Video is changing the world of online publishing and video agency Newsflare is one of the companies at the head of the charge.
This month the UK-based company landed £2.4m of investment which it will now use to increase the size of its operation by at least five times and expand into the US, co-founder and chief commercial officer Bevan Thomas told Press Gazette.
Thomas, 34, established Newsflare along with Jon Cornwell, 42, its chief executive (both pictured top), in 2011 before launching the company a year later and spending 12 months testing the waters.
They started with a contract to supply video content to a handful of Local World websites and now boast clients across the national press and major broadcasters.
Thomas explains the idea for Newsflare came after he saw a news report about a house fire in London accompanied by video footage shot by an amateur.
“I thought the video was incredible,” he said. “The reporter was telling me that the fire was still burning and I was thinking ‘why can’t I see a new image?’
“I thought there was no reason why a person couldn’t have filmed another clip five to ten minutes ago and it just got me thinking that all this great content is being created, but how does it find its way to the more traditional channels?”
He adds: “The idea was that there was a lot of this great stuff out there but a lot of contributors weren’t really clear on what their rights were. They still felt that they weren’t being treated particularly fairly.
“The content was already there and we thought let’s not get into creating the stuff, let’s find a way of making sure the people who are creating it are getting rewarded.”
Newsflare essentially operates as a store for all the latest user-generated video content that could be of interest to news media publishers and broadcasters (as well as TV production companies).
A team of seven editorial staff – based in a small office in Hoxton with a distinct “start-up” feel – spend their days scouring the web for fresh videos that can be verified, licensed and then sold on to news publishers hungry for content.
The commission earned on each sale is split 50/50 between the company and what it calls its “contributors” – those who take the video footage – who also retain copyright on their content.
The fee to the firm pays for a three-man commercial team who work to sell the videos, with media companies often taking out bulk subscriptions to access up to 100 of them a month.
Thomas says the business is profitable in its current state, but will not go into figures. He says the multi-million cash injection from investment firm Edge Investment, will pay to ramp up the commercial team to 15 people by the end of the year and the news team up to 12.
Asked why video journalists, or indeed any member of the public who has made a potentially in-demand video, would choose to split their fee rather than sell it on themselves, Thomas says: “Why do you take a vase to an auction house? Because you know they will bring all the right people into the room at the same time and get you the best value out of it.”
In many ways Newsflare’s rise is a result of the media industry’s decline – a reality that isn’t lost on its founders.
Where before broadcasters such as the BBC would be creating content in every region, spending cuts have stripped its operation down. And where news publishers might have invested in in-house video teams on a large scale during flush times, they are now facing a struggle for income with falling advertising and print sales.
Says Thomas: “Collecting this type of content effectively is really time consuming and at a time where everything is being squeezed, newsrooms can’t afford to spend four hours sorting a clip, so it just makes sense that the big guys would outsource that labour-intensive task to an agency.
“We can afford to spend time and resources making sure we get things right because we can licence it to ten clients or more. The cost of that is then shared across the newsroom rather than a single person doing that all themselves.”
Video content can range from footage of natural disasters and terrorist incidents– more than 50 clips of the Paris attacks last year passed through Newsflare – and quirky or cute films of just about anything.
“News for us is simply ‘is it topical, relevant, timely?’,” said Thomas.
“We take our cue from what our clients want to licence and it’s everything from breaking video from a terrorist attack or a natural disaster right through to someone’s dog has done something funny and people are loving it. Newsbrands realise that those stories are part of the mix as well.”
Video has become increasingly important for online news publishers. Not least because of hopes it will generate an added source of advertising revenue through pre and post-roll adverts, but also because of its rise on social media platforms and popularity with younger generations.
Facebook Live has arguably driven news video’s dominance online, with live footage rewarded by the platform by being shown higher up in a user’s News Feed.
Newsbrands have also increased investment in video, with the Telegraph launching a dedicated online video hub in May, and have been early adopters of Facebook Live.
But this dedication to video is a relatively recent phenomenon, says Thomas, brought on in no small part by the fact that everyone with a smartphone has the capacity to record high definition footage instantly. But also driven by Facebook and YouTube – which he describes as the “ocean” to Newsflare’s “fishing boat”.
“The focus on video is starting to adjust to where it should be,” he says. “The first couple of years when we were trying to sell content the papers had these massive picture desks but no-one doing video. But we have seen that changing and coming through.
“When we were trying to sell video then, particularly user-generated content, people were going ‘what?’. But particularly in the last three months people are starting to understand why they want it.
“When it comes to UK video content we are almost the only to provide that. Nobody else has that supply of really local news video content.”
Thomas confirms another change among news publishers that readers might have suspected. Social publishers are choosing more “serious” news videos while legacy publishers are choosing more social videos.
But for Thomas, this change was expected. “A newspaper has always been a bundle of content from crosswords to sport to readers’ letters with news has a key part of that,” he says.
“With the move online, it always seemed logical to me that any digital news offering would be a bundle of content too.”
He adds: “To me it just seems obvious that one of the powerful things about digital and mobile is that it gives you the chance to incorporate video content in a way that you can’t do in a paper.
“Once you have acknowledged that an audience is going to consume the vast majority of content online, in digital, you have to ask what it is that we are going to provide? And the answer to that is digital video.”