Online video is a pain in the ass
Now that my new content website is well underway, I’ve had a number of ‘coffee conversations’ with investors and advisors.
While discussing the site with them, I get a lot of questions about our strategy and how we will differentiate ourselves from the pack. But no question rears its head more so than this one:
“What’s your video strategy?”
My answer is very crisp and to the point. I simply walk them through Bryan’s Eight-Step Video Launch Strategy...
- Step 1: Launch a great website.
- Step 2: Don’t even think about video.
- Step 3: Grow website to millions of readers.
- Step 4: Pretend that the Lumiere brothers never invented video.
- Step 5: Build a salesforce to monetize your millions of readers.
- Step 6: Publicly whip any member of that sales team who even mentions video.
- Step 7: Work with your salesforce to achieve eight-figure revenue (without video).
- Step 8: Hire your Director of Video.
Because launching video on a content website plays out like a land war in Asia. It starts out as a small operation, but then you get sucked into it. You initially believe in the purpose, but the cost becomes so overwhelming that you repeatedly ask yourself “why are we doing this, again?” You try to limit the involvement to a select few professionals, but soon everybody is knee deep in the ordeal — and most of them don’t want to be there. At times, you want to pull the plug on the initiative, but then you see how much has been invested into it and you think about the hype and the Series C you raised to get it off the ground. And when you finally see how many video streams were produced at month’s end, you stare at the numbers in disbelief and scream “THAT’S IT!? ARE YOU SHITTING ME!?”
Online video has so many problems, that I don’t even know where to begin. And so here’s a disorganized list that barely scratches the surface:
- People at work and in school cannot easily watch video without being caught.
- Editing video is 100 times harder than editing text.
- Studios are very expensive, and you usually need multiple of them.
- Your existing employees will not cut it as on-screen talent.
- Site visitors hate pre-roll advertisements.
- CBS, ABC, NBC, and Fox may not know the first damn thing about the Internet, but they know a lot about video. Your startup does not.
- Your video inventory will always be way lower than you want it to be.
- Search does not work for video content.
- You need innumerable expensive service providers to compress, host, play, ad-serve, and do everything else in the misery that is the video process.
- The presence of video will make every other department (engineering, editorial, product, finance, operations) hate their lives.
- Once your sales team begins selling video, they become even more powerful... and they are already way too powerful.
- After a video is made, your editors feel obligated to promote it, even when it feels totally out of place.
- It should work seamlessly on all devices. But it never does.
At Bleacher Report, we had a lot of traffic, an outstanding sales team, and excellent leadership in our video department. Despite all this, our video inventory generated a miniscule percentage of our total revenue in 2012. It was barely north of a rounding error.
So, why did we do it?
There is — in my opinion — exactly one valuable reason to have a video presence. While the video itself cannot monetize worth a damn, the promise of a custom video show is an enticing proposition for advertisers. And when you are a new website that is trying to close a $500,000 order, then you need all the help you can get.
The video programming will be one of sixty lines on the invoice that you send your client, and it will probably represent a small percentage of the whole, but your sales team will insist that it was the “deal closer”. And so, they will argue, even though $485,000 out of $500,000 was booked against rotational media and homepage skins, it was really that small $15,000 of video inventory that got the deal done.
Is your sales team right? Could they have closed that big deal without promising Toyota a custom video show that airs each night for six weeks?
Who the hell knows.
But once your company is doing eight-figure revenue, and once your company has raised $30 million in venture capital, and once your company is being trumpeted as the "next big thing," then what the hell...
Throw some original videos on your site. But not a moment sooner.
[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]