If you have ever silently prayed for relief from the endless stream of baby videos, animal videos, baby animal videos and all the other user-generated content that fills our social feeds, we have some bad news: You ain’t seen nothing yet.
Representatives from News Corp. have started showing off Storyful, a service it had been using for years to find viral and newsworthy Web video content. It’s now going to be pushing it on advertising agencies and marketers that are hoping to publish more content on their own.
Since it acquired Storyful for $25 million at the end of 2013, News Corp. has seen plenty of success in selling itself as a purveyor of news and viral content. It was serving 900 clients in October 2014, and that number now exceeds 2,000. But now that the service is in operation, how much more amateur video content might wind up in our feeds?
Cheaper Than Advertising
In some sense, amateur or user-generated content is a perfect raw material for marketers: Licensing it costs far less than producing something original, it has a veneer of authenticity and it has the potential to take off. According to research by the Interactive Advertising Bureau, user-generated content also indexes better on social media and in search engines.
Yet brands and ad agencies are also leery of user-generated content: Few want to risk outrage (or litigation) by using something without permission, and tracking down the original rights holders to secure an agreement is often cumbersome and time-consuming. “Everybody says, ‘80 percent of the Web is user-generated content, but I don't know what to do with it,’” Storyful CEO Rahul Chopra told International Business Times. “'Who owns that baby video? What about that Vine?’ It was too much.”
Storyful tries to solve that problem by tracking down content owners and securing agreements with them before their content blows up online. The company uses a mixture of proprietary technology that scours social networks and communities, and human editors, who have been trained to track down video rights holders to either buy the content outright or get them into revenue-sharing agreements.
News Corp. and its own news organizations already use Storyful’s technology to find footage and information they can use for stories. It recently used the tool to find drone-captured earthquake footage on Facebook, images of natural disaster and riots. “Some of the most iconic images and footage you've seen over the last couple of weeks comes from us,” Chopra said.
Broader market indicators suggest Storyful is coming out at the best possible time. Research published recently on eMarketer found that more than half of all marketers will be increasing their content marketing budgets this year, and a large majority – 72 percent – are generating more content this year than they were the year before.
“This is a trend that’s taking off across the industry,” said Joe Lazauskas, editor-in-chief of Contently, which covers content marketing, who noted that the ability to tap into all these things right away would give Storyful an advantage. “Any sort of plug-and-play situation has huge appeal.”
Meanwhile, advertising agencies, preoccupied with shrinking production budgets and impatient clients, are also keen to use as much user-generated content as possible. “I think agencies are struggling in a lot of ways right now,” Lazauskas said. “A lot of them are looking at these opportunities where they can broker a pretty simple transaction with content and take their 15 percent commission.”
But Storyful is far from the only player in this space. There are more than a dozen companies that make their money by finding viral videos on the Internet, and competition can get intense. An amateur content creator can upload a YouTube video, go to bed, and wake up to find dozens of offers from content companies in her inbox, which can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars or the chance to appear on popular TV shows like “Good Morning America” or “Ellen.”
Publishers are getting into the mix too. Mashable, which built a viral content prediction tool called Velocity, let the digital agency 360i use it to help clients last year, and Buzzfeed’s entire business model is predicated on helping brands create viral content that streaks across the Web. On the other side of the media landscape, traditional publishers are all loading up on tools like Dataminr to catch stories as they pick up steam.
The content needs of brands and publishers are vast, and it might be too early to say how well Storyful will be received. But it's certainly poised to do a good job. “Content is really hard,” Lazauskas said. “Most brands struggle with it, and every time there's a new solution that's easy, everyone gets really excited.”