Credit: By Fer Gregory on Shutterstock

Nine months ago, The Washington Post revamped its video offering, changing the strategy from daily shows and longer form storytelling to vertical video and explainer formats.

“Television on the web is not what we see the future of video as”, Micah Gelman, senior editor and head of video at the Post, told in September 2015.

Since then, the outlet’s video team has grown to 40 people and the Post has been experimenting with 360-degree video, augmented reality, Facebook Live and Snapchat, to name a few.

But when it comes to video produced and hosted for its own platform, the Post’s approach is to avoid having what Gelman called “orphans” or standalone videos, without context.

During a speech at the International News Media Association (INMA) World Congress in London a few weeks ago, he said the Post’s online video tends to always be featured as part of “larger package of content” that includes text, photos and graphics.

People are not coming to Washington Post in the morning, while they’re queuing for coffee, expecting from us a 13-minute videoMicah Gelman, Washington Post

“Seventy-five to 80 per cent of video starts on come from videos embedded in article pages and in a primary position on the website,” Micah told attendees at the event.

“People are not coming to Washington Post in the morning, while they’re queuing for coffee, expecting from us a 13-minute video. We want to provide something that is short and relevant.”

Last week, the Post published ‘Out of the blue’, a multimedia package that lets viewers experience life in the Galápagos Islands, with 360-degree video at its core.

The 360-degree footage of the island, including underwater swimming, is featured prominently on the page, but it’s designed to be consumed alongside the text information on the left hand side, the maps of the island and the still images.

While this is not the Post’s first 360-degree video piece, it is an example of when exploring a topic in this format seemed like a natural fit.

“We’ve been experimenting with 360-degree video for over a year now and we find the best way to use it is when you put the viewer in a place where they couldn’t ordinarily go, and Galápagos is one such place.

The question we ask is ‘what is going to be the most compelling bit of a story?’ If that’s the video, we lead with it and everything else becomes complementaryMicah Gelman, Washington Post

“The question we ask is ‘what is going to be the most compelling bit of a story?’ If that’s the video, we lead with it and everything else becomes complementary but if the video is what ends up becoming complementary, we’re fine with that too,” Gelman said.

The team also created a “comparable experience” of the Galápagos story for smartphone viewers. Mobile does bring some challenges to 360-degree video, he added, such as the file size, so while the 360-degree footage was included in the mobile experience as well, that variation relied more on images to illustrate the story.

The Post’s videos are supported through sponsorship with brands such as The Lincoln Motor Company, which supported ‘Out of the blue’.

In December, the outlet rolled out a new video player on the site to allow for continuous viewing while reading and scrolling down on the page, and shortly before that, they launched Flex Play, a video advertising service for producing customised adverts in multiple formats – for desktop, vertical video, 360-video.

For vertical video for example, the Post has found six-second GIFs work better as pre-roll adverts.

“That six-second GIF autoplays and it’s a lot lighter from a data perspective.

“We really feel like the ad experience needs to be improve as well and part of the challenge is that you still get a lot of 15 or 30-second pre-roll ads and that’s not great.”

Elsewhere, the Post has been experimenting with Facebook Live – it was the first outlet to use the platform to report from North Korea in May, on the Workers’ Party congress.

“I’d say Facebook Live is still a work in progress. We tend to see a lot of talking heads, two people in a room from other, and we don’t quite think that’s the right experience, so we try to go places and show things that are visual and experiential.

“There’s no great way to monetise Facebook Live yet either, so we temper that with the video we put up on our own site, where we can control the user experience.”

And even though Washington Post does not hold one of the coveted spots on Snapchat Discover, it is actively making use of the Stories feature across its desk.

Most recently, a group of the organisation’s foreign correspondents started collaborating to tell a global story on Snapchat about public transportation in different cities across multiple continents.

“Depending on the platform, we think the sweet spot is somewhere between one minute and three minutes. With longer standalone video, that’s an over the top experience for Apple TV or Fire TV.

“I like to say video should be as long as it’s interesting, but we don’t think that putting a 10-minute mini documentary into an article page is really the transaction we want with people,” Gelman said.

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