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VGTV's Elnaz Esmailzadeh on balancing UX and monetisation

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VGTV's Elnaz Esmailzadeh on balancing UX and monetisation

Launched in 2014, VGTV has been focusing on producing documentaries for young audiences and content exclusively on social media, increasing their reach and exploring new storytelling formats while being profitable.

With 400 documentaries behind a paywall, which were first advertiser funded, they are adding a higher value to their subscription offer and growing their reach.

Elnaz Esmailzadeh is part of VGTV’s leadership team, and responsible for revenue, and leading commercial business development and strategy. She also leads Schibsted’s commercial video products in Norway: VG Snapchat Discover and VG Podcast.

In this interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity, Esmailzadeh tells us about VGTV’s strategy, their revenue model and how they work with platforms. She will also be joining us as a speaker at WAN-IFRA’s Digital Media Europe Conference in Vienna on 2 April when she will expand on these topics and more.

WAN-IFRA: VGTV was one of the pioneers in digital television. Can you tell me more about the different strategies that you have explored?

Elnaz Esmailzadeh: During the past five years we have a followed a few different content and advertising strategies. External distribution, such as linear TV that has given us distribution revenue. We have also tried distribution through different social media channels, using different type of ways to present video content.

Today, users have thousands of sources where they get their news and entertainment, so we need to deliver the best possible product with the best possible content if we are going to keep our users in the long run.

It's always been a balance between having a sustainable company, and at the same time having focus on user experience and good content.

What do you mostly cover, and what makes users stick to VGTV?

We are focusing on three main areas: Breaking News, Sports, and (Young) Entertainment.

We will always prioritise news because we are part of VG. Our users expect us to be the first with breaking news in video because that's the way users consume their news today.

We also cover sports news like skiing and soccer partnering with a TV channel that has the rights to the local soccer championship.

Entertainment is where we mainly get our younger audiences. Our program division have done a tremendous job to attract them, mainly by having great concepts, and building up the profiles and their ecosystem outside our own platform.

How does your digital strategy engage more users, and how is this connected to revenue?

It's about having exclusive content, because looking into the bigger players and what they're focusing on, you can see Amazon and Netflix investing in exclusive content. When there are many ways to consume content, you want to have good and local content. We produce mostly ourselves, which is cost effective. We're also focusing on profiles and building up their ‘like’ fan base and social media.

Our monetisation strategy is to balance the user experience with the advertisement thinking in a longer perspective.

It's important to please our users rather than bombarding them with e.g. several prerolls before a short clip.

Advertisers have a high demand on the advertising product, and we actually had two prerolls before every clip for a whole year. Having an increased focus on user experience, we reduced that to one preroll, and lost half of our inventory. So, we needed to find new revenue streams, without harming the user experience. For instance when you scroll on VGs homepage, you will see a video that starts automatically without sound.

You get a 40 second video that sums up everything that happened while you were asleep. Because of high engagement, we sum up the day news by night as well.

While you wait for the next suggested video, you will see a six second ad. That's a new revenue for us, something that we didn't have before.

How are you able to price the video inventory and the special formats?

We have to hold on to our higher pricing, due to the fact that we are a premium site, with premium context, and a safe environment.

We monitor market prices, but I think it is important to hold on to the higher prices and argue for them, and document the effects of them.

While you are massive on Facebook, your Twitter is not so active. How do you pick your channels?

We pick our channels based on partnerships, and also by what we can learn.

We were on Facebook early, which gave us some more insight on how we should work with those types of formats, but we're more active on Snapchat right now.

We have our own Snapchat Discover channel, and we have six people working on this on a daily basis, and that's actually a big investment.

Snapchat has had a tremendous growth, especially amongst younger audiences, and therefore we need to be there and see how we can engage with them in a different way. It is also a better ad revenue share on this platform so far.

We were chosen as Snapchat’s first Norwegian partner due to the quality of our content. We are reaching 400,000 users daily, and up to 1.2 million a week. And remember Norway has a population of only 5.2 million people.

But we mainly do it because we can take the learnings from there and then try them on our own platforms. We had a story called The Tinder Swindler where we used our learnings on our own platform.

I believe we still present news in quite an old fashioned way on our site, so by taking the learnings from other platforms, we can have a more dynamic storytelling.

Interview by Tassos Morfis, WAN-IFRA Global Advisory, Digital Subscriptions, Project Manager


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2019-03-07 15:23

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