The rise of VR, live video and new content formats

As demand for online video surges to record highs, two Asian newspaper stalwarts have developed their own popular digital news offerings, each in different formats and platforms.

After seeing its audience consumption habits shift rapidly to mobile, the nearly 90-year-old Chinese-language Sin Chew Daily in Malaysia, the largest-selling Chinese-language paper outside Greater China with a daily circulation of about 400,000, made the bold move to launch pocketimes.my, a fully mobile online video service. Since 2014, it has produced thousands of videos, mostly in-house.

‘Know your audience’

After training its staff in video skills, pocketimes.my now produces a variety of video product offerings. These include twice-daily five-minute-long newscasts, explainer videos (e.g. What is Brexit?), a weekly talk show called Pocket Talk, and breaking/live news coverage (e.g. its 40-hour live coverage of the 2015 Bersih clean government rally and its 14-hour live show as the 2015 Sarawak state election results unfolded).

“Pick the right event to go live, (something) your audience cares about. Entertainment videos rarely work for us, so know your audience well,” advised Tan Lee Chin, Chief Content Officer of MCIL Multimedia, previously Sinchew.com.my’s online editor.

Pocketimes.my is also a vehicle for revenue generation. It has developed Pocket Health, a five-minute-long, 20-episode health information show sponsored by a traditional wellness company and a popular 20-episode reality show called VJ Search.

VJ Search was an integrated marketing solution in the form of a three-week bootcamp for 10 finalists vying to be a Pocketimes.my host. The four-month-long sponsored campaign involved seven roadshows across Malaysia and was widely cross-promoted in the newspapers and digital platforms.

Besides producing original content, Pocketimes.my also acquires shows from China and South Korea, sells advertisements on these programmes and even offers digital product placement.

Chosun Ilbo’s VR unit

Looking further north, South Korea’s most widely-read newspaper, Chosun Ilbo, has turned to virtual reality (VR) to grab the attention of its flagging Millennial reader demographic. It launched a VR unit in December 2015, comprising a director, two team members and one intern. Because it has no production personnel or equipment, it outsources production to VR partner Pocket Memory. Each three-to-five-minute clip costs upwards of US$2,500 to produce.

According to Hyo-Seop Shin, head of the 96-year-old newspaper’s Digital News Division, which is pioneering VR journalism in South Korea, the story remains at the heart of every VR project. Stories are selected based on news values, whether they are 360-degree friendly, and whether they are in hard-to-access places. The team’s most popular story so far has been the behind-the-scenes construction of South Korea’s Lotte World Tower.

(See another recent story of ours about Chosun Ilbo here.)

Broken lenses and frozen batteries

“It was one of the first three VR stories we did. It was freezing cold and we had many accidents while shooting, but seeing Seoul cityscape from the highest building in Seoul was unforgettable. It was the best user experience through VR!” said Shin, whose team had to contend with strong winds, a broken lens and batteries that stopped functioning in the cold.

Other VR stories produced so far include preparations for the Pyeongchang Winter Games, nearly 30 clips at the Rio Olympics, presidential election campaigns and behind-the-scenes looks at a butterfly park, fashion show, K-pop star training and medical surgery. The team has also received enquiries from advertising agencies for native advertising solutions. Its first sponsored VR video featured skydiving by Special Forces soldiers. The client: South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense.

Product strategy at TechCrunch

When it comes to launching new products, Nicole Wilke, TechCrunch’s head of product, has a slew of progressive product strategy tips and approaches to offer. She urges managers to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses against the backdrop of challenges faced by the industry, prioritise goals in terms of whether they involve high or low effort and seize opportunities. Such opportunities for TechCrunch and its big sister, Wired.com, include:

  • Experimenting early and often with emerging technologies and platforms, such as WordPress VIP, Facebook Instant Articles, Google AMP and Chatfuel, for first-mover advantage. TechCrunch manages to do this with a team of only two engineers, leveraging off its strong partnerships with technology providers.
  • Using smart products to grow and support its events business, such as creating its own event networking app for participants at its flagship Disrupt conference and using WordPress VIP plug-ins to build its own Disrupt marketing site. This site was later re-skinned for native advertising.
  • Prioritising mobile when designing or revamping products to drive users back from platforms directly to its own products.

Drawing from the experience of both Wired.com and its predecessor, HotWired, the first commercial content site on the Internet, which launched in 1994, and later how their print and digital newsrooms, tools and processes were integrated and editorial and sales efforts synergized, Wilke had this reminder, “Execute brilliantly. Keep your team focused so that you can achieve big wins, maximize efficiency, validate big bets early and often with testing.”

Such a strategy has enabled Wired.com to win four Webby awards including for best magazine site, make its website load twice as fast, achieve a 71-percent increase in mobile traffic, and establish the online publication as a leader in high-impact, beautiful advertising.