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Newspapers And Video: Slow And Steady Or Flood The Zone?

The Wall Street Journal (NSDQ: NWS) has embraced video with gusto. The venerable paper is pumping out hours of live news clips and splashing them onto everything from the iPhone to the X-Box.

According to Alisa Bowen, General Manager of the Journal’s Digital Network, the paper now has its video on more than 15 different platforms.

“The growth is exponential,” said Bowen, citing three factors that is causing video to take off. “The devices work, consumers have the bandwidth and advertisers are increasing their budgets.”

What this means in practice is that the Journal is showing over four hours a day of live video on devices like the iPad and also using that footage to place clips on platforms like Boxee, Roku and YouTube.

The Journal’s head-first dive into video contrasts with the New York Times’ toe-in-the-water approach. The rival paper is showing just two short clips every day, branded as TimesCast and the newly added Business Day Live.

Bowen says the idea of “WSJ everywhere” taps the convening power of the brand and that its ubiquitous video is now an “inseparable part of the Journal experience.”

An abundance of video also gives news makers more chances to tap a lucrative ad opportunity. NYT media reporter Brian Stelter recently described how the prospect of $20-$50 CPM’s (ad price per 1000 views) is leading everyone from Politico to the Huffington Post to attempt video plays.

Overall, then, the Journal appears poised to use its mass of content to gain the strategic and financial edge in the market for news video. But it may not be simple.

One potential hiccup in the “WSJ everywhere” scheme is that much of the content is virtually unwatchable. While viewers may accept a clip that lacks studio-style polish, they will probably balk at a six-minute clip of a fidgety print reporter who can’t make eye contact with the camera.

Bowen says that readers’ desire to engage with their favorite reporters will outweigh any objections to the production value. Still, it’s hard to believe that even the most fanatical Journal reader would use their X-Box to watch what, in one case, appeared to be a home Skype recording in which the reporter was at times drowned out by a barking dog.

News makers may be glad to meld print and broadcast forms of journalism but their audience, who have watched TV before, may prefer a more conventional respect for formats. In this respect, the Times go-slow approach might make more sense.

But what of the chance to using video volume to grab all those ad dollars? This concept too could use more scrutiny. According to a source who is a broadcast reporter for a business website, video news reports receive little traffic. The opportunity for a viral viewing bonanza comes instead, she says, via short and snappy interview segments with CEO’s and other high profile business figures.

This suggests that traditional news organizations should try to rack up their CPM scores through a few home runs rather than hundreds of bunt singles.

This does not mean the Journal’s current strategy is wrong, however. Even though much of its video content is questionable, the experience the paper is gaining at delivering that content could prove to be a strategic win in the long-term.

The Journal is poised to become the first newspaper to master video delivery on multiple platforms. The only wildcard is whether its audience will still be willing to watch by the time it does.

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