Humor plays well on YouTube. That’s easily one of the most common answers I get when I ask about developing video content for the Web. Brand advertisers say so, as do Hollywood folks. And now it seems even the news people are thinking about how to bring the funny.
The Wall Street Journal video (above) represents one of the most viewed videos that news organization has produced, according to The Nieman Journalism Lab, which ran a lengthy analysis of a recent Pew study that looked at online news viewing patterns.
Bottom line from Nieman: news organizations perform better online if their videos take a lighter, more humorous approach.
Bottom lines from Pew:
The most popular news videos tended to depict natural disasters or political upheavals.
News events are inherently more ephemeral than other kinds of information, but at any given moment news can outpace even the biggest entertainment videos.
Personalities are not the main drivers of news viewership online.
Length of the most popular YouTube news videos varies greatly.
These insights highlight a growing dilemma for news in the digital age. Lighter content plays better on a typical news day; but the big numbers come from events that really don’t have a humorous angle. For newsrooms, of course, that raises an existential question: are they in the business of news or entertainment?
While the news industry must grapple with that and other questions, these insights are also useful from a brand perspective.
First, it’s fair to say that even rather serious brands could stand to let their hair down a little when it comes to producing online video. The Wall Street Journal is probably the best example of this. Even by news standards the Journal is pretty serious, yet their fun content is what connects with online audiences. Of course, their text content (whether in paper or digital) still defines the WSJ. And for those at the WSJ who are precious about the serious nature of their brand, it’s fair to say that lighter videos haven’t hurt their image (yet).
Second, it’s worth noting that personalities aren’t driving news online. That’s not entirely true for online entertainment, where celebrities wield a significant amount of power. But the success of celebrity online doesn’t necessarily answer the personality question. One way to think of celebs online is as platforms. Celebs effectively bring their audience with them via Twitter these days. And while it’s true that there’s an element of personality that drives those audiences, it’s hard to say whether a brand is hiring a spokesperson or doing a media buy when they enlist a celebrity. In a way, they’re doing both, right?
Third, the best length for an online video may not be a number like three minutes or five minutes. And the answer may not even be “short.” At least in the category of news, it’s fair to say that the best length for a news video is “long enough.” Or, put another way, a video can run as long as the audience is willing to watch. On one level, that’s been a truism in entertainment since the very beginning, but it’s a truism that often gets lost online. As brands produce more videos, they should be looking at drop-off (when most of their viewers stop watching) as a key indicator for planning their next video.
Fourth, a big news event can demolish your campaign. This has always been true, but here’s what’s different. Before online news, advertisers had some insight into what the nightly news would broadcast. If you didn’t want your new campaign running alongside disaster coverage, you could pull it and look for an opening whenever the news people moved on. In other words, you could ride with the news cycle. But what the Pew study shows is that consumers drive the news cycle now more than ever before. So a catastrophe thousands of miles away that might have been the last item in a nightly news report now has the power to drive viewership and conversation online for days or even weeks. While these events aren’t constant, they are something media planners need to keep an eye on, even if they haven’t bought inventory from a news provider because some stories can and do drown out all other conversation.