The video rev­o­lu­tion is upon us – is your pub­lish­ing house ready?

An in­ter­view with Michael Rosen­blum

The Insider - - FRONT PAGE - By Gayle Moss

Main­stream me­dia has been an in­te­gral part of our lives since the dawn of the print­ing press. Sadly, it was never able to fully cap­i­tal­ize on dig­i­tal and mo­bile. So what lies ahead for it in a video-dom­i­nated world that is just around the cor­ner? In five years, 70% of mo­bile traf­fic with be video, fore­casted to grow 50% in rev­enues, reach­ing US$25B glob­ally by 2021.

Will the fourth es­tate be ready?

In a re­cent Reuters In­sti­tute sur­vey, 79% dig­i­tal lead­ers said they planned to in­vest more in on­line video this year.

Clearly the rush is on, but do pub­lish­ers re­ally un­der­stand what they are get­ting into? Do they know how to cre­ate qual­ity video in a highly ef­fi­cient way? Do they have a clue how to mon­e­tize it?

To help an­swer those ques­tions and pro­vide pub­lish­ers some in­sights into the op­por­tu­ni­ties this brave new world of­fers, I reached out to some­one who, for over 25 years, has been lead­ing the charge in the dig­i­tal video­jour­nal­ist rev­o­lu­tion and driv­ing a com­plete re­think­ing of how tele­vi­sion and on­line video is cre­ated, con­trolled and mon­e­tized — Michael Rosen­blum.

Thanks so much for join­ing me, Michael. I un­der­stand you’ve helped tran­si­tion some tra­di­tional me­dia to the world of on­line video pro­duc­tion by train­ing and equip­ping their staff. Can you please share a bit more about that?

Many years ago, I sold one of my first com­pa­nies to [Arthur Ochs]”Punch” Sulzberger, who was then the pub­lisher of The New York Times, with the prom­ise that I would cre­ate the video ana­log of The New York Times for tele­vi­sion, long be­fore the in­ter­net took it. I be­came the Pres­i­dent of New York Times Tele­vi­sion. That was in 1992, so Punch was way ahead of his time, but he could see what was com­ing.

Since then, we’ve con­sulted, trained and worked with many news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines around the world, from The Daily Tele­graph, to The Star-Ledger [Ne­wark], to all the McGraw-Hill mag­a­zines, to many of the Condé Nast mag­a­zines, a pub­lish­ing group in Bel­gium called Con­cen­tra, and some news­pa­pers in Ger­many.

All news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines to­day un­der­stand in­trin­si­cally that they have to be in the video busi­ness in some way. What they don’t un­der­stand is how to do it, or how to make money at it. Those are two ar­eas that we think we can be help­ful to them.

What they end up of­ten do­ing is hir­ing a lot of washed-up net­work peo­ple who bring in very ex­pen­sive, and to my mind, out­moded means of cre­at­ing video, in a very cost-in­ef­fec­tive way. And they end up pour­ing a lot of money into things that no­body ac­tu­ally ends up look­ing at; they never see a dime.

Mon­e­tiz­ing any kind of con­tent, these days, is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. What are some of the ways that these types of pub­li­ca­tions can ac­tu­ally make money from video con­tent?

Ac­tu­ally, as it turns out, video con­tent can be in­cred­i­bly valu­able in the right place. At the mo­ment, the right place is ca­ble TV. There are more than 40,000 tele­vi­sion chan­nels around the world, about 2,000 in the United States, but 40,000 glob­ally. They all need con­tent. If you have a lin­ear tele­vi­sion chan­nel, you need to put con­tent on it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. That’s an enor­mous de­mand for video, and these peo­ple pay for it.

News­pa­pers are in the busi­ness of ag­gre­gat­ing and cre­at­ing con­tent on a daily ba­sis. They un­der­stand how to do this very well. There are two prob­lems with this. First, they do it in print, which is fine, but not a great money maker. Sec­ond, they do it for them­selves, which is a very old model in a world in which dig­i­tal con­tent can be spread across many, many plat­forms.

News­pa­pers need to get into the tele­vi­sion busi­ness, not the video on­line busi­ness. And they can do it be­cause it’s very in­ex­pen­sive to cre­ate very good qual­ity video con­tent on a very reg­u­lar ba­sis, if you do it prop­erly.

