ABC News is a modern-day Cinderella story for the video world. From 1950-1980 (the heyday of TV news), the broadcaster routinely lagged behind CBS News and NBC News in viewership numbers for its latest news videos.
In the digital era, however, ABC News is now the belle of the ball. In March, the media giant was the #1 global creator in News & Politics and climbed 32 spots to take #31 across all content genres, despite only uploading 2.86% more videos than the month prior.
Over the past year, the news outlet’s video content has consistently landed high views and engagements. March, in particular, was a banner month for the news publisher, when it earned 471M views on Facebook, 152M views on YouTube, 69M views on Twitter, and 36.9M views on Instagram.
Here’s what news publishers can learn from ABC’s success story across its latest news videos:
Diversify Content: ABC News creates and curates diverse videos that hook millennial viewers (think: adorable animals, uplifting human-interest stories, and hyper-local content). And it doesn’t shy away from controversial topics like police brutality as well as viral, jaw-dropping fodder, like a man with no pants falling through a Waffle House ceiling.
Publish Content Everywhere, and Fast: ABC dominates breaking news by cross-posting the same content across affiliates and platforms speedily. This strategy has scored ABC millions more views than its competitors, and boosted the news outlet’s engagements! ABC News had an increase of about 175% in engagements from February to March thanks to these latest news videos.
Spread Across Multiple Platforms: ABC has news tentacles everywhere. Its top-performing videos are on Facebook, but the future of news is cross-platform, and ABC appears to be an early mover. In March, the news outlet pulled in about 253M more views across other platforms than the next top four news & politics creators combined. How? One reason: The publisher adapted its content library to fit the tenor of each platform, from Instagram (where it houses topical video vignettes) to YouTube (where it pushes out more long-form documentary content).
Invest In Local News and Initiatives: ABC has invested in local-video content by embedding young journalists in communities. The network recently launched “Localish,” a hyper-local video show for mobile millennials, that’s drawing millions of viewers. Available across platforms, it highlights local hotspots and stories of community-building and hope. It seems like the more local the news-video content, the more likely it is to generate views.
So how did ABC get on top? Let’s dive in to find out.
Diverse, Feel-Good Content Wins the Day
ABC News’s rise to #1 comes amid longtime competition from CBS (#4) and NBC (#128). It’s also outgunning digital-first news verticals worldwide from NTD Television (#2) to Group Nine’s Now This (#7).
One of the network’s key strategies for achieving this #1 standing is diversifying content. Each month, ABC News produces hundreds of videos featuring animals, human interest stories, and viral cultural moments, all of which attract millions of viewers. And one of the core reasons ABC News succeeds is because it embraces fluffy content (literally and metaphorically) to round out its more serious coverage.
In March, six of the top ten most-watched and most-engaged latest news videos from ABC featured animals, ranging from an African Watusi taking a trip to Petco (15.8M) to two humpback whales performing synchronized swimming (10.2M). In April, the animal trend for ABC continued: four of the top ten videos by views were animal-related.
Compare this to CBS News, whose highest-performing March video by views also featured an animal. In this case, a paralyzed dog trying out a new wheelchair earned 42.M views. However, that was the only animal-themed video on its top 10 most-viewed list.
NBC News, on the other hand, does not have an animal-themed video in its top 10 March videos by views. NBC’s top-performing video is an emotional reunion between a soldier and his son, which got 9.5M views. However, NBC’s most-viewed video of all time featured animals playing in the snow (81.4M).
Viewers also responded well to human interest stories, particularly those about young Americans triumphing over adversity. The top four videos by engagements from ABC News featured uplifting stories, including a four-year-old with spina bifida walking from the first time (659K), and a teenager who got into 17 colleges after overcoming homelessness (429K).
Human interest content continued to reign in April. Viewers engaged most with videos featuring children doing awe-inspiring things, from a toddler training to be a firefighter just like daddy (649K), to a school-girl helping a classmate in need (485K).
Takeaway: News publishers should invest in human interest stories and animal-based content, with added analysis to differentiate themselves.
ABC Dominates in the Breaking News Landscape
The most-viewed video for ABC News in March was breaking footage: Chaos on Board Distressed Cruise Ship (16M). Originally tweeted by a passenger, the video shows furniture sliding across a Norwegian cruise liner as the ship undergoes engine failure. It’s raw, shaky, and sensational — big indicators of success in video news feeds.
3.6M of those 16M views were in the first 24 hours (V1). The V1 metric examines views as a function of time, which in this case is a day. A high V1 indicates ABC received significant views in the first 24 hours of a video’s publication.
Let’s breakdown the news company’s specific approach to glean some lessons:
ABC News published the user-generated video to Facebook on March 23, at 10:55 pm, approximately four hours ahead of CBS and 19 hours ahead of NBC. When it comes to compelling raw news footage, every hour truly counts. ABC’s headstart potentially earned the news organization millions of more views.
CBS News published the same footage across platforms and affiliates and its highest-performing version of the video earned 342K views on Facebook (with a 5589K V1). NBC earned 284K for its highest-performing Facebook video, which incorporated the same footage and saw a V1 of 2711K.
Upload to Multiple Affiliates
ABC owns its local affiliate in six of the eight largest media markets. Six ABC News affiliates (from ABC7NY in New York, to ABC11 in North Carolina) uploaded the same cruise ship footage separately to their Facebook feeds, thereby increasing reach and views.
