Partner Content: Freddy Mayhew takes a look at the future of video for publishers and Reach’s successful partnership with video creation platform Wochit.
The UK’s largest national and regional news publisher, Reach, has quadrupled minutes viewed on its social video content thanks to a new platform that has also drastically cut the time it takes to produce videos.
The group, which publishes the Mirror, Express and Star national news titles as well as a wide network of local news titles, started using cloud-based video creation platform Wochit about a year ago.
Prior to using Wochit, Reach had been using “off-the-shelf software programmes” for its video needs. It continues to run a centralised video production team, but now Wochit is part of the workflow, with video specialists placed across some of the larger regional titles in the group.
It used to take Reach’s regional websites about two hours to edit, caption and brand a video, but that’s “down to about half an hour with Wochit”, according to Daniel Russell, head of social media and engagement across Reach’s regional network.
He said a major benefit has been the ability to standardise video output across the network at a much higher quality than before. “It just saves an awful lot of time,” said Russell.
Ed Walker, audience and content director across Reach’s Live network of regional news websites with a remit for video, said Wochit had “removed the technical aspect” of video creation and meant “we can focus on the journalism, so we can get good journalists creating video”.
Walker said journalists could be easily trained to use the platform “whereas before with previous software offerings it was a very big overhead to be able to do that”.
“Wochit’s democratised the way that video and particularly social video can be done within the newsroom,” he said.
The platform’s ability to make changes to video format at the click of a button has meant Wochit has become Reach’s primary video tool for social media. Taking the first 15 days of November 2021 compared with the same period last year, Reach’s minutes viewed has gone up 350% and it would take 115 years to watch all of the group’s published social video content.
“From my point of view that’s fabulous,” said Russell, “because all those people are seeing our brands and consuming our content.”
Walker said he was now factoring into how Reach treats its content packages, pointing to a spoof Trainspotting film poster front page that ran across its northern titles as part of a campaign for better rail services in the north, which he said had a “really strong social video” alongside it.
“It’s changing how we think about classic journalistic campaigning to make sure that social video is at the heart of that, is at the heart of breaking news, is at the heart of real-life storytelling,” he said.
“So suddenly it becomes embedded as a part of all the different types of content that we’re doing across our newsroom. I think that’s been the big shift I’ve seen as we’ve really started to focus on that. And the good thing about Wochit is that it makes that easier.
“It’s no longer a ‘how do we do that?’ conversation, it’s a ‘well we can do that’ conversation. And it’s more about the execution of the journalism, the storytelling and the creativity, rather than faffing about with ‘can we use that font?’ or this that or the other.”
Russell said social video for Reach’s regional newsbrands was rising to prominence on the platforms, gaining sought-after spots for sport and news.
“Our mindset now is actually if we create this really good video – for instance the Newcastle Chronicle create a really good social video about the takeover of the football club – we’re finding that Twitter then picks it up and puts it at the top of sport and at the top of news,” he said.
“On big stories like that, where we’re up against Sky Sports and other places, actually our content is being picked every single day to be at the top of those usually hard to get to areas of those platforms.”
He said this was because the team prioritised social video content and were able to produce it quickly, but also down to Wochit. “It standardises quality and the quality mark is really high. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or YouTube won’t promote something if the quality’s not there, because it looks bad on their platform, but with Wochit we basically don’t even have to worry about that,” Russell said.
How important is video now for publishers?
Interest in video has waxed and waned over the past decade in news publishing, but as technology has continued to evolve, both hardware and software, it remains an important piece of the puzzle, particularly as newsgroups have sought to diversify digital revenue streams.
“Now social video is seen as an ‘and’ rather than an ‘or’,” said Walker. “If you go back a few years, there was a pivot to social video and I think a lot of people got burned by that.
“What we’ve been looking for is a way to ensure that we can do it sustainably and that it also ties into everything else that we’re doing as a publisher. Wochit has helped us to do that, because it’s tied into the rest of the content that we’re producing, so it’s seen as a part of our content mix and our storytelling rather than a separate thing.”
