News Columns & Blogs

Video getting second look, new love from newspaper websites

Once, in the early to mid-2000s, newspapers seemed certain the future could be viewed through the eyepiece of a camcorder. Then, we took a hard look at the traffic numbers generated by online videos. And we looked at the hours logged by those who produced them.

Only one logical conclusion could be drawn: The return wasn’t worth the labor-intensive effort.

Like most newspapers, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette continued to do video — particularly, in our case, long-form video so ably done by photographers/videographers Sarah Welliver, Jay Karr and Delayna Earley. But we mostly abandoned high school football highlights on Friday nights and pulled back on plans for video podcasts.

But as is often the case in the digital world (take, for example, the renewed popularity of old-school animated GIFs,) trends can reverse on a dime. Video is getting a second look in 2013.

Indeed, the Packet and Gazette are in the midst of much internal discussion about how we do video the right way and why it is imperative that we do it at all. Rest assured, the results of these discussions will soon be visible to you all.

What has changed?

YouTube, for one. Yes, it has been around since 2005 and was part of the reason we pursued video in the first place. However, as many newspapers retreated from video, YouTube was advancing. And that means hours and hours and hours of cute kittens, birthday parties and, importantly where news-gathering is concerned, eyewitness video. YouTube has heightened expectations that video be part of a comprehensive news presentation, but also has lowered the expectation that this video must be polished and in long form.

The best stuff — documentary-style video that runs five minutes or longer — remains labor-intensive, but new tools help impart higher production value than was possible back when I spent five hours late one night cobbling together this awkward video of the first-ever wrestling match between Hilton Head Island High School and rival Bluffton High School in January 2007. (I’m still proud of the effort, but what was I thinking with the bouncing and scrolling text?)

More important, still, is the advent of mobile devices — smartphones and tablets — that make producing and uploading video quicker and easier, and viewing it a more pleasurable experience.

These days, more video is viewed over the Internet than over traditional cable and airwave television, and more hours of viewing are available online than in the entire history of network television. Further, young people — that set that advertisers chase relentlessly — are foresaking TV for streaming. None of this speak directly to digital newspaper operations, but it is a clue that technology will make video increasingly ubiquitous.

And, quite likely, profitable.

Spending on local online video is expected to increase fivefold to $5 billion by 2017, according to new estimates from BIA/Kelsey. Some of that growth will come at the expense of online display ads and traditional TV commercials, recently reported.

This means opportunities for newspapers to sell television-style ads on their videos, but perhaps just as importantly, it means enhanced value for more traditional website display advertising, too, inasmuch as video greatly increases a reader’s time on site and other “engagement” metrics.

In the coming weeks and days, you should notice more video content on our website, and from a greater array of sources. Ultimately, however, the success of whatever features we provide will be determined by your habits.

So I wonder: What sorts of videos do you check out on YouTube? On this site? Other news organizations’ sites? Does your use of device influence the likelihood you will watch a video? In other words, will you click on a video on your iPhone that you might not watch at all if you come across the same file on your desktop?

Responses are greatly appreciated.