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Video in Content Strategy for Washington Post

Washington Post – Video in Content Marketing

The Washington Post was acquired in 2013 by Amazon’s Founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos, at a time when the news industry had been seeing considerable decline in their revenues from print subscription. This trend is largely due to an increasing number of people getting their news from the internet. The key challenge for WaPo in the Jeff Bezos era ahead is to execute a content strategy that maximizes their digital presence. Part of their strategy is using video in content marketing efforts.

The Washington Post since 2013 has started to aims towards expanding readership and subscription to their digital content. This is expected to offset loss of revenues from declining print subscriptions and advertising revenues. At the moment they are experimenting with various content strategies. The target is to attract newer viewers from across the globe, while retaining the quality of their journalism that have seen their staff win 47 Pulitzer Prizes. A key aspect of surviving in the digital landscape is to maintain focus on video as a central tool for journalistic coverage. In this blog I explore how video is emerging as a key component of the Washington Post’s content strategy.

Video in Content Marketing Strategy

Currently, Washington Post’s mix of video content stands at 40% original content and 60% aggregated content. The company’s near term target is to flip this statistic to 65% of their own original content to 35% sourced from other agencies.

Video in Content Marketing - shift towards creating original content

Video in Content Marketing – shift towards creating original content

The company currently has 40 people on their video staff, of which 32 are regularly involved in shooting and producing content. To expand their video offering, the company posted 30 new jobs to their video department. The objective of their video strategy is two-fold:

  • To chalk out videos that are complementary to their content strategy
  • To create videos that gain prominence on social media channels.

To get a glimpse of how Washington Post is rolling out its video strategy, I checked out the page of their video section. The main video on the page was a video report of the Oroville dam spillway, which at the time was in the risk of a massive collapse. A visual report in such a scenario adds considerable more value to the message, unlike the case of press briefings for which value addition by video over text is much less important.

This current video strategy of Washington Post is to:

  1. Complement News Story – Roll out video content that complements the news story, increasing site engagement of visitors
  2. To gain new viewers – Video has the potential to engage newer viewers much more easily. Increasing the number of casual visitors directly leads to an increase in their potential subscription figures.
  3. Emerge as a Video destination – WaPo’s investment in video means that they no longer wish to be considered just a newspaper with a video section, but rather a video destination in their own right. Making video a central part of their content strategy requires that they leverage various forms of video delivery solutions – this includes social media and Over the Top video.

Leveraging different media – Facebook, YouTube and OTT

WaPo recognize that it is much easier to monetize videos that are on their own website. However, in order to attract new viewers they need to position themselves on social media, mainly Facebook, and video aggregator YouTube.

Facebook is emerging as an important player in the video segment. WaPo’s strategy for promoting video for Content Marketing for Facebook and YouTube is different, because of the different nature of the two technology platforms. Facebook users are much more passive, and are on that site for diverse and an unspecified range of content. For this reason content on Facebook has to be designed to be inherently able to appeal to new users, and to be inherently able to become viral. Besides content on Facebook should make minimal requirements on the viewer’s attention span. On the other hand users are on YouTube exclusively to watch video, which affords the company an opportunity to show longer videos that require greater attention span, and a greater engagement with their content.

Washington Post’s Over The Top (OTT) strategy is to promote themselves as a video destination on OTT services such as Apple TV, Roku and Fire TV. For OTT content the newspaper has hired video personalities, who will be producing longer and more scripted videos with studio quality production values.

Long Term Strategy at Washington Post – Jeff Bezos era

Jeff Bezos has a brought a long-term planning outlook at Washington Post. The desired result is to make WaPo bigger and more profitable, at the same time. Before his acquisition the newspaper had remained profitable amid declining subscriptions and revenue only by decreasing the size of their newsroom. Bezos has given the company considerable leeway to experiment with different strategies in the hope of coming up finally with a winning strategy, to emerge as a key destination in the digital landscape.

