USA TODAY has been making a lot of news in the digital video era. Yes, the media brand has uploaded 10,000 news videos during the last year. That’s their day job. And, yes, the USA TODAY NETWORK just won three Pulitzer prizes, including one for The Wall: Unknown Stories, Unintended Consequences project, which used virtual reality, aerial video, 360-degree video, documentary video, photos, podcasts and interactive maps — as well as more than a dozen stories — to examine and explain President Trump’s complicated border wall proposal that spans 2,000 miles.
But, if you’re into listicles, then scan the headlines of just some of the press releases that have been posted to their newsroom since April 2017:
- USA TODAY NETWORK Partners with Oculus, Expanding VR Storytelling Opportunities
- USA TODAY NETWORK I ARIZONA REPUBLIC project ‘The Wall’ selected as Journalism 360 Challenge winner and grant recipient
- USA TODAY NETWORK Selected for GoPro‘s Pilot Program
- USA TODAY NETWORK Collaborates with Instagram on Live Coverage of the Eclipse
- USA TODAY NETWORK launches groundbreaking project, ‘The Wall‘
- USA TODAY Launches Ad-Free In-App Offering
- USA TODAY NETWORK Partners with Facebook to Raise Money for Local Charities This Holiday Season
- November comScore Numbers Show USA TODAY NETWORK’s Continued Digital Growth
- USA TODAY Content Now Available in Over One Million GM Connected Cars
- USA TODAY NETWORK Scores First Livestream of American Football Coaches Association Awards Show
- USA TODAY NETWORK Showcases VR Capabilities at CES
- Amazon’s “Alexa Loses Her Voice” Wins 30th Annual USA TODAY Ad Meter Competition
- USA TODAY Sports Releases Olympics Coverage Exclusive to Google Assistant Devices
- Nicole Carroll Named USA TODAY Editor in Chief
- USA TODAY Releases First Augmented Reality App in Partnership with FLORIDA TODAY
- USA TODAY Partners with Brand Film Festival for This Year’s Top Viral Film
- Maribel Perez Wadsworth Named USA TODAY Publisher
Scanning these headlines, you’ll see terms like Oculus, VR storytelling, GoPro, Instagram, in-app, Facebook, digital growth, connected cars, livestream, VR, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, augmented reality app, and viral film. It’s pretty clear this is NOT your father’s newspaper. In other words, USA TODAY has worked overtime to make “the pivot to video” successfully – which is why they have moved up 41 spots in Tubular’s Leaderboards for Media & Entertainment Creators to rank #17 in February 2018 for most views cross-platform in the News & Politics genre.
USA TODAY Successfully Made the Leap to Video — And It Shows
Let’s start by taking a look at press release #14. Before being named Editor-in-Chief, Carroll led the extensive explanatory reporting project “The Wall” for the USA TODAY Network in 2017. This landmark multi-media report which just won the Pulitzer for explanatory journalism examined in unprecedented detail the current presidential administration’s signature campaign promise to build “a great wall” on the U.S.-Mexico border. The project revealed the challenges and unintended consequences. In addition, the project — for the first time ever – allowed the public to explore the entire border through immersive experiences that included virtual reality, bots, aerial and 360-degree video, documentaries, photos, podcasts, exclusive investigative reporting and more.
Or, check out press release #17. Before being named Publisher, Wadsworth was a driving force behind the USA TODAY Network’s investments in emerging technologies to create groundbreaking storytelling, such as the launch of the first weekly news program in virtual reality and the recent award-winning explanatory series “The Wall.” That press release also mentions that USA TODAY has successfully transitioned to a premier destination for national brands and agencies. USA TODAY digital advertising revenue now represents two-thirds of its total advertising business.
