In June, the Washington Post, where videos began during the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal in 1998, announced PostTV, a full-on video channel. In Play is a political show with Chris Cillizza. In Political Dictionary, host Aaron Blake explores the origin of popular political terms ( veep is traced to Alben Barkley, veep for President Harry S. Truman.) First and 17 is a documentary that follows the Vikings, a Woodbridge, Va., high school football team, through a season.
The Journal, another early video venue, has WSJ Live, which offers shows such as News Hub, its twice-daily journo flagship; a huge video archive; and original programs.
In July, Vanity Fair, which has been producing videos such as The Decades Project for a while now, announced its own video channel. Shows include The Vanity Code , with how-to's on things such as, oh, how to behave at a swingers' party. @VFHollywood with Krista Smith turns Smith's popular column into five-minute chats with celebs: Robin Thicke on "Blurred Lines"; Rachelle Lefevre on Twilight, etc. Vanity Fair distributes the shows on its YouTube channel and many other platforms.
Ads hover around, before, and sometimes within, many of these offerings. But it's still too early to put a dollars-and-cents value on streaming video.
The Fourth Estate 2.0 isn't - because it can't be - the same as regular old TV. This is the Web. Productions stress brevity, sass, swooshes, quick cuts, clever visuals. "Anyone can make a video these days," says Fred Silverman, CEO of NewsLook, which helps companies create video offerings. "But a video of a talking head? No. You want video that is good video. Show the fire down the street. That's compelling."
"We're way past the point of simply showing reporters on camera," says Andy Regal, executive producer at WSJ Digital Video Group. "We're in competition with anyone who makes video. We want to use all the tools to do a new kind of storytelling."
"There's no longer a hard line between traditional print and visual any longer," says Sara Murray, multimedia producer and anchor/reporter at WSJ Live. "Any print story is a visual story."
Streaming video is not about just showing - it's about getting viewers to share things they like with others, helping content viralize, growing the audience. Andrew Pergam, senior editor of video for the Washington Post, says, "A huge part of our content is being looked at by people away from the site - that means they're sharing it." Regal of the Journal reports that more than half of WSJ Live's audience sees its content off-site. Pergam says, "I want you to put our stuff on Facebook, link to it on Twitter. That's how we grow audience."
It's also about creating things - products, features, stuff - you can't get anywhere else. Pergam refers with pride to Obamacare Explained, in 2 Minutes, in which Wonkblog's Sarah Kliff gives us a swooshy, quick-cutting intro to the huge law. A feature called TruthTeller soon will automatically test political speeches for truthiness. Regal of WSJ Live (which has its own Obamacare explainer) likes Startup of the Year, a docu-series in which 24 new companies vie for that title while being coached by 40 global business greats (Sir Richard Branson, will.i.am, etc.).
Why the video turn? The decline of print and the rise of user-friendly video technology.
"Publishers are trying to grow their audience," says Alan D. Mutter, a consultant in new-media ventures involving journalism and technology. "A lot of people on the go are not going to sit down for a long read. Younger audiences are attuned to the quick hit, the infographic, the video that makes a complex story accessible and vivid."
Meanwhile, there is the turning point called YouTube, which gave video to all. Since YouTube, Internet culture has changed. In a word, video is exploding.
"In the last seven years," says Kristen Purcell, associate director of research at the Pew Internet project, "we've seen the growth of an online video culture driven by YouTube, but also by the cellphone, as it has gotten cheaper and more user-friendly." A new Pew study finds that 31 percent of all viewers consume vids online and that 18 percent create vids. The number and proportion are growing massively.
All of which is why, says Silverman, "a new kind of storytelling is arising. A lot of walls are falling."
These media sites are learning, Mutter says: "They'll have gotten there when they learn to tell the stories people want and help them find them."