You've probably read dozens of articles about how online video is "the future" of digital marketing. If you haven't, they're easy to find. There are even posts on this very website making similarly bold claims about the value of online video. However, recent research from the University of Oxford casts doubt over how popular online video really is.
Over the years we've become used to technology fads that inventors claim are the next big thing, but end up flopping and disappearing into the overflowing dustbin of history. Betamax, LaserDiscs, and (my personal favourite) MiniDiscs were all seen as the next great technological leaps forward, only to be displaced by more practical, useful formats. Will online video join this list?
Of course, as a video producer, I would say no. But new research from Oxford's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism suggests otherwise. The findings were part of the Institute's Digital News Report 2016, which surveyed 50,000 people in 26 countries, including US and Europe.
One of the key findings was that an overwhelming majority (78%) of respondents preferred to read text rather than watch video content. Their reasoning was that reading news was quicker and more convenient (41%) and avoided irritating pre-roll adverts (35%). The findings led the authors to conclude:
"So far, the growth around online video news seems to be largely driven by technology, platforms, and publishers rather than by strong consumer demand."
A damning indictment. In the same month, Facebook Executive Nicola Mendelsohn, confirmed their conclusion by claiming that:
"...We’re seeing a year-on-year decline on text. We’re seeing a massive increase, as I’ve said, on both pictures and video. If I was having a bet, I would say: video, video, video."
So who's driving the growth of video? Is it a genuine user desire to watch more video content, or is it an online fad being peddled by people like me who have a stake in seeing it grow in popularity? Here are three points I’d make in response to the study.
The report was focused on news publishers so the analysis doesn't apply to all B2C or B2B marketing content. News video wasn't as popular as lifestyle and entertainment videos, which still perform strongly.
Watching videos still makes up one-third of all online activity. Research shows that 64% of users are more likely to buy a product after they've watched a video about it. These stats are worth considering.
Video content still has a place in a marketing strategy. To ensure results, have a clear idea of the aims of the video and measure these against Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
The study does, however, have implications for thought leadership content. In particular, those brands and organisations that are looking to publish regular news video content featuring their experts commentating on industry developments.
Trends show that audiences watch more video content when it directly relates to breaking events and public mood. For example, during the Paris attacks in November 2015, BBC News had its highest spike in online traffic. The day after the attacks, 19% of users watched video relating to the incidents compared to 11% video consumption on a regular day.
Another example: In the build up to the Brexit referendum, one of the most shared videos was Professor Michael Dougan from Liverpool Law School presenting a legal case for remaining in the EU. On Facebook, it racked up an impressive 6.8 million views (more than any episode of the latest season of Top Gear) and 194,400 shares. Not bad for a 25-minute viral video.
These two recent examples show that as long as your video content is timely and relevant, your audience will pay attention.
Finally, the most important takeaway for producing thought leadership content is to have a content strategy.
Video content should be one tool among many in your armoury; it's not the silver bullet of content marketing. Video is most effective when it links in directly to your client journey, complements or is enhanced by well-written copy and informative infographics, and is distributed by an engaging social media presence. It's the hallmark of any sophisticated online brand.
It's also important to remember that video is just one medium. I don't know anyone who decides to only read their news and deliberately ignore video. People will always find out information in ways that are convenient for them, whether that's video, text or podcast.
They also want a variety of topics, not a constant stream of hard news. It's up to producers and the organisations that commission them to create content that is available for when audiences do want timely, relevant and engaging video.
So, despite provocative headline clickbait, it's safe to say online video will not be joining Betamax, the QR code and the Apple Newton in listicles of over-hyped failures.