This indicates ABC News not only has an effective system for collaboration and asset- and insight-sharing between ABC affiliates, but it’s utilizing this practice when it counts: to promote raw, breaking news footage.
Takeaway: Content sharing can prove instrumental in breaking news situations (especially in the case of the cruise ship disaster, which happened during a weekend shift, which is typically understaffed). Though other news outlets, like CBS, cross-post in some instances, the key is to activate this strategy early and often.
Latest News Videos Reach Audiences on Multiple Platforms
Speaking of uploading content to affiliates’ channels, ABC News is a multi-platform pioneer, uploading latest news videos across several channels and video platforms.
For starters, ABC teamed up with the Facebook Watch platform in August 2018 to launch a daily program called “On Location,” which has 533.9K followers to date. The program opens with gut-wrenching footage followed by an on-camera reporter providing deeper analysis.
“The opening scene – the first three seconds – is incredibly important,” said Katie Nelson, executive producer of news content for ABC News, in an interview with Variety. Nelson’s approach has brought “On Location” an average of 4.3M views weekly, thanks to episodes opening with scenes like a shootout in a parking lot, a man pushing a woman off a cliff, and a police officer restraining and punching a teenage girl.
But for ABC News, Facebook is only a smidge of its larger media strategy. ABC is the cross-platform king.
It uploaded 319 short-form videos to Instagram last March, gaining 36.9M views. The top performer was a Haka performance in honor of the victims of the Christchurch terror attack in New Zealand (1.1M).
ABC News also uploaded 428 videos to YouTube, which secured 152M views and 1.6M engagements. ABC maximizes on YouTubers’ viewing habits by splitting programs (like its flagship documentary series “20/20”) into multiple 9- to 12-minute segments for the platform.
ABC’s best-performing YouTube content in March addressed profound tragedies with an analysis of murderer Gypsy Rose and capitalized on a viral cultural moment with The Dropout, a takedown of ex-Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes.
Takeaway: Media publishers would benefit from carefully curating content and length to match each platform’s viewing habits. For Facebook, that means three-second video hooks, for Instagram it’s all about vignettes, and for YouTube it’s long-form narratives.
ABC Cares About Local News and Initiatives
ABC News is also betting hard on local news across its latest news videos. This year, the company hired 20 locally-grounded young reporters in their top news markets from New York to LA, reports Nieman lab. The aim: embed journalists in neighborhoods instead of newsrooms to source local stories.
Millennials feel better about their own communities than the world at large, according to ABC reports. Thus, they appreciate more local-focused content in their video feeds.
“We are better positioned to serve this need given the deep connections that we have and have had for decades in our local communities,” said Jennifer Mitchell, Senior VP of Content Development at ABC Owned Television Station Group, in an interview with Broadcasting & Cable.
With this in mind, ABC recently launched “Localish,” a show for millennials that tracks “the good in American cities.” The show is comprised of several series that can be independently sponsored, a potential draw for brands.
The best-performing “Localish” video to date is John Hudson’s New Home. The video features a Staten Island boy with a skin condition who was gifted a new home. It got 30M views and 896K engagements.
Takeaway: Hyper-local content is a must-do for a media company’s growth. And such content is well-positioned to draw sponsorships from food and travel companies or brands looking to associate with feel-good vibes.
How News Publishers Can Grow Their Video Strategies
Here are some possible growth areas ABC News and other publishers can exploit to regularly secure top views and engagements on their latest news videos!
Invest in International Voices and News
Brazil and India are video hotspots. Many top creators on the leaderboards for news & politics harken from these regions, including India-based Aaj Tak (#6), IndiaTV (#12), and Zee News English (#20). U.S. publishers would benefit from developing content aimed at these particular markets, making sure to publish it to YouTube where these viewers congregate most.
ABC gets 1% of its viewers on YouTube from India. CBS News gets 1.7% of its viewers from India and 1.2% from Brazil. Meanwhile, NBC gets .9% of its viewers from India. So there are preliminary numbers to build on here.
Follow the Teens: TikTok It Up
Publishers would benefit from taking their cross-platform expansion to the next level. Consider TikTok, the latest destination for short-form mobile videos. Among the big three news companies, NBC News is the only one with a verified TikTok page. NBC’s TikTok bio reads: “We’ve been around for more than 75 years, but we’re not old.”
NBC’s TikTok video that got the most engagements is an animal video about a beloved police dog. Might this early adoption of TikTok give NBC News a lift in brand favorability among teenagers?
In News Video, Sustained Engagements Are Key
A useful way for news companies to gauge the strength of their video reporting is to explore if their engagement numbers remain high over a 30-day period (ER30). This can help determine if they have dominated a particular news cycle. Was their coverage so topical (and in tune with the zeitgeist) that it remained viable long after the video’s publication date?
On YouTube, the home of long-form content, 30-day engagement numbers (ER30) were highest for all three major news outlets (as compared to other platforms). In March, ABC News had a 1.6x ER30, CBS News a 1.5x ER30, and NBC News a 1.3x ER30.
A possible reason: YouTube creates the ideal viewing environment to spur such sustained engagements. For ABC News, the highest-performing YouTube content in March addressed controversial cultural moments. In this case, the subject matter was the firestarter and the extended video length (curated into thematic playlists) was the fuel that keeps the conversation going. The longer viewers stay on the page watching a video, the more likely they are to read the comments and respond.
The question for news organizations moving forward is: what can they do to build on this rapt YouTube audience?