Walker said the monetisation of the social media platforms is now “far more advanced and developed than it was a few years ago” so publishers are able to see a return for their investment and the journalism they put out. “There’s still a long way to go on that, but it’s definitely more encouraging than we’ve seen in the last few years,” said Walker.
He said Reach was seeing “good growth” from social video revenues, with “encouraging signs year on year”, but this was set against the context of the pandemic recovery and an increase in “transparency and openness” from social platforms about audience engagement and revenue.
Walker said Wochit allows Reach to give the same “social video firepower” to its newsbrands, whether well-established, like the Liverpool Echo, or newly launched, like The Northern Agenda. “It’s important for our brands as we are growing across different markets in the UK.”
Reach operates more than 1,000 social media accounts, with about 70 large accounts. Each website does a Facebook Live video almost every day, and video creation at least once a day. Social video is also helping grow its smaller accounts, because “when the video takes off it takes off and what happens then is people are exposed to our brand”, said Russell, leading to likes and sign-ups.
‘Futureproofing’ against changes in video
Change to the platforms on which video content is published is a constant factor that publishers must be aware of to best serve content to their online audience.
“We presume it’s YouTube, but if it turns out to be some strange size or format, we don’t actually have to worry about that, we’ll just tell Wochit what the size is and it will sort it out for us,” he said.
“Previously we may have had to have somebody create different specific templates for each and every title. It allows us to futureproof and be really adaptable.”
Walker said social video in particular was important for “reaching new and different audiences”, including a younger demographic. Attracting them is vital to the group’s future overall and Reach’s brands, from the Manchester Evening News to the Daily Star, should be in those news feeds.
“We’re confident that the video we’re producing is high quality, that’s what the platforms demand, but they’re demanding that because the audience demands that,” said Walker.
He said one of the things that attracted Reach to Wochit is “the way that it scales for multiple brands”, with other tools proving cumbersome across a large portfolio of titles. It means that when platforms do change their video demands it is now very straightforward for Reach to adapt at scale.
“I’ve worked with third party suppliers over the years and we found Wochit to be a good partner to work with in terms of listening to changes or workflow or requests, and helping us to find solutions for those has been really important,” said Walker.
“There’s others available, but there’s also doing it your own way, which I guess is where we were. The trouble with that is it leads to a very fragmented approach.”
Future of video for publishers
“We know that people are consuming video more than anything else on the social platforms, so we need to be in that space,” said Russell. “We need to obviously make it worthwhile for us, whether that’s through ads, or whether that’s Instagram paying us to promote local businesses – top ten curry houses in wherever it is.
“I think that’s where social video is going… because the platforms already know what their audience wants and they have to provide it. And if they don’t provide it, the audience will go to another platform that is. So they can pay us ‘x’ amount and we all get what we want.”
But Russell warned that at a “basic level” some videos could not be published on social media given the rules that govern acceptable content on the platforms, for example a seemingly innocent bingo hall tour could be seen to promote gambling, in breach of the rules.
Walker said social video would become a bigger slice of the video pie for publishers, matching on-site video. But he said the latter remains “very important” because it is owned and operated by publishers. He said brands “want that comfort of appearing on a very trusted and authentic platform, so there will always be that demand there”.
Walker predicted the type of video and how it is consumed “may change” with videos becoming easier to discover on websites and possibly no longer needing to be “attached to an article”.
He also predicted that live streaming video would become “even more important”, adding: “The bulk of that happens on the social platforms at the moment. I think we’ll see more of that come back on to publishers’ own platforms.
“And I also think there will be two or three video-led social sites that none of us have ever heard of that in two years’ time everyone will be using… and it’s about making sure that our brands are fit for purpose on those platforms.
“That’s where Wochit really helps us, because go back five years if we want to experiment with Snapchat or TikTok or whatever it might be there’s a large overhead to doing that.
“Wochit allows us to experiment much more easily with something for one of our brands because it’s as easy as having a template, adding a skin to something, and we can use a lot of our existing content to get on to those brands and those audiences.”