Experts from Vox, Vice, YouTube discuss the exploding field of online video

By Paul Sarconi

October 27, 2014

Online video is everywhere. It’s engaging. It’s cheap. And it’s going to get even bigger. That about sums up what three experts talked about at a recent discussion about online video, sponsored by the magazine department at the Newhouse School. The panel included: Sterling Proffer, a Newhouse alumnus and general manager of Vice News; Valerie Streit, audience strategist for YouTube; and Chad Mumm, vice president and creative director of Vox Media. Assistant professor Corey Takahashi organized and moderated the panel.

Here are four high points from the talk:

1) Video Will be King of Content In the Coming Years

Over and over, panelists discussed the value of video in today’s media. Mumm talked at length about the importance Vox places on creating video content. He went as far to say that Vox is as focused as much on video as it is on text. He also says video is as cheap to make as it has ever been and advances in production capabilities allow Vox and Vice to compete with more traditional and much larger media companies.

Mumm went on to say that many new companies, like his, are able to post video to the web faster than some traditional media, which often gives them an edge.

2) Social Media Has Become a Major Source of Media Consumption

Panelists also addressed social media’s role in spreading content across multiple platforms. Streit talked at length about YouTube’s efforts to create a site for creators. She cited a YouTube-created channel called the Creators Hub, as an example of the ways YouTube is helping its users become producers. The Creators Hub features YouTube stars explaining how they create and distribute their successful work. It’s been a great resource for aspiring video makers, Streit says. Despite this, YouTube is still only part of the equation for video makers.

“We get flak for ‘You can’t sustain a business on YouTube,’” Stein says. “You shouldn't. It should be a part of a larger business.”

3) Advertising is Critical to Supporting Digital Operations

The topic of paying for media in the future was also discussed at length. The unanimous conclusion is that the traditional idea in journalism that editorial and business (advertising) must remain separate is dead. The only alternative is to get viewers to pay for content, which they don’t want to do. Mumm says combining editorial and advertising could be beneficial at times.

“We want to create great media and hope to have advertisers help us make it,” Mumm says.

Proffer says video has huge potential to draw in advertising.

“Working in video is the main growth driver in the business opportunities in online media,” Proffer said.

Proffer says video is less expensive to make now than it used to be, but it’s still expensive. That’s why advertising support is still important, he says.

“Your content strategy is inextricably tied to your business strategy,” Proffer says.

4) Audience Interaction is Shaping Content

The panelists talked about what an important role the audience plays in the development of media. Mumm and Proffer talked about how Vice and Vox want to appeal to a younger, smarter audience that is engaged with the content. For Vox, Mumm says viewers are factored into every piece of content the company creates.

“Technology is validated by users,” Mumm says. “We can only get better through audience feedback.”

Proffer agrees, placing perhaps an even higher emphasis on the power of viewers.

“The best accountability that you have is your audience,” Proffer says.

The discussion concluded with each panelist offering a piece of advice for the student-heavy audience. Each emphasized the importance of having multiple skills when leaving college. The term “jack-of-all-trades” was thrown around frequently, and Proffer described the phrase’s value.

“You should learn at least a little bit about a lot of things,” he says. “Even if you don't have to do all those things, you have to speak to the people who do all those things.”

Photos by Cherise Permaul, of the Newhouse School.

Paul Sarconi is a sophomore and broadcast and digital journalism major.