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Here’s why publishers won’t stop pivoting to video

Turn! Turn! Turn!

Discus thrower pivoting on one foot at a track and field meet Matthias Hangst / Getty
Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Time for another round of “pivoting to video” chatter, promoted by yet another story about a digital publisher “pivoting to video” by laying off people who don’t make video.

In this case it’s Mic, a millennial-focused (of course) startup that pre-wrote its own take on the story a week ago via a guest post on this very site.

For a much more bracing view on The Great Video Pivot, I suggest this thread from Josh Marshall, whose Talking Points Memo has flourished during the Trump administration, and who is very, very down on video.

Here’s the start:

A couple notes:

  • I’ve been working for digital publishers for a long time — so long that when I started out, Facebook was something only college kids used — so I can tell you that publishers have been chasing video dollars for a long time. It predates Facebook, but it has very much been accelerated by Facebook and Facebook’s desire to chase video dollars.
  • Digital publishers have always had a good argument when they wanted to chase video dollars: There will be a lot of them, if we can just get people to watch our videos and advertisers to pay for them.
  • Usually this is accompanied by a reference toward the $70 billion-plus TV ad market, and to the total time people spend watching TV: An astonishing four hours and 55 minutes a day, even in 2017.

Nielsen average time spent on media 2017 Nielsen
  • As long as those two statistics are in place, publishers are going to keep chasing video dollars — even though few of them are transferring over to digital video. It won’t stop. The thought of capturing a sliver of that attention — and those dollars — is too compelling.
  • Can’t you make great video that people will want to watch? Of course you can. My corporate colleagues at regularly do. They’ve been nominated for four Emmys this year.
  • The great counter to all of this is: Autoplaying video. If people wanted to watch as much digital video as digital publishers would like, they wouldn’t have to automatically start playing videos for them as soon as they land on a web page, or scroll through a Facebook feed, or open up Twitter.
  • Facebook says its users watch autoplaying videos for an average of 16.7 seconds. That’s it. And Facebook thinks that’s a good number.
  • It’s reasonable to think that this gets sorted out, eventually, and advertiser demand and user demand will sync up. Some people may make a lot of money when it happens. But it’s going to be rough going for some time. More pivots ahead.

* Postscript: “Swivey” doesn’t mean “turn,” exactly. I think. But I’ve been dying to embed this for a long time, and it’s much more fun than a Byrds video.

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