Winning in the Content White Space: A Chat with Barcroft Studios
By Bree Brouwer · May 28, 2019
Barcroft Studios, a digital media publisher that focuses on human interest stories in documentary style, generated more than 5.4B views in 2018 across 22 different social video platforms.
Barcroft’s work is wildly popular with its 14 million global subscribers and followers on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. While they call the UK home, almost 40% of Barcroft’s audience across all platforms comes from the U.S., with India, other parts of Asia, Europe, and Australia.
Not to ignore Snapchat, Barcroft boasts a massive following (25 million) on the platform, possibly making them one of the biggest content producers on that platform in the world.
What can media publishers learn from Barcroft’s success?
- Paying close attention to what its communities care about.
- Using data to verify and respond to these reactions with new content.
This is particularly impressive considering Barcroft didn’t start out as a video publisher. It was the company’s attention to community tastes and stories that skyrocketed it into the digital sphere.
In this chat with Barcroft, we dig into how that happened — read on for more!
Becoming a Digital Media Leader by Targeting the Tails
Launched as a press agency in the early 2000s, Barcroft Studios was originally meant to be a place to get photographs for press and publisher needs. However, as the company’s employees traveled and took these stock photos, they kept stumbling on amazing stories from their subjects and people they met around the world.
Eventually, these discoveries became the editorial basis for Barcroft’s transformation into a video-focused, storytelling business. With a simple and unequivocal motto of “amazing content,” the publisher now produces around 20-25 original, short-form documentaries per month for its social video accounts, of which it boasts 22 different properties each with its own look, feel, and unique editorial angle.
“YouTube operates similar to a traditional channel, showcasing our new content from across our different series, while on Facebook each show has its own page and community that engages with the content,” explains Nick Wheatley, New Business Director at Barcroft.
Take Born Different, for example. This Barcroft property features incredible stories of people around the world challenging barriers and stereotypes, like this limbless Playstation gamer or these conjoined twin brothers (the property’s most-watched video to date at 192M views). The property’s appeal is contagious, and the numbers prove it.
In April, Born Different was the sixth most-watched Facebook entertainment creator in the whole of the United Kingdom, and was #30 globally across all genres on the most-watched Facebook publishers leaderboard.
Last year, the property pulled in 884M views on Facebook alone. When its Snapchat version launched in October, Variety reports the channel saw 5.2M views in its first day. And so far this year, Barcroft’s Born Different Facebook page claims 1.2B views.
That’s not the only vertical ringing true with Barcroft’s followers. Consider the examples of extreme animal moments Snapped in the Wild and body-positive, anti-hater beauty vertical Shake My Beauty, both of which shed a light on previously-untold stories, which, consequently, provoke powerful responses from their followers. Snapped in the Wild was the #1 most-watched UK creator on Facebook in March in the animals & pets category, while Shake My Beauty landed at #3 that month for overall beauty creators on Facebook in the UK.
These verticalization efforts also mean Barcroft sees some of the highest average 30-day viewing rates (V30) across global media companies on Facebook — the publisher is often in the top five for this metric on a monthly basis. In the last 90 days, for example, Barcroft placed fourth across media publishers on Facebook with an average V30 of 2.7M views.
“Like-minded users coalesce around content that means something to them and so our films get shared a lot,” said Wheatley. “When a story inspires, uplifts or evokes emotions in a viewer they want to share that with their friends. We see a strong correlation in the data between how much a story has been shared in the first few days and how well it will go on to do in the first 30.”
Clearly, finding white space content works for Barcroft. But how does the publisher know what stories to work on next?
Trusting the Community to Inspire Video Strategy
Barcroft considers its passionate viewers not as faceless “audiences,” but as a community. And in many cases, the publisher relies on these communities to determine what content to create next. Sometimes, viewers will react strongly to a specific moment in a series or video, which can later be developed into a whole new vertical or show.
This happened with Barcroft’s video “My 300lb weight loss left me with 13lbs of excess skin.” “We featured the story of an overweight man at one point, and the community response to that was huge,” says Wheatley. “They were sharing before-and-after pictures of their weight loss journeys, which spawned our idea for a new weight loss series we knew would resonate with them.”
Of course, if publishers went on gut alone to develop new content, mistakes can easily be made. That’s why Barcroft also relies heavily on the use of video intelligence to inform the direction of its video strategy.
“We use data at a top level to analyze performance and advise our creative and editorial process,” explains Wheatley. He says this takes three main forms for the publisher:
- Data shows which types of content resonates with viewers so Barcroft can make similar films in the future under the same series.
- It allows Barcroft to spin-off series from existing ones based on the performance and, more importantly, the engagement data of specific films with a theme or a talent the publisher wants to develop.
- Based on how one film has done, Barcroft can then revisit that character to make follow-up content.
“In terms of publishing strategy we use data to see how things perform based on when and how we publish,” Wheatley adds. “This is mainly focused on time and day of the week. We also can see how new tools from the platforms perform like ‘Premieres’ on YouTube or ‘Watch Parties’ on Facebook.”
Barcroft’s massive success with identifying and creating niche content through both its community and video insights is a valuable lesson for other publishers to consider. The bigger the world of online video gets, the more important it will be for all media companies and publishers to develop raving communities and give them quality, talk-worthy content driven by data.