The mar­ket for this stuff is not pre-roll, and it’s not on their web­site. No­body cares or is re­ally go­ing to go to news­pa­per web­sites to spend a great deal of time look­ing at video.

You have to re­mem­ber that news­pa­pers are in the

busi­ness of not just do­ing news. They’re also in the busi­ness of do­ing mu­sic, sports, en­ter­tain­ment, the­ater, arts, cul­ture, food and travel. There’s a global mar­ket for that kind of video on an on­go­ing ba­sis all over the world.

News­pa­pers can be­come the providers of that con­tent to tele­vi­sion sta­tions, ca­ble sta­tions, on­line feeds in the United States, in­ter­na­tion­ally -- pretty much ev­ery­where. Those peo­ple all pay for it, so there’s a ma­chine here to make money if news­pa­pers can get out of two parts -- one news, and two pa­pers. If they can wrap their heads around be­com­ing dig­i­tal con­tent cre­ators and dis­trib­u­tors, in­stead of news­pa­per print­ers, then they can make a for­tune, but most of them can’t wrap their heads around that.

Re­cently, Pew Re­search Cen­ter re­ported that younger Amer­i­cans pre­fer read­ing the news as op­posed to watch­ing it. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Like any poll, it de­pends on how you ask the ques­tion. If you be­gin with news­pa­per read­ers, or peo­ple who read news, or look for news, that may still be the case. I mean, I like to read, but I’m old.

But, if you look at the ag­gre­gate pop­u­la­tion of the United States, the av­er­age Amer­i­can spends five hours a day watch­ing tele­vi­sion, and nine­teen min­utes a day read­ing, so the pre­pon­der­ance here is for video-driven con­tent. Now, once again, it’s this hang-up on news, per se, that is the knife in the chest of news­pa­pers.

I get three or four pa­pers de­liv­ered here ev­ery day, and the vast ma­jor­ity of what’s in the pa­pers is not ac­tu­ally news. It’s opin­ion. It’s sports. It’s the­ater. It’s ed­i­to­rial. It’s the mag­a­zine. It’s fash­ion. That’s why peo­ple read or look at news­pa­pers. That’s where the com­mer­cial value is.

It’s fine to do news, and that’s great; in fact, news can be a loss leader, in some ways, be­cause you don’t

“They’re all go­ing to die, not be­cause they don’t make great con­tent; they do make great con­tent. They’re all go­ing to die be­cause they don’t un­der­stand how to sell it.”

make any money at it be­cause you can’t re­run it. You can’t sell it to any­body. The money here is in the other stuff that they should con­cen­trate on mak­ing, and more im­por­tantly, on sell­ing.

Loved your blog post about sav­ing the BBC. Re­minds me of John Oliver’s rant on the fu­ture of news­pa­pers. What other net­works and pub­lish­ers do you feel are worth sav­ing, given the grow­ing opin­ion that many are go­ing to go down the drain.

They’re all go­ing to go, even my beloved New York Times is go­ing to go down the drain. I’ll tell you a very in­ter­est­ing story about the Times, be­cause I had such a good re­la­tion­ship with them.

If you look at their web­site, they make fan­tas­tic videos. They make some of the best video journalism that’s around to­day, but hardly any­body sees it be­cause who goes be­low the fold, who clicks on the thing? Who wants to sit through the long video and even find the stuff.

As we said in the last ques­tion, the pre­pon­der­ance of peo­ple who go to the news­pa­per site ba­si­cally just want to read the pa­per, so the video is dead be­fore it gets started. I wrote to Arthur and I said, “Look, you have all this fan­tas­tic video. Let me ag­gre­gate the video that’s on­line and pack­age by cat­e­gory – sports, mu­sic, travel… stuff like that. I’ll li­cense it around the world. Even if you get $1,000 from Slove­nia, and $500 from Poland, and $1,000 from Slo­vakia, what’s the dif­fer­ence? I’ll take 30% as a com­mis­sion. I’ll give you the rest. You don’t have to do a thing.”

I think they ag­o­nized over it for a while, and fi­nally the CEO, Mark Thomp­son, wrote back and said, “We ap­pre­ci­ate your of­fer, but we’ve de­cided to keep it be­hind the pay wall.”

