Case Study: Betting on Web Video in Bakersfield

By Staff Published on .

Situation: is the online presence of the Bakersfield Californian, the oldest daily newspaper in Kern County, California, which traces its beginnings back to the Gold Rush era.

The site began posting video news stories in 2005 and made video a core component when the site was redesigned in October 2006. New videos, posted several times daily, are normally featured “above the fold,” where viewers see them at first glance, and they take the place of a traditional still shot on a newspaper’s front page.

“I decided if we’re going to do it, why not play it front and center?” said Logan Molen, vice president of interactive media for the Californian.

Drawing on existing personnel resources, the video startup expense was minimal: an estimated $20,000 for handheld cameras, tripods and microphones. The newspaper also just purchased an HD camera (a Canon XH G1/ XH A1), but it started with Sony Cybershots, then migrated to Sony Exilims, both pocket-sized cameras that shoot photos and video and run about $300.

Company: The Bakersfield Californian

Industry: Publishing

Video play: Add video to augment print content on Web.

Strategy: Use in-house talent to create video.

Result: Staff creates 10-12 videos a week. Working on advertising sales connected to video. Shopping for new video player technology.

Photographers and some staffers working on more complex video projects use two higher-end video cameras, Canon XL2s, and have use of a zoom lens (Canon XL3.4-10.2mm).

The newspaper brought in renowned photojournalist Dirk Halstead, UPI’s photo bureau chief in Saigon during the Vietnam War, to train photographers and other staffers involved with videography, at a cost of several thousand dollars.

The newsroom has a staff of about 80 people, and in the last 12 months, 60 of them have done multimedia versions of their stories, many of which involve video. Several staffers are graduates of UC Berkeley’s multimedia department, while others have undergone video training.

“We do a lot of internal training, and work with staffers on a one-on-one basis,” Mr. Molen said. “There is a lot of grassroots training and peer-to-peer discussion and self-critique. Periodically we have professional trainers come in.”

A team of five staff members devote most of their time to the Web, reporting to Web newsroom editor Davin McHenry. The division of labor falls out like this:

Assistant Web Editor/Day Wire Editor: Manages site updates throughout the day, as well as in-print promotions of Web content, and does a blog on cool stuff online.

AM Update/Blogger: Writes news updates and breaking news for the Web, as well as two blogs, one of which, Talk of the Town, is focused on the hot news topic of the day.

Multimedia Editor: Edits video, audio and Flash files, using Final Cut Pro, as well as doing some videography.

Daytime Copy Editor:
Helps to edit and post content, first for the Web and then for print.

Reporters and photographers report to their individual editors on the print side.

“Reporters do a Web video version of their story, a sidebar or a standalone piece,” said Mr. Molen. “Our still photographers do longer-form video as well. Columnists and editorial writers also participate.”

Mr. Molen’s team offers publishing and technical support. One person produces a variety of content for the Web, including a periodic video and any video house ads that are put online.

The site’s video serving costs are contained within a larger hosting deal with McClatchy Interactive, which provides its content management system to handle multimedia files. Videos are archived by burning them on discs that are stored in the newsroom, but Mr. Molen is looking for a server solution, and has discussed it with McClatchy. gets about 4 million page views a month, and Mr. Molen said videos have increased traffic by about 5%.

No revenue or profit is currently generated from Web video because it is not yet sold separately as an ad product. There is a dedicated online salesperson who sells Web-only advertising, including video ads, and works with the newspaper’s print sales reps to help them sell Web advertising. They all have monthly sales goals that include separate metrics for online-only revenue.

The 10 to 12 videos created during an average week are a mix of breaking news, hard news and feature stories, with hard-news stories getting the most hits. A recent clip that generated heavy traffic showed graphic security-camera footage of a hit-and-run accident in which a child was struck and injured in a crosswalk. The video was the only evidence showing the vehicle involved, and the perpetrator was caught within a day or two.

Other videos that created high viewer interest were edited courtroom clips posted twice daily from the trial last year of a vice principal accused of killing his family of five. The least-viewed videos have been feature stories or pieces that the staff has done for fun.

“We’re in the business of being the leading source of local news in Bakersfield and Kern County, and the Internet is one more medium we can use to serve the audience, with video being an important component,” said Mr. Molen. He said two tracking services and the paper’s own marketing research show the site gets more traffic than each of the three broadcast affiliate Web sites in the market.

Problem: has been trying to build a larger audience before attempting to sell outside advertising around its Web video. Recently there have been pre-roll house ads for the Californian’s newspaper and other media properties, including the glossy monthly city magazine Bakersfield Life and Mas, geared toward the Hispanic audience. These ads are repurposed 30-second television spots.

Video ads not related to the Californian’s own video efforts have been sold on other areas of the site, at an average cost to advertisers of about $2,200-$2,800 per month.

There is no method currently to target ads or to brand the video player with advertising.

“Our player, a home-grown flash player, is very rudimentary, and also we’re in a smaller market, so the market awareness is not as great with national advertisers,” Mr. Molen said.

Solution: The site needs a video player that can easily serve targeted advertising within recognized ad standards, making it much easier for it to get into a national network and reap advertising dollars.

“There are a number of vendors that deliver good players, and we’re trying to figure out what makes sense and what is within our budget,” said Mr. Molen, who plans to implement a new player within the next few months. He said it will deliver a bigger, better experience in terms of content and advertising.

He also plans to focus on “the next level of storytelling” and institute what he called a news “vodcast,” a video broadcast containing multiple stories, which should be attractive to advertisers--and ratchet up the competition with TV network affiliates’ Web sites in the market.

Evaluation: So, what have been the lessons from’s brief but focused history of Web video?

“I’ve learned our journalists are excited about becoming more than print journalists and have really embraced the concept of being multimedia. We’ve seen that a traditional newspaper company can compete in the local video market,” said Mr. Molen. “Our readers like it, they value it. I’ve learned there’s a huge opportunity waiting for us down the road.”

By Hillary Atkin

The Bakersfield Californian has found that breaking news videos generate the greatest interest on the Web.

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