With Video Being The Future Of Digital Journalism, Indian Express Goes Strong On Its YouTube Strategy

Over the last year Indian Express has invested on videos from creating exclusive videos to creating mobile review videos. We look at the YouTube video strategy

A fortnight ago, a video showing a friendly fist fight resulting in a teenager’s death went viral on the Internet. The friends who were present at the match allegedly hid this from the family, telling them that the 17-year-old Nabeel Mohammed died in a motorcycle accident. The suspicion that something was amiss arose when Nabeel’s father Dastagir Mohammed came from Saudi Arabia, where he works as a driver, and after his son’s burial, started questioning his friends about the incident. After a case was registered, the police was lucky to retrieve one video that shows what happened during the bout.

The video retrieved from the phone shows Nabeel’s friend Owais Mohammed Patel punching him and delivering what look like heavy blows on his head, chest, abdomen and kidneys, soon after the bout began, early morning on May 3. Owais appears to have not stopped even when Nabeel went limp for a few seconds before collapsing on the road.

The story was reported by all major media houses; Indian Express, Indian news media publishing house also covered the story but along with a video which fetched 88K views on its YouTube channel.

The video, although an amateur one with raw footage shot from a smartphone,  substantiates the story. “We realized that our reporters are present at places where the TV reporters won’t end up. So we started going to such places and shooting very basic videos that would add value to the story. A lot of this is happening in a very non-techie kind of environment where somebody is sitting in a remote part of India and sending me footage on WhatsApp. These are not great videos but they are interesting,” Nandagopal Rajan, Editor New Media at the Indian Express said.

Taking me through the entire video journey so far, Nandagopal informed that the publication has started taking videos seriously for a year now. Earlier the publication would only host entire videos from its popular event ‘Idea Exchange’. But soon it realized that there were no takers for 15-20 minutes long video.

To adopt today’s consumer behavior that prefers bit size information, Indian Express started uploading 1-2 minutes long video that would tempt users to click on it. For instance the Arun Jaitley talk on Idea Exchange got more views on YouTube for the section where he talked about why his government chose to ban the BBC documentary India’s Daughter.

Another video section that Indian Express has been working on is technology with a special focus on reviewing latest smartphones.

Hasn’t that already been done by so many tech bloggers? “Tech videos are quite popular but most of these video blogs just read the specs. We started doing so that a layman who has no understanding of any specs can understand what the phone is going to do for him by seeing our video reviews. We have also done some exclusive video reviews and videos from the big tech shows,” added Nandagopal who does most of these video reviews due to his extensive experience in the field.

Apart from the tech video reviews, there is one more small series that he was excited to talk about - the Explained video series. The idea behind these video series is to pick up relevant topics valuable to a reader and explain it in a very simple manner in the form of expert videos. For instance the below video features Praveen Swami, a journalist known for his expertise in international strategic and security issues, explaining the recent Iran Nuclear deal and what it means for India.

Right now the series has only a handful of videos but going further Indian Express wants to build it up so that every day the publication can feed these explained series to its readers.

The year long video investment has been fairly successful in creating a cultural shift where every journalist is thinking “what multimedia am I bringing to the story?” added Anant Goenka, Wholetime Director & Head - New Media, Express Group.

He further added, “And often, without knowing it, the research behind a story has content in digital formats which could add tremendous value for the reader and improve our storytelling. This culture of thinking in multimedia makes the job a lot more transparent and has several editorial advantages that we’ve seen. Recently, we published a piece on MoS Kiren Rijiju saying “I eat beef, who can stop me.” He later said he was misquoted by the Express, but didn’t realise that we had a Soundcloud and video of his statement published on our website through an embed of our YT player.”

Providing another popular instance, Anant talked about the Coast Guard breaking story where the video backed up the authenticity of the content published by Indian Express. “Video also helped when our reporter got a coast guard DG commenting on Pakistan’s terror boat. We broke the story on web at 11pm, carried in print in the morning, by 930 am the coast guard announced a press conference to say the DG in question was misquoted and by 1130am we published the video of him making exactly those statements.  So video at the Express so far has largely been used to complement our content.”

At present all the video content is hosted on its YouTube page which has 4K plus subscribers. As of now the publication has no intention to host the videos on its platform as it will increase a lot of cost and time even if it means holding the traffic on your platform.

“Lots of publications are hosting videos on their platform but hosting video is very resource intensive business that we don’t want to incur. Most of the video viewing happens on the article page itself where the video is embedded. So we are not losing any traffic”.

However, Indian Express is quite keen to publish videos on the Facebook platform for the simple reason - the reach that the network is providing. “On YouTube discovery is via search and on Facebook the same video is being served. There might be very interesting video content on YouTube but the user is not aware, compared to Facebook the video is coming to the person. This is where the reach of Facebook is exponentially more compared to YouTube”.

At present the video team is really small but in the coming months, the plan is to expand the team and do more videos. However, Anant thinks that some small steps with original made for web videos because he thinks that video on digital platforms is the opportunity newspapers have (for a change) to innovate with format and content.

Going further the Indian Express video strategy will keep focusing on the web by keeping a clear difference from a TV format video.

“We are not looking at a system where every story will go with a video wherever it adds value to the story. Video should not cannibalize the text but it should supplement the text. However the future of digital journalism is going to be a lot of videos because the digital natives are more inclined to see a video and hear rather than reading a 600-800 word copy.”