Preliminary metrics look promising. The Post beat New York Times in unique visitors in October 2015 – their 66.9 million unique visitors beating the 65.8 million for The Times. They also beat the popular content aggregator Buzzfeed in February 2016 in number of page views – their 890.1 million page views beating both the Times(721.3 million) and Buzzfeed (884 million). To monetize their content the company is offering discounted subscriptions to Amazon Prime subscribers. Their digital subscription membership is also considerably cheaper as compared to The New York Times, reflecting a strategy to gain a lot of subscribers at lower per person subscription prices, with volume making up for lower per unit price. This is just one of the many experiments that the company is carrying out at the moment.

References:

Jan Ozer, The Washington Post is focused on video. Here’s Why, Digital Content Next

Brian Stelter, Washington Post launches major expansion of video team, CNNMoney

Shan Wang, In Revamping its Video Strategy, The Washington Post steers clear of imitating TV, NiemanLab

Dan Kennedy, The Bezos Effect, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy

CDN Support for RTMP Stream Declining

RTMP Streaming Protocol is receiving declining support from Content Delivery Networks CDNs). One major demand that RTMP stream places on CDNs is the requirement of an active connection between Flash Media Player and the viewer on port 1935. This is because RTMP requires a persistent connection. On the other hand streaming protocols such as HLS, DASH and HDS require streaming over HTTP, and do not require much customization, and are easily supported by CDNs. Also, with Flash not being supported by Android and iOS, RTMP use is steadily declining.

Amazon AWS on RTMP Stream

VdoCipher uses AWS CDN for secure video hosting. Amazon AWS supports RTMP Streaming

AWS supports RTMP Streaming through CloudFront

Amazon’s Cloudfront can be used to serve both the media filed and the media player. This is done through two distributions – a web distribution for the media player, and an RTMP distribution for the media files. Essentially media player files are loaded over HTTP, and once the media player is stored locally, it calls the Amazon S3 streaming bucket for media files over RTMP protocol. Cloudfront accepts RTMP requests over port 1935 and port 80.

Highwind CDN

Highwind transitioned from RTMP stream to HTTP in 2012, in the belief that the future of CDN-delivered video is cacheable HTTP Streaming. Because it allows cacheable streaming, HTTP offers considerably greater efficiencies on the server infrastructure side. Highwind also believes that the innovation in HTTP streaming protocols has accelerated, in particular in DASH (Dynamic Adaptive Streaming over HTTP), whereas RTMP has largely stagnated.

Highwinds CDN have stopped support for RTMP Streaming

Highwinds predict that DASH will become the dominant streaming protocol, and have stopped support for RTMP Streaming

Comcast CDN

Comcast had been using their own CDN for 10 years before launching their CDN for video providers in August 2015. Comcast does not support RTMP streams, and only provides support for HTTP based streaming.

Comcast CDN does not support RTMP streaming

Fastly

Fastly only supports streaming over HTTP over a Transport Layer Security, which is more advanced and secure than SSL security. For more secure video hosting, Fastly has added features for content targetting and Edge Authorization – authorization at the localized CDN level, and not at the point of media origin. This makes the process of authentication faster.

Fastly offers Secure video hosting features, but does not use RTMP streaming

Fastly offers Secure video hosting features, but does not use RTMP streaming

HolaCDN

HolaCDN is developed specifically for video delivery, and is designed as an overlay over an existing CDN. HolaCDN offloads video traffic from existing CDN, allowing the existing CDN to be used for non-streaming uses, and as fallback for video streaming. HolaCDN has optimized its CDN for efficient video delivery, claiming to provide faster and cheaper video delivery because of its video-only focus. HolaCDN only supports HTTP based streaming protocols.

HolaCDN for video hosting does not support RTMP streaming

Level3

Level 3 supports RTMP stream as an Input protocol for media files from server to CDN, but only supports HTTP based streaming protocols for video output.

