New Wrinkle in TV Arena Is Print’s Image Makeover

Print Media outlets have faced a long, uphill struggle in the digital world, as better equipped players have run away with their ads, eyeballs and mojo. But newspapers and magazines have a new solution to their woes—they’re getting into the online TV business.

The past year has seen a wave of eclectic, big-ticket hires by publishers from around TV and the Web; over the past six months, there has been a spate of new video launches at titles big and small.

Traditional print media from Condé Nast to Atlantic Media and The New York Times are ramping up budgets and staff and tinkering with formats. A local San Diego newspaper wants print content companies across the country to contribute video to a new national network called VNN—“a next-generation CNN, only with local lead stories and local branding.”

Reporters in many local markets are showing up in the field to find not only the usual station competitors, but camera-equipped print outlets. The first blast footage of the Boston Marathon bombing to get wider pickup last spring didn’t appear on a local TV station, but rather on the Boston Globe site.

Shifting Fortunes

It’s a seismic shift for the business. Long accustomed to moving much more slowly, print media has grown impatient with becoming something of an online punching bag, starting way back when classified ads began to disappear following the migration of readers from hard copy to the Web. Digital editions struggled amid bankruptcies, buyouts and layoffs. Now, print—finally seeing the forest for all those trees—is getting serious about doing video. It’s costly and complicated to get it right, but advertisers pay more for it and consumers like it.

Vice Media, which still puts out its namesake print magazine, was one pioneer that focused early and well on short-form, nonfiction programming and storytelling. Its success led to partnerships on linear shows with HBO and CNN, as well as a stake taken by Fox that valued the company at $1.4 billion. Others are just jumping in.

“All the publishers woke up last spring and said ‘Whoa, Web video. We’ve got to do this,’” said Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg, executive producer for video at Washington D.C.-based Atlantic Media. The company had been filling its site with licensed content from around the Web, but in July it hired a small team to develop original series and is about to unveila revamped site highlighting in-house production.

In New York, magazine giant Condé Nast has attacked the space, hiring well-known Hollywood television executive Dawn Ostroff, former president of entertainment at The CW, to run its entertainment division, and Fred Santarpia, a cofounder of ground breaking online music company Vevo as executive VP and chief digital officer. Its staff has grown to 75, and seven video channels have been launched since March.

“It feels like a start-up inside a much bigger company,” Santarpia said. “We had built [Vevo] up to4 billion [streams] a month. I was sitting on a very established business. I walked into Condé Nast with a blank piece of paper, saying, ‘How do we create a scalable business here?’”

Doubling Down on Video

Newspapers such as The New York Times that flirted with video for years have suddenly doubled down. New York Times Co. president and CEO Mark Thompson, who moved from the BBC in 2012, is investing heavily in video production. He hired AOL/Huffington Post’s head of video development Rebecca Howard to run a division that now has about 50 people and a state-of the-art post-production unit. The Times’ video content, like that of most publishers, is organic, developed from sections of the paper, playing to its brand and strengths. It even features a quirky animated version of its Modern Love column. In November it launched New York Times Minute, a video news report released three times every weekday with Microsoft as official sponsor.

A timely Times documentary, Hers to Lose, in late September followed New York mayoral candidate Christine Quinn through a heated primary and made a big media splash, showing a more personal and vulnerable version of the feisty City Council speaker than most New Yorkers had ever seen.

“The Times has an eye for telling intimate stories, especially in politics and news. That took a lot of resources, and we’re very happy with what we got out of it,” Howard said.

Even the most bullish on print’s video push stress it’s very early days and it’s not likely going to be a radical shift from one medium to the other. In fact, if anything, the new video content from print outlets could spur innovation and new thinking by broadcasters.

Tribune, one of the nation’s biggest owners of TV stations and newspapers, has been melding print and video for years in markets where it has both.

Although it’s still a diminutive part of a digital newspaper reading experience and the newspaper experience itself, video “is somewhat of a given” for newspapers and a growing revenue stream, Tribune CEO Peter Liguori said at the recent B&C/Multichannel News NYC Television Week event.

Catch As Catch Conn.

Liguori specifically cited Hartford Conn., where Tribune owns two TV stations and the Hartford Courant, as a model. “It’s actually fascinating how Hartford works. The news desk is a triangle where we have the editor of digital, the head of the [TV] news and the editor of the newspaper all sitting at the same desk, so when a story lands it’s kind of agnostically treated. The story goes out to all three outlets and that’s great synergy, that’s taking advantage of scale,” he said.

“If someone’s going to eat your own, it should be you, and I’ve never been afraid of taking various outlets and having them compete against each other,” Liguori added. With Tribune prepping to split its TV and print businesses, he said, “Chances are we’ll wind up with some kind of licensing agreement with the newspapers to maintain that synergy and that ability to take content and spread it across all platforms.”

“I don’t think it’s more competition. It’s the new nature of the business. It has to do with the way we consume media. The business is adapting,” said Juan Manuel Benitez, a journalism professor and the host of Pura Politica on New York local cable news channelNY1 Noticias. “I do see my print colleagues out there with small cameras.”

The San Diego Union Tribune (now UT-San Diego)has taken the model even further. It started a 24-hoursnews channel online and on the air several years ago, after local developer Doug Manchester acquired the paper in 2011 from Platinum Equity. Former radio and TV industry executive John Lynch became CEO.

“You change or you die,” Lynch said. UT-TV has had its ups and downs but it succeeded in a key goal: pushing print and video onto the same page. The company shoots 100 pieces of video each day and trains its print reporters on flip cameras.

“We said, ‘It’s your last day as a newspaper reporter. You’ll write blogs, work for digital, for [the]Spanish [service] and we’ll build a TV studio and you will be on TV as well. And the quid pro quo is that instead of cutting we’ll actually invest in the news paper part,” Lynch said. That means “when we meet a local client, we have a full suite of opportunities to offer.”

