Is the ‘Pivot to Video’ killing websites?


If you follow media, you probably read the big news this week: Video has killed traffic to millions of websites! Hey, at least it wasn’t millennials this time.

Your traffic on video, apparently. Not pictured, millennials

Okay, maybe it wasn’t millions of websites, but the traffic losses are in the tens of millions. And there are a few notable sites that have seen substantial traffic losses since converting sites to a video-centric strategy.

The chart below has shown up in a few places, but I found this one on a post from Digiday. As you can see, these losses are no joke.

Infogram

Of the four sites in the chart, the one that was most surprising was Fox Sports, but after I read more about the direction they’ve gone, it makes sense. My initial reaction was based solely on content – sports lends itself to video more than most other content types. I know I would rather watch highlights than read them.

So what happened? In the case of Fox, it’s not that video doesn’t work, it’s that they went to an extreme. If you visit foxsports.com today, it’s all video. If they could do headlines as video, they would. They have abandoned the written word.

I have to assume that all of these sites expected a drop in traffic, but I’m certain their projections didn’t look like the chart above. This is worse than what happens after a site puts up a paywall.

So do users hate video more than they hate paying for things? I doubt it. I think this could be a combination of a few factors:

  1. A miscalculation in our data-rich world;
  2. listening to advertisers rather than the audience;
  3. a lack of knowledge on the difficulties of video discoverability;
  4. trying to keep up with where Facebook and YouTube want to push publishers.

Any one of these factors, and more, could send publishers down a rabbit hole looking for answers. Or maybe, just maybe, I’m wrong. Maybe they expected this and they are playing a long game.

What if the KPIs they’ve decided on for their organizations are not based on traffic? What if they see where video is going and are looking ahead three, five or even 10 years? Maybe they have bigger, longer-term goals in mind. After all, the chart above shows how much traffic has fallen, but it doesn’t say what has happened to time on site metrics.

Think about it. What if, in 1979, Sports Illustrated decided to abandon the written word and create a 24/7 cable network dedicated to sports. Traffic metrics – however they would have been defined at that time – would have plummeted and they would have been soundly criticized. Would they have dominated TV and culture like ESPN has for the last few decades?

Who knows? What I do know is that if I’m one of these publishers, and I have a board willing to stomach short-term losses for long-term profits and growth, it’s worth a shot. It’s not like display CPMs are improving.

In media, the one thing that has been true since the 1950’s is, regardless of platform, video is not going away, and it will eventually consume everything it touches.

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