in journalism

Why so many publications are “pivoting to video”

This morning, we learned that Mic is laying off 25 staffers and pivoting to video. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the same thing happened recently to MTV News, Vocativ, and many, many other publications.

So why are so many publications pivoting to video? Where is the demand for this video coming from? And why do the results of these pivots often fail to inspire confidence?

For some guidance, I’d recommend checking out this Twitter thread by Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall. I’ve embedded the first tweet and recommend that you follow Josh on Twitter. For the sake of readability, I’ve included the full text of his comments below.

With the news that yet another publication is “laying off staff to pivot to video”, I wanted to return to what is driving these moves. You may know me as a writer or pontificator. But what I know best is running digital media sites. No site is “pivoting to video” because of audience demand. Not even close. They are pivoting to video because the industry is in the midst of a monetization crisis.

Expectations for digital ad revenue were unrealistic. There was already an excess number of publications relative to ads. And then coming into that already difficult situation, the platform monopolies started scooping all the money. Most of the money invested in these sites did not anticipate this set of circumstances. That was a mistake because most but not all were visible years ago. In this difficult environment, there appears to be one pot of money available: ads on video. And there’s one potential source of audience: viral videos driven by social media platforms like Facebook. Facebook also wants access to the video ad pot of money.

So the investments were made on the flawed predictions. The money that was supposed to be there is not there. And the video money bucket is the only available option.

Now, my personal take is that the video money bucket is largely a mirage. Everything up to this point is a dead certainty. My prediction about the video money bucket is a prediction. Not certain. But my best guess. The point is that from a financial point of view the “pivot to video” makes sense in this context. It’s usually not presented very honestly because it’s presented as the amazingness of video which everyone is going to love. Really it is at best indifferent to consumers of news. But it’s still worth understanding what’s driving it. The real key is that the financial models are driving in a direction that has zero to do with readers. That won’t end well. Again, no publisher is “pivoting to video” because of anything to do with reader/audience demand. Not in the news and political news space. Not even close.

This is needless to say a disaster for a lot of journalists. And I expect more of it. I am happy and grateful to be able to say that nothing like this is in the offing at TPM. That is because we saw of this coming a few years ago and shifted our business model accordingly. We are putting our resources not into video nonsense but rather new content that will increase the value of our membership program.

The key issue, though, as I see it is that the business model too many of the pubs are premised on is flawed and it is in addition to being flawed it is (if not collapsing) then rapidly deteriorating and very importantly out of sync with audience interest and demand. Again, that won’t end well.

Let me end by thanking our audience. We have a dedicated audience which allows us to with any triumphal spirit. I say it simply to explain to people outside industry, the business side of the industry, why it’s happening.

Platforms like Facebook control the vast majority of ad money, and editorial content is following the money, even if the money is not necessarily aligned with the public interest or even reader’s interests.

What’s fascinating is how every single publication has gone through this has presented this as some kind of audience-centric decision in service of innovative storytelling. In reality, publications like Mic are subject to the whims of Facebook’s algorithm.