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Survey: Young people don't like video news content

How many people feel about digital publishing’s focus on news video. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Rich Anderson
How many people feel about digital publishing’s focus on news video. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Rich Anderson

As scores of irritating autoplay videos in your Facebook (FB) newsfeed may have told you, video is the hottest thing in digital publishing right now. It’s not hard to see why: A video playing on a computer or mobile device typically has a captive audience, and the advertisement that comes before it can’t be scrolled and ignored past like a banner. For advertisers, it’s like applying the Ludovico technique from “A Clockwork Orange”—a guarantee of a successful ad view.

In the industry’s more and more quixotic quest for sustainable monetization, video investment has skyrocketed, buoyed by Facebook prioritization of video content, a convenient delivery system in the post-homepage era. For example BuzzFeed, a bellwether of digital media trends, recently performed a second reorganization this year, steering its ship strongly towards video. As its CEO Jonah Peretti wrote at the time, “As digital video becomes ubiquitous, every major initiative at BuzzFeed around the world will find an expression as video.” This pretty much reflects the views of most publications today—including this one.

Of late, however, video has taken on bubble-like qualities, and in the past few weeks two facts have emerged that suggest the walls of the bubble are getting thinner—not just big as the social media feeds suggest.

To start off, Facebook has defined a “video view” since at least 2014 as “a view of three seconds or more.” (A “video play” is the solicited version, where the user clicks on the video.) Though this isn’t really different from a traditional banner ad conversion standard, the meager number garnered attention last month when the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook had artificially inflated video views by 60%-80%. That we are experiencing a boom in online video is indisputable—the numbers have been staggering—but it might not be quite as sweet as reported.

The digital content video boom suffered a second hit, this week, when a Pew survey found that younger adults—the millennials advertisers spend billions wooing—prefer text to video when consuming news, a big part of digital publishing. In fact, the only demographics that preferred watching news were people 50 or older, and they tended to watch on TV, not online, by an overwhelming margin of 88% to 4% (a few did not discriminate, apparently.) Across all ages, the younger the demographic the more people preferred reading news over watching it. Though 46% of Americans prefer watching news, the number fell to 38% among people 18 to 29. (Of this young, tech savvy demographic, 42% prefer reading it—and online.)

Given the advertising industry’s affinity for surveying, this revelation can’t really be a surprise, so it may not end up being the pencil that pops the Bubblicious, but it certainly jives with some basic facts about video.

Lest we forget, videos ask far more than any other type of content (for now, until VR booms). Time-crunched or impatient viewers can’t skim a video quickly as they might a listicle—the previous big craze in digital publishing ushered in by Buzzfeed. Additionally, while viewers can now watch and understand a video without sound thanks to subtitles, they manifest more as an attention grabbing technique to get viewers to unmute than a viable audio substitute for someone looking to consume content without headphones.

The list of potential reasons Pew survey respondents might like to keep their news in written form goes on and on. It’s hard to save videos for later, there’s an increased data demand, it drains battery faster, it freezes computers, it has awful and distracting music, it can’t hyperlink to sources and relevant content, and it means you have to go out of your way to hit the pause or mute buttons. Of course, video’s imposition and demands from the consumer is one of the key reasons why advertisers will pay publishers more for it—it’s way harder to ignore.

This isn’t to say video isn’t as effective as text as a means to communicate information or entertain. With today’s technological capabilities and viewer demand, it only makes sense to invest in video. But if the media industry wants to remain stable it needs to recognize that while it may be okay to be mobile or video first, there’s a good chance it won’t work out if you’re not consumer-first and know when to stick with good old text.

Ethan Wolff-Mann is a writer at Yahoo Finance focusing on consumerism, tech, and personal finance. Follow him on Twitter @ewolffmann.

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