That is the height of stu­pid­ity! Let’s put it some­place where hardly any­body looks at it and let’s de­rive al­most no value from it. There’s a global mar­ket of about three bil­lion peo­ple, and let’s limit it to our sub­scribers. Dumb, dumb, dumb! That doesn’t an­swer your ques­tion, but it does al­low me to ex­press my frus­tra­tion.

They’re all go­ing to die. They’re all go­ing to die, not be­cause they don’t make great con­tent; they do make great con­tent. They’re all go­ing to die be­cause they don’t un­der­stand how to sell it. It’s a new world and they’re still in the busi­ness of, “It’s our news­pa­per. It’s our con­tent. Peo­ple will pay to come here.” That is very 20th cen­tury think­ing.

At the 2015 Mo­bile Journalism Con­fer­ence (Mo­jo­con) you pre­dicted that the most suc­cess­ful news or­ga­ni­za­tions in the fu­ture will be those that have no jour­nal­ists work­ing for them at all. We’re al­ready see­ing some young en­trepreneurs try­ing to do ex­actly that. Fresco News – a cit­i­zen-driven plat­form for break­ing news con­tent is just one ex­am­ple. The founder and CEO, John Meyer, is not a jour­nal­ist, ed­i­tor or pub­lisher; he’s re­ally the Uber, or Airbnb of pub­lish­ing.

I think that’s ab­so­lutely true. There are two tech­no­log­i­cal driv­ers here, work­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously to cre­ate a kind of a per­fect storm. The first one, of course, is the in­ter­net, which al­lows the trans­mis­sion or shar­ing of video for free, glob­ally.

The other one is the ad­vent of iPhones and smart­phones which can­not only shoot video, but edit it and share it for no cost. Not that many years ago, if you wanted to get a cam­era crew out from a net­work, it was in­cred­i­bly com­pli­cated. You had five guys. You had a crew. You had a truck. You had a he­li­copter. You had a plane.

Now, there are ap­prox­i­mately 3 bil­lion peo­ple in the world with smart­phones that have video ca­pac­ity. That means we’ve gone from a hand­ful of tele­vi­sion crews around the world to about 3 bil­lion TV crews that can be put into ef­fect at any mo­ment. Other than guys like John Meyer, no­body wants to plug into this thing be­cause it un­der­cuts the no­tion of, “I am a jour­nal­ist and you are not,” when in fact, I think in this world, we are all jour­nal­ists.

If you look at the most suc­cess­ful pure on­line busi­nesses, Face­book, Twit­ter, In­sta­gram and other in­for­ma­tion busi­nesses, they are all 100% user-gen­er­ated. There’s not one pro­fes­sional writer who works for Face­book. There’s not one pro­fes­sional writer who is em­ployed by Twit­ter.

And yet you see they gen­er­ate bil­lions and bil­lions of views, and hun­dreds of mil­lions of up­loads ev­ery day. That’s where the fu­ture is, and that’s where the news busi­ness is. It’s not in the busi­ness of pro­duc­ing news; it’s in the place of be­ing pub­lish­ers. In other words, you have all these peo­ple con­tribut­ing to this ma­trix of in­for­ma­tion. The best thing that the news in­dus­try can do is to tap into this gi­ant well­spring of con­tent, se­lect the best peo­ple, and pub­lish their con­tent.

The anal­ogy here, and I think it’s a fairly good one, is the im­pact of the in­ven­tion of the print­ing press on the world of writ­ten lit­er­a­ture. Be­fore the print­ing press, only monks in monas­ter­ies could write Bi­bles. That’s all they wrote, and it was very ex­pen­sive and dif­fi­cult to do. The ad­vent of the print­ing press lib­er­ated and de­moc­ra­tized the medium, so any­one with an idea could pub­lish. Of course, you had mil­lions of peo­ple writ­ing and pub­lish­ing, most of it ab­so­lute garbage.

But what arose with that was a con­cur­rent in­dus­try of ed­i­tors, and pub­lish­ing houses, and places like that. They found the most cre­ative and dy­namic and in­ter­est­ing peo­ple and, es­sen­tially, shaped them and owned them. Then they pub­lished their work, and worked with them to get their work out to the pub­lic. That’s where the tele­vi­sion, me­dia, news, on­line, iPhone in­dus­try have to get to.

It’s re­ally in­ter­est­ing be­cause I’ve asked this ques­tion to some of the in­dus­try pun­dits, and they typ­i­cally re­spond by say­ing cit­i­zens can’t be jour­nal­ists be­cause they are not prop­erly ed­u­cated.

