Sparking Action in Audiences: An Interview with Group Nine Media
By Bree Brouwer · April 23, 2019
Group Nine Media was named one of the top ten most-watched media companies in the world by Tubular. The company is home to digital brands Thrillist, NowThis, Seeker, and The Dodo, which ranked #5 on Tubular across all U.S. media creators in 2018.
As a founding member of the Global Video Measurement Alliance, Group Nine is a true thought leader not only in best practices for video success today, but also in how value can be unlocked for advertisers and publishers globally via the establishment of new video measurement standards.
In this interview with Group Nine, we sat down with Chief Insights Officer, Ashish Patel, and Senior Director of Research, Bobby LaCivita, to discuss the company’s digital video success in 2018. Click the questions below to jump to each insight!
- What was Group Nine’s primary goal for 2018 when it came to video?
- How did you define success across those goals?
- What does winning a Tubular VideoAces Award mean to you?
- To what do you attribute your 2018 accomplishments and your VideoAces Award win?
- How does data and video intelligence help drive your success?
- Where do you find inspiration?
- What was your biggest lesson or take away from 2018? If you could change one thing you did, what would that be?
- What are the unique challenges for video in 2019?
Tubular: What was Group Nine’s primary goal for 2018 when it came to video?
Ashish Patel: We are a fully distributed media company that primarily produces and distributes high-quality video IP. Our focus is always to understand the different platforms where people spend their time and why, so we can create stories that are contextually appropriate for those video destinations.
Being one of the largest distributed players out there, our primary goal last year was increasing our reach to more users on previously unexplored channels. But we didn’t stop there. We also aimed to increase the time users spent on our content across the board.
In other words, more people, more places, more time– all of these things tied into the underlying goal of creating meaningful brands and more IP – more original storytelling that has lifetime value.
T: How did you define success across those goals?
AP: Audience reaction is at the forefront of our minds when determining what content is successful or not. For example, if our stories reach a large audience, that shows we understand the market opportunities. From a KPI perspective, success means reach coupled with engagement and time spent on content, with no one particular metric taking precedence.
That being said, we also play the long game and consider how the lifetime value of our content can be turned into revenue. For us, that means that we need to see our content continue to engage our audience at similar or increasing levels over time. At that point, we can consider means of monetizing our audience’s attention.
T: What does winning a Tubular VideoAces Award mean to you?
Bobby LaCivita: It’s market validation for our video efforts. We’re constantly looking at competitors and new players in this space, so being able to see ourselves in the same company as some of the most prolific, long-standing, legacy media brands — as well as other new players — is really exciting for us.
We hope to continue to see this kind of annual success accredited by a third party like Tubular. The VideoAces categories help us contextualize the audience opportunity in each genre or topic of interest, and not just from a competitor perspective.
We’re also able to see the big volume and engagement drivers in each space in both the U.S. and global markets (e.g. the demand for travel content is different than for food). Overall, this means we can better identify white spaces in each category in terms of content strategy.
T: To what do you attribute your 2018 accomplishments and your VideoAces Award win?
AP: Our content optimization strategy leverages massive amounts of consumption data (115K video views per minute) and has been key to our success. Our approach is different from our competitors in that we’re focused on a bottom-up optimization process instead of trying to replicate viral hits.
We don’t believe virality is replicable, so we don’t spend too much time looking at our viral hits. We focus more on what didn’t resonate with our audiences and trying to test and eliminate that content.
BL: This process of understanding the signals around content performance involves many moving parts, including flexibility and collaboration between our insights team, content creators and internal production crews, along with the ability to test data-based assumptions quickly and get them to market.
We’ve become more skilled with leveraging data points to understand where the numbers are pointing to. That in turn helps us know when the creatives need to take over. It’s really all about being nimble and translating the data into feedback that content creators can actually implement.
T: How does data and video intelligence help drive your success?
AP: Our obsession with understanding the consumption metrics on each of the different platforms where we distribute our video content has helped us understand different use cases for different platforms.
For example, we were one of the first to realize that there were dominant, but different, formats for each platform. Last year, however, we saw platforms beginning to replicate similar features. As such, we became more focused on creating content that fits into four different buckets of formats, which are popular across all social video platforms and their features.
Stories is the first, and most nascent, while in-feed video is often autoplay with text on screen. Each platform also has a place for longer-form, episodic series. Broadcasting or live streaming is the final format similarly found across all platforms.
BL: Overall, our audience-first, platform-specific content approach helps us reach 80% of young adults in America every month and clearly positions the stories we want to tell in the best manner for each platform.
While this builds our brands’ editorial output, Group Nine’s data-driven learnings into audience preferences also benefit our sales team. Contextualizing our video performance against competitors using industry metrics and benchmarks (like Tubular’s) helps us illustrate Group Nine’s market-leading success to clients and buyers. Thanks to video data, we can hone in on the metrics that matter to advertisers.
T: Where do you find inspiration?
AP: We view Tubular’s curated sections and reports as a great indicator of whitespace trends. For example, a trend we were seeing on Tubular was esports content being uploaded and consumed at an increasing rate. It got us thinking about analyzing the market space as to what existing media companies were doing, and the possible angles we could start pursuing to address that topic.
Overall, if we see trends on our side, we want to validate those ideas against a larger data set and get a better understanding of what stories we can tell in the industry.
This is where Tubular comes in; the software’s video data has been key to contextualizing our success. We can then figure out if these achievements stem from a particular property, platform, industry trend, unique ideas on our end, etc.
T: What was your biggest lesson or take away from 2018? If you could change one thing you did, what would that be?
AP: We were acutely aware of how quickly the video marketplace was evolving and is continuing to evolve. We realized we had to be flexible and disciplined as we attempted to find multiple revenue streams to move our young company forward (Group Nine formed in December 2016).
You just have to remain really nimble. Having as much intelligence about what’s happening across the board is as crucial as ever, because it’s fairly easy to make quick and rash decisions that can change the nature of your business. That’s something we want to continue to avoid.
BL: It’s interesting to watch how, in some cases, media distributors will abandon really carefully thought-out principles when something like a tech disruption or algorithm change happens.
That’s where our audience-first approach has enabled us to continue having a successful year in 2018 and going into 2019. Our strategy is built upon a diversified editorial portfolio across different platforms and formats, audience consumption data, and an emphasis on meaningful engagement and longer watch time (i.e. more premium assets).
We believe this will drive greater resonance and affect users’ preferences down the road.
T: What are the unique challenges for video in 2019?
AP: The marketplace has exploded and there are more videos and more places to watch them than ever before. This means that media companies such as ourselves have to cut through the noise and create unique experiences to stand out. And we’re doing just that — building brands that really matter to people.
We want our videos to have a real-world impact, and hope that they spark action in our audiences. Additionally, our content should help drive business goals for advertisers. We’re trying to stay on top of the pack from a quality perspective, and quantify the fact that our videos are more impactful than the next person’s.
BL: The reason we’re working with Tubular on GVMA is that it validates how much of a challenge measurement is for the industry right now. With all of this change — and all of the platform, audience, and device fragmentation every single day — it makes consistency and contextualizing the metrics that we value for success extremely difficult.
We’re working on consolidating the metrics that matter, keeping them consistent, deciding what is a valid reach number or what is a valid watch time qualifier.
We’re also thinking a lot about the principles we’ve developed on the measurement side and how to best apply them in this fragmented landscape.