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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Publishers that spent years investing in making dozens of viral social media videos every day are pivoting their production efforts to creating high-quality, episodic video series that can be sold or licensed across many different video channels.

The big picture: For many publishers, viral video — the holy grail of traffic just a few years ago — has now mostly become a marketing tool, due to changing consumption habits and tech platform dynamics. Now, series and shows are being created and leveraged for better revenue and audience development opportunities.

"Almost all video publishing we do now is through a series. We don't really do one-off publishing any more. We're big believers in serialized programming as a mechanism for intentional viewing and for building a bigger brand."
— Matthew Segal, Co-founder and CEO of Attn

Why it's happening: The shift began over a year ago, when tech companies began investing in over-the-top (OTT) and series video — like Facebook Watch — and when subscription video on-demand companies — like Netflix and Amazon — began investing in publisher content, according to several publishing executives.

"In the last year, we've seen a shift sort of after the high-high of The Facebook Live 'watermelon explosion' era. And publishers across the board, I think, saw a decline in how many people were watching their videos. It was an indication that it wasn't a direction to keep pushing on."
— Shani Hilton, VP of News and Programming at BuzzFeed News

Between the lines: Revenue opportunities, mostly advertising-based, around feed-based video content, also became difficult to rely on with traffic fluctuations. Publishers found that series-based content, which is usually sponsorship-based or are paid for through a licensing fee, have become a more consistent revenue stream.

  • "I think that in some ways revenue is a little bit easier in part because potential partners really understand what a premium show or episode is as opposed to a viral video — there’s transparency around it," says Hilton.

Be smart: Several publishers argue that you can't completely abandon short-form video, because it's helpful from both a marketing and data perspective.

"The two are extricably linked together. The series we are developing depends on data points around engagement from feed content. It's not an either-or scenario."
— Athan Stephanopoulos, President of NowThis
  • Stephanopoulos also notes that presenting content in the feeds of readers on larger platforms (like Facebook and Twitter) is still a good way to reach audiences with breaking or timely news. "We still see value in feed-based content informing audiences about the news of the day. But at the same time, you need to invest in OTT in order to develop the relationships to be able to go deeper with the stories you cover."

Who's getting it right? Axios asked publishers which of their peers seems to be breaking through. Overwhelmingly, the answer was Vox, as well as Buzzfeed and The New York Times. "They do what they’re known for well," said one executive. "'Explained,' Vox's new series on Netflix, is a good example. It's true to the core of their editorial focus."

🎧 Worthy of your time: Digiday's Brian Morrissey has one of the best interviews to-date about this shift with Complex Networks CEO Rich Antoniello. "The big problem with the 'pivot to video' is that very few people are spending any time or money focusing on and what is your individual strategy and what is that content and how does it differentiate and what is the value to end "f***ing consumer?" Listen.

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.