Online video took off as broadband access to the Internet grew. About 65 percent of the U.S. adult population had home broadband access as of December 2012, compared to less than 10 percent in 2001, according to surveys by the Pew Internet & American Life Project. The percent of home broadband connections has been steady since about 2009 - fluctuating between 62 and 66 percent.
The popularity of online video is exemplified by the success of YouTube, which launched in Februrary 2005 and in 2012 was exceeding 4 billion views of its videos per day and 1 billion unique visitors each month. For more data on YouTube videos, see YouTube's statistics page.
Newspapers and Video
The explosion in online video prompted many print publishers, especially newspapers, to hire videographers and push their news staffs to start producing lots of videos in the mid to late 2000s.
Newspapers surpassed broadcasters in total minutes of video streamed online in the 3rd quarter of 2010, according to a study Brightcove did of a sample of traffic on its video platform. Newspapers also tended to produce more shorter pieces than broadcast companies, according to the study done by Brightcove and the TubeMogul video analytics and advertising platform.
Some of the fervor about video waned in 2011, and a lot of newspapers are cutting back on video production and laying off video journalists, according to an Associated Press study. This was in part due to the continuing economic slump that caused major reductions in newsroom staffs.
Another problem is that video production hasn't necessarily translated into big viewership numbers. See, for example, this GigaOM story on the Brightcove study of newspaper video streams.
Too often newspapers have adopted a helter skelter approach to shooting videos that results in lousy videos and few viewers. See the Onion's take on this: Blood-Drenched, Berserk CEO Demands More Web Videos.
Despite the challenges, media companies continued to launch new video initiatives, in part to try to cash in on increased interest by advertisers in placing ads in online videos.
Huffington Post launched its own HuffPost Live video channel in August 2012, featuring a live newscast with an accompanying stream of live viewer comments.
The Center for Investigative Reporting launched a YouTube channel called I Files in August 2012 that features videos of investigative stories done by a variety of investigative journalism organizations. The project is designed to promote investigative stories using YouTube and better understand best practices in web video produced by investigative organizations.
The Washington Post launched PostTV, a series of online video news shows, in July 2013.
The New York Times began producing Times Documentaries in summer 2013.
See below in the Popular Videos section for additional video initiatives by the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets.
Videos about stories that play to the power of visual storytelling, however, have proven quite popular.
This Detroit Free Press video of Ernie's Market and its 1 1/2 pound made-to-order sandwiches got 5,000 page views the day it ran (the video was produced by Free Press photo and video journalist Eric Seals, who attended the May 2008 Knight Digital Media Center multimedia training workshop).
Video can be very effective at bringing to life an interesting or animated character or a central place in a story, like Ernie and his sandwich shop. Video also is a very good for telling stories about food and places that serve food.
See also the Boston Globe's 7-part series on Ted Kennedy that received 2.5 million pageviews the month it was published in February 2009. There were video centerpieces on each day, which were heavily viewed.
Video of natural disasters and political turmoil also is extremely popular. See the study by Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism on the most popular news videos on YouTube.
Raw video of dramatic events, including clips shot by regular people, also is usually very popular, sometimes more than professionally done newscasts of the same events. The Project for Excellence in Journalism study of YouTube found that 42 percent of the most popular news videos was raw footage, and 39 percent was done by citizens.
Another news outlet that has had success with news videos is the Wall Street Journal, which was doing 10 million video streams a month in 2010 and nearly 20 million by May 2012. Raju Narisetti, managing editor for The Wall Street Journal’s Digital Network, told Nieman Journalism Lab:
“From a business point of view, we cannot generate enough video streams,” he said. “We are sold out. There is no shortage of demand to generate more video views."
In 2011 the Journal launched WSJ Live, which provides live and on-demand videos to multiple platforms. In 2012 the Journal added WorldStream - very short news video segments shot by reporters on their mobile devices.
The Miami Herald said its video traffic grew 25 percent in 2010 and was the 2nd biggest driver of visits to its website behind text stories.
Other publications have found that just using a larger video player and displaying it more prominently on the home page can substantially increase viewership. Gannett reported that viewing of videos at its newspaper websites increased 700 percent after it introduced a larger, more prominent video player in 2011.
Because so many options are available to viewers online, videos need a strong opening to grab the viewer, and then usually need to be fast paced to keep the viewer's attention.
Length of Videos
People also generally prefer shorter videos on the web, in part because a lot of video viewing is done while at work, rather than during leisure time.
But there are indications evening viewing of web videos is growing, and tablet devices may increase leisure time viewing of video even more. On the other hand video viewing on cellphones is also on the rise, and smaller videos may be more popular for cellphone users because they're often consuming media on their phones while on the go.
Still, if the video is compelling, it can be pretty long.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism study of YouTube found that the average length of the most popular news videos was 2 minutes and 1 second - significantly longer than a typical local TV news story but somewhat shorter than a network evening news story.
And while TV news stories follow pretty rigid rules for length, popular videos on YouTube were of widely different lengths. Thus 29 percent of the most popular YouTube news videos were less than a minute, 21 percent were one to two minutes, 33 percent were two to five minutes and 18 percent were longer than five minutes, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism YouTube study.
Bottom line - the videos should be as long as you think the story warrants. To quote Brian Storm of MediaStorm:
"It is a common misconception that video on the web has to be less than three minutes or no one will watch it. We have proven that to be false. Our video stories are usually in the 10-15 minute range and the average viewer of our stories has a completion rate of 65% regardless of duration. For us, it’s about producing a story that is worth your time."