What Content Companies Can Learn about Online Video from Yahoo and Twitter

Aug 11, 2016

No other news has hit quite as hard or caused as much speculation within the online video industry as the recent news of Yahoo's acquisition by Verizon, as well as Twitter's second quarter earnings report. Many experts are pondering the future of the brands, speculating on how Verizon will integrate Yahoo into its fold or debating about the sustainability of Twitter as a whole. But there's an important lesson to be learned for content companies from Yahoo and Twitter's pasts, which shouldn't be overlooked.

For starters, those of us who've been connected to the web since the early ‘90s are more than familiar with Yahoo's rise to power and fame as one of the top online publishers around. The brand was, in many cases, the go-to source for news, search, weather, and even some videos (usually related to news stories). But then things slowed down for Yahoo, and as digital video grew, the so-called internet giant struggled to keep up. While it eventually decided to invest in original video content like Sin City Saints and Other Space, and even chose to acquire NBC's Community, the hypothetical train had already left the station.

Yahoo's original videos didn't garner much attention compared to titles from competitors like Amazon and Netflix. In fact, Yahoo ended up losing around $42 million on its video efforts. Many digital media experts believe Yahoo's lack of success in original video stemmed from the fact that the brand was simply too cautious about going full-throttle into that realm, and consequently held back on developing an aggressive online video strategy as well as marketing what original series it had (whereas Amazon, for example, wasn't afraid to employ traditional marketing tactics like billboards and bathroom signs for an Emmy campaign highlighting its hit digital series Transparent).

Similarly, Twitter was a shiny new toy when it arrived on the social media scene... but then it seemed to stall in terms of invention and risk, as well as general user appeal. Sure, for a while Twitter was the best destination for quick, text-like conversations outside of your smartphone's contact list, but now there's Snapchat for that. But really, the boldest move Twitter has taken in years was the purchase of live streaming app Periscope. And that decision could end up being Twitter's saving grace.

CEO Jack Dorsey certainly seems to think so. In the company's Q2 earnings shareholder letter, he wrote, "We remain focused on improving our service to make it fast, simple and easy to use, like the ability to watch live-streaming video events unfold and the commentary around them." Twitter's Q2 report arrived a few weeks after the company made it possible to embed live streams on the web. The Q2 report and Dorsey's comments also came just a day after the company announced an important new live streaming deal centered on major sports brands such as the MLB and NHL; those organizations will soon start streaming exclusive content to Twitter.

So what does all this talk of Yahoo and Twitter mean for content publishers, brands, and companies pursuing online video? In essence, it's a warning sign of what not to do. Both Yahoo and Twitter failed to innovate and update their brands as time went by, which typically spells doom for any company. If you're not willing to take calculated risks with your content and brand, you simply won't stay on top of the ever-competitive (and ever-changing) game of online video and digital entertainment.

On the flipside, however, content publishers and brands can also take a positive cue from Twitter, a company which is still trying to rectify its past mistakes and misguided attempts at staying relevant with a plan Dorsey firmly believes will help monetize and revive the plateauing platform. If your company is in similar shoes but you know you can turn things around, why not push ahead? Plus, if you take a well-informed, calculated risk with your content based on a clear understanding of your audience and what they want to see from your brand, you have a higher chance of staying in business longer than your competitor who's not doing the same thing.

It could be argued that Yahoo tried to take a calculated risk with its original video push, but for the most part, Yahoo did not invest nearly as much money into marketing its original videos and series as other media companies routinely did and do (as noted above). Let that be a lesson to Twitter as it moves forward with its live streaming initiatives, and let it also be a lesson to publishers and brands trying to be forward-thinking in their content and online video efforts.