Essence, the magazine for black women that is part of Time Warner's Time Inc., is launching a unit devoted to original programming that can be distributed via the web, mobile devices, video on demand and TV. To do so, Essence has hired one executive from MTV Networks and promoted another with experience as a producer at CNN and NBC. The magazine already launched one effort, "Will You Marry Me?" in which readers can watch a handful of men make marriage proposals. Soon, Essence aficionados will be able to watch women go on "30 Dates in 30 Days."
'Risk being irrelevant'
Without the ability to produce content for emerging venues, including the internet, "we risk being irrelevant, frankly," said Essence President Michelle Ebanks.
But these are early days. While assigning articles for the company's glossy magazine is routine, producing a visual counterpart is not -- at least, not yet. "This is nascent programming for us. When we go out and talk to marketers, we don't have five examples of what we have been able to create in the past, and so it's a long selling process," Ms. Ebanks said.
For magazines, building their case to advertisers is key. By 2011, U.S. online-video advertising will soar to $4.3 billion from $410 million in 2006, according to eMarketer.
That estimated figure is more than the approximately $3.5 billion spent on national newspapers last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Meanwhile, a recent analysis of online behavior by the Online Publishers Association shows web consumers are spending more time with content sites. As a result, magazines find themselves competing not only with each other but with a broader array of rivals, including cable TV networks and Web 2.0 upstarts. Simply envisioning themselves as wordsmiths won't spur the sort of growth they need to survive.
"Without video, publishers not only risk losing share, they risk not being invited to the table," said Scott Daly, executive media director at Dentsu America. Making good video isn't easy; publishers can't simply take a print feature and extend it online, then expect marketers to coo and chirp. Advertisers want new ideas developed for all media at the same time, Mr. Daly said.
Heeding the call
Many magazine publishers have begun to heed the call. Hearst is producing three- to five-minute celebrity-gossip news videos for Cosmopolitan.com and sometimes sends interns from Seventeen and CosmoGirl out to shoot videos of teens on the street, said Christopher Johnson, content director for Hearst Magazines Digital Media. The company has produced more than 1,000 online videos through staff or partnerships, he said, in part because "advertisers are asking for more and more and more." At the website for Meredith's Better Homes & Gardens, an ad for Procter & Gamble's Charmin Ultra was recently spotted as a surfer clicked from one online video to another.
Gearing up for video will cause hiccups in the usual process of putting out a magazine. When Essence launched "Will You Marry Me?" in fall 2006, it chose six men to propose to unsuspecting girlfriends and invited readers to vote for which pair would win a honeymoon in South Africa. Essential to the contest was getting early copies of the magazine's February issue -- which contained the proposals -- into the hands of the women being proposed to, all before the issues hit newsstands and invited readers to check out videos of their responses on the Essence site.
"Between the Christmas holiday and the drop date of the February issue, we had to get all of this content ready for the website. It was already crunch time," said Angela Burt-Murray, Essence's editor in chief. "It was like, 'We are suddenly in the TV-production business.' We all got a crash course in that."