have mobile apps with video watching capabilities in both the Android and Apple stores, and 18 have YouTube channels, although the activity level and the number of subscribers varied greatly.
One final thought: When Robert Kyncl, YouTube’s Global Head of Content Partnerships, announced the YouTube Original Channel Initiative back in October 2011, he share Google’s vision for investing $100 million to bring 100 “original” or “premium” new channels to YouTube:
Cable television expanded our viewing possibilities from just a handful of channels to hundreds, and brought us some of the most defining media experiences of the last few decades – think MTV, ESPN and CNN. Today, the web is bringing us entertainment from an even wider range of talented producers, and many of the defining channels of the next generation are being born, and watched, on YouTube.
Two years later, the landing page for the Original Channel Initiative had disappeared. However, Google’s vision of our viewing possibilities expanding from just a handful of channels to hundreds appears to be coming true – especially for news video on the web. And it’s worth noting that among the Original Channels in the “entertainment” category were: SourceFed, which now has 578.6 million views and 1.4 million subscribers; Clevver News , which now has 311.1 million views and 460,000 subscribers; and Vice, which went on to launch Vice News in March 2014. Today, Vice News has 45.8 million views and 457,800 subscribers. That’s funny … but it also makes you think.