So, before I reveal some critical data and tactical advice for data masters at media companies, let me share at least one strategic insight and a megatrend in the digital video marketing business with you first. Six years ago – in February 2012 to be exact – a rebel sympathizer smuggled me a new copy of Version 2 of the YouTube Creator Playbook. To protect him/her from any repercussions, I didn’t disclose this rebel sympathizer’s name, other than to say he/she worked at a media company that bridges the gap between YouTube and television.
Well, looking at that old YouTube Creator Playbook again this morning, I was struck by how most of the tips, best practices, and strategies for building an audience are still relevant and valuable even though the “plays” were designed for YouTube Partners. But, the biggest difference is this: Back then, most of the rebels using this playbook were digital first publishers.
Today, there is no gap left between YouTube and television or between social video and newspapers. Most of the world’s leading media companies are now using modern versions and variations of these old “plays.” In addition, they’re using actionable video intelligence to grow larger, more valuable audiences which wasn’t available back in February 2012. And most mainstream media companies know that we surpassed 1 trillion online video views a month in May 2017. In other words, virtually everyone knows the galactic “traditional media” war is over and the rebel alliance (i.e. digital) has won.
Emotional Stories Drive USA TODAY Video Strategy
So, what can we learn by examining how USA TODAY jumped 41 spots in Tubular’s Leaderboards for Media & Entertainment Creators to rank #17 for most views cross-platform in the News & Politics genre for February 2018?
Well, some videos do jump out. For example, “Steve Kerr calls out government after latest school shooting,” which was uploaded to Facebook on Feb. 15, 2018, currently has 26 million views. This news video also has 682,000 engagements on Facebook (207,000 likes, 446,000 shares, and 28,700 comments). In addition, “School event makes history with male mentors,” which was uploaded to Facebook on Jan. 14, 2018, currently has 20 million views. This news video also has 356,000 engagements on Facebook (89,600 likes, 257,000 shares, and 9,244 comments).
Or, check out “Loving swan reunites with partner, and it’s magical.” It was uploaded to Facebook on Sept. 16, 2017, and it currently has 14.4 million views. This news video also has 497,000 engagements on Facebook (140,000 likes, 350,000 shares, and 7,957 comments). Next, “Watch: Little Leaguer goes airborne for run,” which was uploaded to Facebook on June 15, 2017, currently has 13 million views. This news video has 247,000 engagements on Facebook (109,000 likes, 124,000 shares, and 14,400 comments).
Finally, “Judge allows kid to choose dad’s punishment,” which was uploaded to YouTube on July 11, 2017, currently has 11.7 million views. This news video also has 250,000 YouTube engagements (238,000 likes and 11,800 comments).
Now, can we detect a pattern? Well, two of the top five videos feature kids and two more are about schools. So, touching the emotions of parents seems like an evergreen strategy month in and month out. In fact, the fifth video, which features swans, touches your heartstrings, too – especially if you have a partner. So, USA TODAY knows how to use video to tell a story with feeling as well as facts.
But, this is what you can see if you only look at USA TODAY’s most viewed videos from the past 365 days. But, let’s take a look at the critical data for all 10,000 videos that USA TODAY has uploaded during that period. They have a total 674.8 million views across Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. That’s an average of 67,480 views per video. It’s also worth noting that these 10,000 videos got a total of 17.4 million engagements on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. That’s an engagement rate of 2.6%, or 1,754 engagements per video.
In other words, even the average USA TODAY news video is resonating with its audience, an audience which is demographically fairly diverse. According to Tubular, USA TODAY’s audience on YouTube is 60% male and 40% female. In addition, 57.0% of their YouTube viewers are 18-34 years old and 76.8% are 18-54 years old. A weighted average of 76.2% of viewers on Facebook and YouTube are from the United States.
As we’ve come to see, this is NOT your father’s newspaper. USA TODAY has successfully made “the pivot to video” in the digital video era – which is why it’s moved up so dramatically in Tubular’s Leaderboards for Media & Entertainment Creators in the News & Politics genre. And with video stats like those above, we expect the publisher will be around on that leaderboard for quite some time.