News media publisher NowThis is active across all the main social video platforms, generating nearly 7B video views in the past 12 months, But it’s on Facebook that the brand is really crushing other news organizations. In Q1 2016 alone, it generated a combined 2.7B views across 5 different Facebook properties, averaging around 1.1M views per video.

As well as being one of the most-watched video news publishers across the social web, NowThis has built a unique distribution model that provides news and current affairs coverage by millennials for millennials. 74% of its audience is under 34 years old, while 68% are between 18-34 years old, and it’s a demographic that is eagerly consuming the kind of content that NowThis is creating. We take a deep-dive into the brand and discuss the tactics and strategies that are working for the publisher – particularly with Facebook video.

NowThisNews: Blowing up on Facebook

nowthis news facebookIn April 2016, NowThis generated 1.2 billion video views from its main verticals – NowThis News (812M views), NowThis Election (177M views), NowThis Entertainment (140M views), NowThis Future (41.2M views), and NowThis Weed (36.2M views). The overwhelming majority of these views came via Facebook, where the brand is the most watched news publisher on the platform.

NowThis was one of the first publishers to post natively to Facebook – and was also one of the very first brand creators to deliberately use a lot of text overlay on its videos. It knew it needed a way to capture the viewer’s attention on silent auto plays, a strategy which not only paid off very quickly, but one which thousands of other video creators adopted as a way of retaining viewers for as long as possible.

We spoke with NowThis president Athan Stephanopoulos about the company’s distribution strategy on Facebook and how it produces the kind of video news content that resonates so well with its audience. He confirmed that the publisher wasn’t into chasing virality as a strategy. In fact it’s the opposite. Every piece of video content is extensively tested, and then analyzed to identify why it may not have performed as well as expected. The data team within NowThis work very closely with its editorial team to give constant feedback on content performance in real-time. The top and bottom 20% of video content is often taken out of the equation, leaving 60% of content that the team analyze in-depth – if the numbers keep moving upwards on those slices of data then the company knows what’s working, and continuously strives to raise the bar. Stephanopoulos also confirmed that A/B testing was a big part of the publisher’s strategy, with video footage edited to attract the viewer, and keep them watching.

Many in the industry assume that NowThis has performed so well on Facebook because it was one of the first brands to take advantage of video on the platform, but it tests everything to find out what’s working. Stephanopoulos stated that:

The growth rate of NowThis still surpasses that of other publishers that have had a presence on Facebook for a while, and in terms of news publishers, it has the most inventory on Facebook.

Its most-watched upload on Facebook to date is this look back at the news in tech in 2015.  It generated over 115M views (97M in the first 7 days), and 1.8M likes, shares, comments, and tweets.

Although the brand has a YouTube channel, it only published one video to it in April. Stephanopoulos admits that when the company started it never really focused in a meaningful way on YouTube. The platform didn’t feel like a priority, and the decision was made not to lean in as much. Also, NowThis feels that YouTube is a very different kind of product to Facebook. Viewers watch YouTube videos because they are evergreen, but NowThis is producing content that is up-to-the-minute, and social platforms are a better vehicle to this footage. Stephanopoulos argues that YouTube is not a social platform, it’s a search engine for video, and so it didn’t really work in terms of the content being created and distributed.  However, he does concede that YouTube is looking for ways to surface more real-time news-orientated content, and if that happens NowThis can certainly take advantage of that.

NowThis: Taking Video To the Consumer 

NowThis defines itself as a ‘distributed media’ company. Stephanopoulos states that even a year ago, many people didn’t really appreciate what that meant. But the industry has changed so much in 12 months, that the concept of distributing media has become more mainstream, and NowThis has been at the very forefront of the revolution.

So much so, it took the decision to take the focus off its website, and put it squarely on its social media networks. It believed that people were going to consume content in lots of different ways and it wanted to take that content natively to where the consumer was. NowThis wanted to own that narrative, not only in what it said, but also in what it did. It sees every social platform as a different endpoint, and then produces platform appropriate content. As each platform serves a different purpose for the video consumer, NowThis takes a unique approach to each distribution channel, and again, extensively tests content to understand what drives engagement and shareability.

