Millennial News Site Mic Premieres First Video Series in 2015 Push

Publisher Is Selling Series Sponsorships Instead of Pre-Roll Ads

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Opening up a video division has become new-media companies' way of announcing their arrival. In the past couple of years, BuzzFeed and Vox Media have seriously stepped up their video games, launching in-house production studios with names like BuzzFeed Motion Pictures and Vox Entertainment.

Now it is Mic's turn in the spotlight. The Millennial-focused digital news publisher will premiere its first original video series on Tuesday -- the first episode of which can be watched above -- as its nascent and unnamed video business readies several more series to debut in 2015.

As with BuzzFeed's and Vox's early video efforts, Mic's first forays into video will be sight-and-sound extensions of the articles people read on its site. They'll be as socially conscious as they are socially savvy, appealing to an audience of young college graduates who are looking for something between Upworthy and The New York Times and are as likely to watch videos online as on TV.

Mic claimed that 80% of the 22 million people who visit its site each month have attended college and said its audience's median age is 28 years old. According to comScore, the site attracted 8.4 million U.S. unique visitors across desktop and mobile in February 2015, up from 4.5 million in July 2014.

And for Mic -- which has raised around $15 million in funding -- the videos open up a potentially more lucrative revenue stream since brands typically spend more money to advertise against videos than text-based articles. By selling show sponsorships instead of standard interstitial ads, Mic appears to be going after even bigger bucks with its intial slate.

But perhaps more urgently, the videos may help protect Mic amid a shift in social audiences' content appetites. Whereas a year ago the typical Facebook feed was dominated by photos, text posts and links to articles, the social network has seen a 360% rise in the number of videos showing up in people's news feeds. If video comes to dominate the average Facebook feed and squeezes out article links -- and if other social networks like Twitter and Tumblr are successful in adding more videos to their services -- then social-dependent publishers may need to emphasize videos as much as text to remain relevant.

Mic CEO Chris Altchek had been thinking about video "for a while" since launching Mic in 2011 and "decided to pull the trigger at the end of last year." He declined to say how much money Mic is investing in its video business.

Initially, Mic hired a trio of ex-Vox Media video producers to do some freelance work. That trio of Billy Disney, Regina Dellea and Sam Thonis -- whom Mic brought on as full-time employees in January -- spent eight weeks working on different types of video formats to see which might work best. The winning format ended up becoming a pilot episode of Mic's first series.

In that video (embedded above), Mic senior editor Elizabeth Plank documented what happens when a woman sits on a subway train and spreads her legs to occupy multiple seats, a practice called "manspreading" because it's usually guys who do it. Within 10 days of being posted in early January, the video nabbed more than 1 million views, according to Mic.

Now that video is being spun into a 10-episode series called "Flip the Script" that will have Ms. Plank tackling challenging social issues. For example, one episode will examine diversity within the fashion world and another will compare stay-at-home moms and stay-at-home dads.

"Every episode ends with something to get you to start a conversation with your friends," Mr. Altchek said, nodding to the importance of social as a traffic driver for Mic and other digital publishers. Mic plans to distribute the videos on its own site as well as on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter with shorter highlights videos posted to Instagram and Vine.

However, in contrast to the first series' title, Mic isn't planning any scripted series. "We want to be the most important brand in news for our generation. We're a news-first publisher, so nonfiction and nonscripted makes sense," Mr. Altchek said.

Even though Mic is a news publisher, don't expect to see many videos shot from its newsroom. In addition to other criteria like having hosts representative of Mic's Millennial audience, all of Mic's videos will be shot on location. "You're not seeing anything that looks like cable news where there's somebody behind a desk in a studio," Mr. Altchek said.

Other series to premiere this year will explore breakthroughs in science and technology, interview successful people about their lives when they were twentysomethings and document youth culture in big cities around the world. Some of those series will air five or six episodes, while others may run 10-episode seasons. Mic isn't setting a strict limit on how long or short videos can be. Videos are expected to average five minutes in length, but can vary anywhere from two minutes to ten minutes.

Mic is selling advertisers on series sponsorships and has no plans to run video ads before or during its editorial videos. It's a frugal choice since publishers posting videos to YouTube have to split any pre-roll and mid-roll ad revenue with the Google-owned video service but can usually keep any and all sponsorship money to themselves. Mr. Altchek declined to say which brands have signed on as sponsors.

"The integrations are really classy. You won't be able to miss the sponsor logo, but it's not pre-roll like you're seeing across the web. And from an editorial standpoint, [advertisers] have no influence over editorial content," Mr. Altchek said.

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