Video is eating the digital media business, and Mic CEO Chris Altchek says it’s not going to stop any time soon.
Mic started in 2011 as “Policy Mic,” with the goal of keeping college-educated millennials informed on the news that mattered to them — in text. But since Mic launched video in 2015, that’s what has seen the explosive growth, Altchek tells Business Insider.
What kinds of videos?
Well, there are the minute-long Facebook snippets with overlaid text, which many media companies are pumping out at a dizzying pace. But there are also more unique offerings.
Altchek mentions one video in particular, from this summer, titled “23 Ways You Could Be Killed If You Are Black in America.” In the video, celebrities like Alicia Keys and Beyonce read a list of “all the seemingly mundane interactions with police that have led to high-profile black deaths.” The video had cross-platform reach of over 100 million people.
“People like video more than anything else,” Altchek says definitively. Once phone screens became big and crisp enough, the medium’s natural tendency to be more engaging began to shine, he continues.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seems to agree. “We’re entering this new golden age of video,” Zuckerberg told BuzzFeed News earlier this year. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you fast-forward five years and most of the content that people see on Facebook and are sharing on a day-to-day basis is video.”
There has been some debate as to whether people do really love video that much, or whether platforms like Facebook are just trying to shove it down our throats. But whatever it is, media companies like Mic (and Business Insider) are seeing huge gains in video reach. Altchek thinks that every incentive is aligned — platform and audience — and there’s “no chance” that growth will flatten out.
“That train has left the station,” he says.
There is, however, one problem with Facebook in particular. Video’s ascendancy has come at the expense of text articles, which were hit when Facebook changed its “News Feed” algorithm in June.
Altchek puts it this way as an example: On Facebook, let’s say Mic used to reach 10 people a day with a text article [that number is a placeholder]. That same text article might reach two people a day now, but the video would reach 100. Those aren’t exact estimates, but they serve to illustrate the scale of the video change Altchek has seen.
That doesn’t mean that Mic has abandoned text articles, which it still produces a lot of. But it does mean text isn’t where the crazy growth has been coming from.
One challenge with a shift to video, however, is that often reporters used to working in text aren’t video superstars. For Mic, overcoming that means having the “right producers sitting next to the right reporters,” Altchek says. That way they can collaborate as stories unfold.
It also means packaging stories in different ways. Take “23 Ways You Could Be Killed If You Are Black in America,” which Altchek explains started as an initial text article, and then turned into follow-up video. Alicia Keys helped bring together the celebrities after noticing the original on social media.
Alicia Keys isn’t the only celebrity to help Mic get traction on social media. Star Trek’s George Takei shares a ton of Mic’s content to his almost 10 million Facebook followers. Mic seems to pay for this, according to Digiday (Mic didn’t refute or confirm this when asked).
The new TV
But even with a lot of reach, and celebrity help, it’s still difficult to build revenue solely on advertising. “The challenges are huge in the digital ads business,” Altchek says.
That’s one reason why Mic, along with a host of other new media companies, wants to get its content onto traditional TV or emerging streaming powerhouses like Netflix. Mic is on Comcast’s streaming platform Watchable, and has a video partnership with Spotify, but both are more short-form.
Altchek says particularly resonant stories could “breathe in longer formats.” And the money that comes from selling long premium video would probably help Altchek, who has raised $32 million from venture capitalists, breathe easier as well.
For all the talk of digital disruption, TV still has huge audiences and a ton of ad dollars. ([It’s] “probably one of the most efficient businesses that exist in media today,” Refinery29’s Co-CEO Philippe von Borries said recently). Netflix is going to spend $6 billion on content in 2017, and Amazon is ramping up its video spending as well.
Those types of services are somewhere Altchek could see Mic. “People spend a couple hours per day on Netflix,” Altchek says. “Those [premium streaming video] platforms don’t have a ‘news voice.’ It’s a huge opportunity.”
Living the story
To make that jump, Mic has to convince these platforms that it is the defining voice for young people and news. Altchek thinks a big key to this is putting the right resources and reporters on the right issues. He strives to hire reporters who “live their beats,” to provide a sense of authenticity. He points particularly to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which Mic has five reporters and two editors dedicated to.
When reporters are so connected to their beats, however, questions of objectivity can crop up. Altchek says Mic’s coverage is always rooted in good reporting, but that there are core principles that guide the organisation. These are not up for debate.
“Not being diverse is not ok,” he says as an example. This is not a question.
Mic reaches 65 million millennials in the US each month, and over 200 million people around the world each month, according to the company.
NOW WATCH: This magnetic tablet holder hangs from your ceiling — so you can watch videos in the shower
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.