NowThis website

Original News Content is Key 

Every piece of video content NowThis posts to Facebook is original in that it has an editorial voice and opinion. Most is produced in-house, but a portion of the content it posts is fully licensed actual footage from third-party creators and publishers, such as Reuters, CBS, NBC etc. NowThis builds a news package around that raw footage and stamps its own identity on the short-form clips. It’s looking to increase the amount of video it produces in its own studios, but even using third-party film, all content has the brand and voice baked in from the very start. On the subject of freebooting, Stephanopoulos confirmed that NowThis has a lot of partnerships in place where it shares other content, a common and mutually beneficial practice for all involved, but it also works very closely with Facebook to quickly resolve the issue whenever stolen content is identified.

Millennials Making News Content for Millennials 

74% of the NowThis audience is under 34 years old, and 68% between 18 and 34 years old, so did it deliberately target that demographic? Stephanopoulos says not but NowThis found the sweet spot when it came to targeting an audience ready for the type of news content it produces. It didn’t set out to become a news resource for Millennials, but quickly understood how these age-groups consumed video differently. It was also a happy by-product of the people employed at NowThis to produce and publish the content – they are of that age-group and so naturally create content they themselves want to know about, and would, more importantly, share. The editorial team IS the audience, and approaching the content from this standpoint saw a big lift in views and consumption. NowThis also tends to cover the issues that really matter to Millennials, whether that’s the legalization of marijuana, or the topic of gun control.

The brand has also set up different verticals on Facebook, not only to reach a wider audience, but also to better distribute video. There is a limit to just how much content you can publish to any one page before its perceived as spam, so NowThis saw an opportunity to launch new Facebook channels to bring more content into the ecosystem. It also gave it a chance to study what videos people were reacting to. For instance, science and tech is big with its audience and anytime it uploaded a video about innovation it did really well, so that led it to launch NowThisFuture.

It also knew it had a very politically engaged audience which led to the roll-out of NowThisElection, which has been live for only 7 months but is already at 1.1B views. That’s as competitive, if not beating, the main traditional news organizations on social.  Stephanopoulos also confirmed that having a third-party like Tubular validate its numbers is invaluable in proving how the whole brand has grown so much in only 3 and a half years.

NowThis understands what triggers people to want to share – either when they are frustrated or angry about something, or they want to make a statement, or when it elicits emotion.  Stephanopoulos confirms the election coverage that really draws people in features Bernie Sanders, and people are sharing because they believe in him. He states that NowThis is not telling voters what to think or what to say, it is posting content that resonates with them so highly they want to share. As for Donald Trump, video content about his campaign is being shared because people are angry at him and the way he behaves and it definitely alienates certain demographics. Stephanopoulos confirms NowThis is fully committed to covering every aspect of the Race to the White House, but is taking a very different approach to the mainstream media.

Facebook Publishing Best Practice for News

When it comes to technical strategy for Facebook, NowThis has a couple of nifty tricks up its sleeve. Firstly, it makes fantastic use of the Playlist feature to archive video content for later consumption. For example, NowThis interviewed Joe Biden for a 20-minute video that was edited down into 8 smaller clips for the NowThis Facebook page. However, the page didn’t run with the shorter videos in sequence so adding them to a Playlist not only gave that content a home, it extended the shelf-life of the videos for those who hadn’t seen them in order. Playlists are a feature that every brand uploading video should be using, it gives viewers access to content they might not have seen the first time around in their news feeds. nowthis joe biden facebook playlist

NowThis also does a tremendous amount of dark posting, which has always been a strategy in terms of bringing the right content to the right audience at the right time. The publisher leverages Facebook’s tools to segment and deliver its content in the most effective way possible, and it also uses the feature for testing certain content before putting it live to a wider audience.

Which App/Platform is the Next Big Thing?

We asked NowThis about which app, platform, or feature it was most excited about and live-streaming, vertical, and 360-degree video is all part of future strategy. It plans to remain an early adopter of any new innovation in social video, being one of the first to lean in and test. Stephanopoulos believes that messaging is also a big opportunity – whether that’s Facebook Messenger, Slack, or another app. He wants to ensure that NowThis delivers the best content to the audience whether that’s via messaging or via a social platform. The end goal is to tell you a story via video in the most natural and organic way possible.