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News videos are becoming increasingly important for publishers online, so cracking the format is key to keeping audiences engaged.

Almost a quarter of respondents surveyed as part of the Digital News Report said they watched online news videos weekly.

But what makes them press play? Online video is a challenge both for those new to producing this type of content and for broadcasters who have to think differently about their approach.

Experts from Spiegel Online, France24 and the BBC discussed their strategies at the GEN Summit in Barcelona last week.

"I think up until about two years ago we were pretty much clipping telly and putting it online, and we have found out that that doesn't work at all," explained Inga Thordar, editor, BBC World News.

Experimenting with tone and format

A key consideration at the BBC was to produce online videos that would also work for a television audience, said Thordar.

"What works on social media and what works on mobile is completely different to what works on the site, and is completely different to what works on television so we've been experimenting with length."

One of the formats the broadcaster has been experimenting with is the first person piece, where the reporter has been cut out, allowing the subjects to tell their stories in their own words.

Thordar explained this approach involved a lot of "talking to our reporters about delivering things less formally".

Another format that works both online and on television is the explainer video, she said. Explainers can add value to stories published online and at the same time they can be used on television ahead of a discussion or expert interview.

Explainers can also be shared on social media, where the BBC has amply experimented with news video. A video format the BBC has designed specifically for social media is BBC Shorts, for example.

But technology "keeps creeping up on us all the time," she said, "and we're constantly having to think about formats".

There's room for longform

While Thordar's advice is to keep online video as short as possible "within the editorial guidelines you set yourself', at Spiegel Online, head of video Sven Christian says it's about context.

"We have a web TV station... where we show half-an-hour up to three-hour documentaries, and they're successful because we changed the surroundings."

Christian explained Spiegel introduced a player without any distractions on the page around it so viewers can concentrate.

"Those very, very short [videos], they sometimes don't carry enough information," he said.

The video strategy at Spiegel Online can be summed up as "show, not tell", and it was born out of past mistakes – before, videos used to include the same information presented in the text around them, said Christian.

Thinking outside the website

Three years ago, France24 didn't have a strategy for online video, but now it's all about mobile, social, millennials, and those who think like millennials, said Sylvain Attal, chief editor, new media.

In 16 months, France24's video views went from 8 million per month to 25 million.

Attal explained that out of the total figure, 20 million are watching on other platforms such as YouTube, and the rest, 5 million, on the France24 site.

Video hosts often source questions from social media and integrate elements of online culture, such as memes, into their interviews.

"Our growth will be essentially on external platforms," he said, explaining how the state-funded France24 already has a partnership with YouTube, livestreaming their content on the video site.

The livestreaming increased the number of subscribers to the channel "dramatically". "This is the first thing to do to reach more people," he said.

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