While the start-up did entice some established San Diego TV talent on both sides of the camera to come on board, the station GMs in the market aren’t yet too worried about the new competitor. One San Diego vet described the UT-TV content to B&C as “radio on television,” while another cited the challenge of turning print veterans into engaging television personalities. But that hasn’t stopped the service’s confident CEO.

All for One

Lynch is, in fact, working on an ambitious new project where big local papers across the U.S. would share video through a service called VNN, or video news network. Steve Charlier, former senior VP of local media for Tribune, and Bob Cook, former president of Fox’s Twentieth Television, are consultants on VNN, which Lynch hopes to launch next fall.

VNN’s demo reel calls it a way “to unlock the value trapped inside every local market with a national network of video news creation, curation and monetization.” It will produce a 24-hour national headline report and feed the stream of content to media outlets across the country for mobile, tablet and the Web. And VNN will run a “boot camp” to teach publishers how to create local video content, “brand it, monetize it and insert it in the stream.”

“Produce it once, use it 10 times, monetize it 100 times,” said a voiceover on the demo reel. Oscar winner Kevin Spacey pops up to tout the service, pointing out the rewards of innovation—i.e. Net-flix with Spacey’s series House of Cards, which embraced targeted marketing and brand over ratings. “The audience has spoken. All we have to do is give it to them,” he said.

Lynch figures it will cost $15 million to get VNN up and running, on top of $5 million in equipment—thus exposing the risk of doing video badly. You can lose a lot of money.

As a result, video chiefs often hover between the editorial and business sides of a publication, a position that has been questioned for blurring the lines between the two.

The New York Times’ Howard reports to both executive editor Jill Abramson and VP for digital products Denise Warren. “It’s a fascinating role to be in. I feel incredibly lucky to work on both sides. With video being resource-heavy, it’s important there is a business plan,” Howard said.

If done well, the rewards could be great. Medias pending on multiscreen advertising campaigns is expected to grow from 20% of ad budgets today to50% over the next three years, according to a joint study this fall by the Association of National Advertisers and Nielsen.

Advertisers love digital video, Howard noted, because viewers can’t skip commercials like they can with DVRs.

“There’s a very healthy appetite from our advertisers,” she said. The Times’ video revenue has doubled from a year ago. To encourage traffic, Times videos are free from the pay wall that guards the paper’s digital edition. However, Howard said it’s crucial the videos expand their reach to larger portals. “We will start seeing our content in more places this year,” she said.

From Roll ’Em to Roll Out

Condé Nast’s Santarpia agrees that aggressive marketing and a wide rollout are essential. Condé Nast has 12 to 15 distribution deals with Yahoo, AOL, Twitter and others. It spends a percentage of every production dollar on marketing, including display, pre-roll and social media advertising.

Glamour, GQ, Vogue, Wired, Teen Vogue and Vanity Fair all have their own channels and lineups with shows such as Glamour’s Elevator Makeover and Vanity Fair’s The Snob’s Dictionary, for a total of35-40 original videos now airing per week.

The impact is clear. In October, less than a year after launch, Condé Nast Entertainment was ranked23 on comScore’s list of most popular online video companies—up from 108 the year before.

“That allows us to go to market with a very compelling value,” Santarpia said. Since launch, the Condé Nast networks have done business with 75-80 different advertisers.

Atlantic Video’s creative lab has ambitious plans, and several ongoing series such as Economics in Plain English, various interview shows and an interactive program with Reddit called Ask Washington Anything, where forums of people can grill politicians.

“It’s conference-style, more than a two-way conversation,” Atlantic’s Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg said of Ask Washington Anything. “The Web is evolving and lets you do things in ways you couldn’t do in a traditional TV format.”

Finding the ‘Wow’ Factor

Video execs play up the texture of the medium—motion, color, music, text, graphics—that enables rich storytelling. But a big mistake, they say, comes with simply trying to transpose print to video and ignore the “wow” factor.

Atlantic video viewership is growing, and clips are being actively passed around on social media. An episode of Economics that uses real pies in a pie shop to illustrate economic inequality was one of the most shared. “It’s a powerful image to see the giant hunk of pie the top 1% are getting,” said Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg.

Santarpia said Condé Nast will bring more of its brands to video this year and start experimenting with long-form programming—for television or competing with television. The new Condé Nast team also includes Jeremy Steckler, former executive VP of production at Imagine Entertainment, as exec VP of motion pictures to acquire and develop film properties; and Sundance Channel’s former VP of programming Michael Klein as executive VP of alternative programming.“We’re really in the first inning,” Santarpia said.

But as the print teams acknowledge, by word and by deed, they’re charged up to be in the game for real. —with reporting by Michael Malone


In 2013, print outlets have made its most serious attempt yet to compete with traditional TV, helped by ad dollars shifting online. Here are highlights of the marketplace and some key players:

  • Total online ad revenue reached $20.1 billion in the first half of 2013, up 18% from the prior-year period, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.
  • TV station online revenue is tracking similarly. BIA/Kelsey forecasts a compound annual growth rate of 13.7% for online/digital ads from 2013 to 2017, compared with just 0.1% for traditional ad revenue.
  • Publisher Condé Nast has launched seven sites for Vanity Fair, GQ,Vogue and other magazines, produced by 75 dedicated video employees under ex-CW chief Dawn Ostroff.
  • Vice, whose namesake print magazine launched its empire 20-plus years ago, sold a 5% stake to 21st Century Fox that values the company at $1.4 billion.
  • UT-TV, an ambitious venture pooling print and video assets in San Diego, pumps out 100 pieces of video per day. Its launch of similar platform VNN could reach $20 million.