KeyCDN – HLS Streaming

KeyCDN does not support RTMP Streaming

KeyCDN does not support RTMP streaming

KeyCDN does not use RTMP streaming for video delivery to end users. They rely on HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) for their video streaming. Their reason for not supporting RTMP is that iOS does not support Flash Player (which RTMP uses). If the streaming protocol for Live Streaming used by the streaming software is RTMP, you would need to convert the RTMP stream into an HLS stream. The workflow for playing RTMP encoded videos through KeyCDN is as follows:

RTMP Encoder -> Encoding from RTMP to HLS -> Pull Zone (HLS Feature Enabled)

Verizon Digital Media

Verizon Digital Media CDN uses both HTTP and RTMP streaming, although it clearly expects HTTP to continue to be the dominant streaming technology. Verizon will stop support for RTMP in June 2017

Verizons Edgecast CDN plans to discontinue support for RTMP streaming in 2017.

Tech Update: Netflix Updates Codecs Use for Efficient Encoding

Netflix have switched streaming to encoding in H.264 High Profile and VP9 (profile 0), in response to increasing processor capabilities of decoding streams online. The fact that both these compression formats have found broad decoder support from Mobile Hardware and Android OS respectively has motivated this change.

Netflix video transcoding optimization update

Netflix optimize their encoding to H.264 high

AVCHi-Mobile (H.264 High Profile) and VP9 Codecs

Essentially the difference between baseline, main and high profiles of H.264 encoding is increasing compression efficiency, with the requirement of greater decoding capability. This means that compression in high profile reduces bitrates for a given stream quality more efficiently, but decoding it requires greater processor power.

OTT Video Platforms such as Netflix encode their streams for delivery across multiple devices. There are multiple considerations when encoding for multiple-device streaming delivery:

  • User internet bandwidth – The stream should be supported across the widest network bandwidth available. Encoding for low bitrate streaming is critical for users on low bandwidth internet connections, for example users who might be streaming on mobile internet connections.
  • Processor capability – Devices such as OTT Television and Desktops have much more processing power than mobiles. Mobiles have much lower decode capabilities, because of battery considerations and because low-screen size means that streaming is already optimized for low resolution for mobile. However increasingly decode capabilities are increasing in mobile devices, and increasing demand on low-bandwidth connections requires this increased decode capability for more effective video encoding.
  • Cost considerations – Streaming at high bitrates naturally entails higher costs for video content broadcasters. There is a trade-off there between video quality and cost. Video delivery providers therefore provide the optimal resolution for a comfortable experience.

Netflix’s latest update prioritizes video quality for low bandwidth internet connections. Prior to the update Netflix used AVCMain (H.264/AVC) profile for almost all video, and HEVC for videos in Ultra HD resolution. The two new compression formats that have been introduced are: AVCHi – Mobile and VP9-Mobile.

Optimizations

In terms of optimizing video encoding, Netflix have made the following changes:

  • Increasing time period between random access points – This makes encoding more efficient, while increasing the time between I-frames, making seeking videos more granular.
  • Allowing more B-frames, and better motion prediction, to reduce the number of heavy I-frames

Per-chunk Optimization

The feature of per-chunk optimization allows encoding at different average bandwidths for different chunks of video. This is in place of an average bitrate for the entire video. This feature ensures that motion-heavy chunks are encoded at high bitrate as compared to low-motion chunks, ensuring smooth quality of video throughout the streaming process.

Conclusion

Netflix have updated to H.264 High Profile and VP9 codecs largely to maximize their reach to more number of users for reliable streaming. This update has come shortly after announcement of download feature for their mobile app. Additional optimization related to placement of I-frames and optimization of motion signify that the company is leveraging improving decoder capabilities for more efficient encoding. The resulting encoding efficiency improvements signify that AVCHi-Mobile encodes at 15-19% lower bitrates than similar quality AVCMain, while VP9 offers the same quality at 35% lower bitrate. The resulting improved quality for lower bitrate means a better experience for Netflix users.

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