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News UK launches ‘vertical video studio’ in promise of better mobile ads and a shake-up of agency model

News UK launches new vertical video studio aimed at improving industry-wide mobile ad experience

News UK has launched a vertical video studio which it believes will improve mobile advertising across the web, not just on its own sites. Such a proposition, industry spectators muse, could pose a threat to traditional agencies if the publisher pitches it right.

The new vertical video studio, dubbed v-Studio, will sit within News UK’s commercial division The Bridge. The studio will repurpose pre-existing video assets into short-form interactive vertical formats, edits and 360 experiences, source vertical video content from its social platform Storyful, as well as create vertical video advertising from scratch using its in-house production studio.

So new is the offering that it is still recruiting launch partners. The crux of its pitch to them is that they can use one, or all, of seven so-called ‘v-formats’, which it will expand depending on the advertiser challenges it comes up against. These include:

  • v-Shoot: refers to vertical video that The Bridge is shooting and framing itself
  • v-Edit: refers to horizontal video, typically 16x9, that has been edited to a vertical format
  • v-Skin: doesn’t alter horizontal video but instead makes use of the blank space above and below to include a call-to-action. This format is for advertisers - usually luxury clients - that are “fussy” about their video creative being edited.
  • v-Select: allows a user to choose between different videos within one video unit in order to push multiple products
  • v-Social: directs users to social sharing
  • v-Drive: ingests different data points to produce dynamic creative. This could using location information to overlay the nearest store to a user on top of the video.
  • v-360: turns 360-degree content into a vertical format

Milton Elias, head of mobile and video at News UK is leading the initiative, his first task since joining the company in February.

He told The Drum the new formats are “non-intrusive”, since they sit naturally within the mobile scrolling experience and don’t require users to 'flip' their phone to a landscape view (a process that annoyed some 58% of 2000 mobile users surveyed, according to News UK research).

The vertical videos will be capped at 10 seconds - compliant with the requirements of other mobile platforms like Snapchat - and are all auto-play with sound off unless clicked.

“It makes sense that we think about that [mobile] user experience from the get-go”, said Elias.

Indeed, News UK has claimed The Sun is the biggest commercial news publisher on mobile with 91% of its audience accessing the site via mobile while The Times is not far behind, with around 80% of its online audience mobile. So, a division that will develop better vertical formats and creative for its own platforms is a no-brainer.

But it’s not just the user experience on News UK-owned properties that Elias wants to change. He hopes that by allowing clients to use those vertical video assets “at a minimum cost” elsewhere on the web, News UK will help “improve the state of mobile” across the industry.

“We are trying to help as much as we can in making content that adds to the user experience and marries to the native usage of a device, because I know first-hand having working in agency before how difficult it is to influence that when typical TV assets have been agreed, signed off, and filmed in advance of the media plan,” explained Elias, referring to his tenure as head of mobile at OMD UK and Starcom MediaVest Group.

“In the case of existing video ads, we are editing to make them vertical. And that is [the advertisers] own content and we are happy to give those back for a minimum cost so they can run them elsewhere. We know we are not going to help the industry beyond ourselves if we say you can only run those assets with us, as much as we would like all of their advertising budget,” he adds.

While the launch of a dedicated vertical video studio is not a first in the industry, it’s an unusual move for a publisher. Elias “likes to think” that News UK is the first big publisher in market approaching mobile video content from a wider holistic view.

There will not be a dedicated division to run v-Studio - rather it will become a part of everyone at The Bridge’s role in the same way digital and print have become decentralised. The Bridge currently employs around 40 staffers specialising in creating, editing and publishing content for various ad formats.

Disrupting the 'traditional agency' model

But The Bridge itself, though formed first and foremost “as an identification that our audience is of interest,” has evolved to become a “full-service digital creative team” with capabilities that match that of an agency.

As well as developing content specifically for News UK platforms (that clients can then take elsewhere), it will also accept work from clients without any requirements for that work to run on its own properties. In other words, News UK is telling advertisers they can go directly to The Bridge to create their vertical video Snapchat campaigns, for example, rather than an agency.

What’s more, Elias “foresees a time” when the formats will be available to buy programmatically, adding another crucial element to the mix - speed and ease of transaction.

Despite all the signs suggesting otherwise, Mark Field, head of the commercial division is adamant that The Bridge is “never going to go up and pitch against a full-service agency.”

“The capabilities here are very broad, and the conversations we're having with clients are broader than just the campaigns we are producing for them. We're an agile media business with content creation at its heart. So, we're utilizing all those skills we have - engagement insight and what we know about our audiences, editorial expertise - and pitching against other media companies like Channel 4, Sky, Global Radio, for content budgets,” he continued.

“But I wouldn’t position it as a full-service agency because we have certain capabilities. If the client has a particular output they are trying to achieve, if there is a role for us to use our specific set of skills to deliver content to them, then we will do that. But we are never going to go up and pitch against a full service agency. It’s a different model.”

That said, the notion that a brand would look outside of their existing agency relationships for content-led campaigns is not implausible one given the rise of direct client-to-publisher relationships.

News UK creating Pulse Creative, an in-house agency formed by WPP staffers promising all the skills of a media agency but integrated within the content-making process, is one such example of how publishers' decision to get closer to clients could be interpreted by some as the publisher circumventing the role of a media agency.

Forbes giving advertisers direct access to its CMS to upload paid-for native content is the most extreme example of this.

Andrew Canter, global chief executive at Branded Content Marketing Association, says the move could see the traditional agency model "shaken up" if News UK is offering a more cost-effective service than an agency.

"This all sounds interesting and potentially a groundbreaking move if they will be producing content for platforms outside of the News UK portfolio. An intriguing move that may shake up the 'traditional agency' offering," he predicted.

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Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

All by Jessica