It’s ter­ri­ble. I taught at both Columbia and NYU journalism schools. Be­lieve me, they’re nice kids, but they’re com­pletely in­com­pe­tent. The great irony here is that all “jour­nal­ists” claim to love a free press un­til they’re ac­tu­ally faced with one. They run away scream­ing, go­ing, “No, you don’t un­der­stand. We have to have con­trols.” This is a free press. The world of tele­vi­sion and video has never en­coun­tered a free press be­fore, and now, thanks to tech­nol­ogy, they’re en­coun­ter­ing it for the first time, and pro­fes­sional jour­nal­ists are ter­ri­fied of the im­pact. They should learn to em­brace it.

So if the most suc­cess­ful pub­lish­ers in the fu­ture will em­ploy no jour­nal­ists, who do you think could be that pub­lisher? This looks like a huge op­por­tu­nity, that’s not be­ing ex­ploited right now.

That’s cor­rect. No­body had done this. The irony is that news­pa­pers should do it. They un­der­stand what makes a good story. They have a good re­la­tion­ship and they have a fan­tas­tic brand. This is some­thing they should tap into, but most news­pa­pers run scream­ing from new tech­nol­ogy.

You know, when Craig New­mark launched Craigslist in San Fran­cisco, it was just him in a garage. He was three blocks away from the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle. The Chron­i­cle could have adapted Craigslist the next day, and the news­pa­per would be worth 30 bil­lion dol­lars.

They didn’t do it be­cause they’re ter­ri­fied of new tech­nol­ogy, de­spite all their protes­ta­tions about how they want to be­come dig­i­tal. They don’t re­ally. What they re­ally want to do is pre­tend that they’re dig­i­tal, and con­tinue to work in the same ana­log way that they’ve al­ways worked. Yeah, the peo­ple who should tap into this are the ex­ist­ing news­pa­pers, who are in such eco­nomic trou­ble. This could be the sal­va­tion of their busi­ness, but I don’t think they’ll do it.

So that begs the ques­tion…if you could give pub­lish­ers one piece of ad­vice, go­ing into 2017, what would that be?

Burn it [their ex­ist­ing busi­ness] to the ground.

When new tech­nolo­gies come along, ex­ist­ing busi­nesses tend to take the new tech­nol­ogy and jam it into their old way of work­ing. What they have to do in­stead is lis­ten to the tech­nol­ogy. The tech­nol­ogy will tell you what to do, but you have to have an open enough mind to lis­ten to what the tech­nol­ogy is telling you. Three bil­lion smart­phones around the world mak­ing con­tent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, com­pa­nies like Twit­ter, Face­book and In­sta­gram hav­ing val­u­a­tions of bil­lions of dol­lars, and are 100% driven by user-gen­er­ated con­tent, is say­ing some­thing very clearly.

So it’s not a ques­tion of, “Oh, we’ll take our news­pa­per and put it on­line so peo­ple can see it, but we’ll still have one re­porter in Viet­nam, and one bu­reau in Ja­pan.” This is in­sane! So when I say burn it to the ground, it’s not phys­i­cally, but it’s psy­cho­log­i­cally.

Whether they have the abil­ity to do that or not, it gen­er­ally doesn’t hap­pen. Lou Ger­st­ner did it at IBM, but it’s very, very hard to do. It only takes one pa­per to do this, be­cause there’s so much op­por­tu­nity and so few peo­ple who are do­ing it. If one news­pa­per could re­ally have the courage to step up to the plate, and move from pro­ducer to pub­lisher, I think they could own the busi­ness.

What’s your fo­cus, go­ing into 2017, in your busi­ness? Any­thing new you want to share?

We’ve been run­ning video boot­camps for our cor­po­rate clients for years. And very much in the model of, we’ve just launched an on­line video train­ing, specif­i­cally ori­ented to­wards news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines and jour­nal­ists, called

We have at­tempted to cap­ture what made, and con­tin­ues to make, our in-per­son boot­camps so pop­u­lar and ef­fec­tive. Over the years, we have cre­ated and dis­tilled an en­tirely new way not just to teach video lit­er­acy, but to think about and work with this new medium. I in­vite ev­ery pub­lisher out there to give it a try.

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