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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

2 hours ago - World

Tunisian president ousts prime minister, suspends parliament amid unrest

Tunisians stage a protest in response to the problems in the health sector in the country, demanding the resignation of the government and the dissolution of the parliament in Tunis on July 25. Photo: Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Tunisian President Kais Saied announced Sunday that he had dismissed the country's prime minister and frozen the parliament amidst mass protests in the country, Reuters reports.

Why it matters: The move, which comes on the 64th anniversary of Tunisia's independence, escalates Saied's longstanding feud with Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and poses a challenge to the 2014 constitution that "split powers between president, prime minister and parliament," per Reuters.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Pelosi appoints GOP Rep. Kinzinger to Jan. 6 committee

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Sunday that she has appointed Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) to serve on the House select committee investigating the Jan 6. Capitol riot.

Why it matters: Pelosi's announcement comes after she rejected two of the five Republican appointments offered by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

USCP chief: Officers testifying before Jan. 6 committee "need to be heard"

Thomas Manger, the new chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

New Capitol Police chief Tom Manger said officers testifying before the Jan. 6 select committee this week "need to be heard."

Driving the news: The select committee's first hearing is set to take place on Tuesday and will feature testimony from law enforcement officers who were subject to some of the worst of violence during the insurrection.