At a private dinner for top publishing executives at Cannes this year, I asked the group for some doses of optimism. It was a softball question. After all, it’s easy to be optimistic while dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant in an olive grove. “The end of pivots,” came a reply.

The pivot to video became something of a joke. It was a stand-in for a period of time in the 2010s when publishers chased Facebook traffic and fleeting views of videos people quickly scrolled past. The big numbers publishers would brag about weren’t actually from their audience; they were from Facebook’s. 

Yet in truth, the pivot to video has been happening. According to Sandvine, 65% of internet traffic in 2022 was video. The rise of TikTok, with the continued strength of Instagram and YouTube, shows how reading is giving way to viewing. 

When I speak to publishers, I ask them their top priorities. I regularly hear video, along with areas like commerce or events. (I rarely, if ever, hear display advertising.) This was backed up in our research, which we conducted in August with a survey completed by 67 publishing executives. A solid majority said video is a top priority, yet under a quarter said that video advertising makes up over 25% of revenue. 

That disconnect between the potential and current reality shown through in our research, the first that The Rebooting has done. We partnered with VideoElephant, a global digital video aggregator, to understand that contradiction. Next in Media’s Mike Shields was my collaborator on this report, which seeks to put our survey’s findings into context. 

Publishers see the shift to video.

Publishers we surveyed see the shift to video and want to capitalize on it. 73% said increasing video ad revenue is a priority for their business. Over half of those surveyed see video as a core pillar or “substantial part” of their overall strategies.

At Literally Media, home to Cheezburger, Know Your Meme and Cracked, video was a miniscule part of the business just two years ago. Oren Katzeff, a former executive at Tastemade and Condé Nast Entertainment, set out to change that after taking on the CEO role last year. Literally now racks up 500 million video views a month across YouTube, Snap, Facebook and its own sites.

“We've grown our revenue from very little to a seven-figure business in 18 months,” he said.

And many other publishers are seeing similar growth. According to our survey, a little under half see their video revenue growing next year.

But right now, it doesn't match to its revenue generation.

Publishers are scrambling to catch up as consumers’ preference shifts to video, yet they’re struggling to match that with revenue. In fact, half of respondents to our survey said they are generating less than 10% of their revenue from video.

The challenge is magnified by the perceived high costs associated with video, unlike other incremental revenue streams. “For publishers generally it comes down to a hesitation or reluctance around investing in video,” said K.C. McLeod, svp of business development at VideoElephant.

That’s often a perception. Jim Spanfeller, CEO of G/O Media, waves away the cost concerns as overblown. “It’s not as costly as you think to produce video,” he said “There is an expectation from audiences. The bar is high. It needs to be relevant.”

One way to mitigate that for many publishers is to rely on third parties. According to our survey, respondents collectively estimated 45% of all their video production is done externally. 

Video advertising is soaring, but many publishers are missing out.

According to the IAB, digital video advertising grew 21% in 2022. Yet, somewhat surprisingly, 32% of video executives surveyed complained that “not enough advertiser demand” was an issue.

It may seem counterintuitive that demand would be a problem today, given the seeming fervor among brands for video. But a challenge for mid-sized publishers is that video often comes out of distinct channels that they may not have easy access to.

For example, one advertiser may deploy dollars toward video ads via its social team, its digital team, its TV division, and maybe even its experimental group.

“You often have separate budgets and strategies, and you have to deliver on so many different objectives,” said Yael Prough, evp and general manager at IGN Entertainment. “That means more opportunities, yet none of the metrics are the same.”

It’s one thing to have to cater to multiple divisions with different strategies. It’s another thing to have to grapple with the larger fiscal climate. 

“This year is unique, given the turbulence in the economy,” said David Olesnevich, head of advertising product at The Weather Company. “As we see recovery in the ad market, that first dollar goes to CTV.”

“Money isn’t moving to ‘on-site video,’ it’s moving to replace broadcast and cable,” added Spanfeller. “[Brands] want to move gobs of money at one time.”

Driving viewership is still a challenge, and most web pages don't have video.

For many publishers, video presents a classic chicken and egg scenario. Consumers need to be habituated to watch video, which requires a regular output of content. Plus, it takes significant resources to produce and program video, with no immediate guarantee of viewership.

Over half of respondents said their properties have video on a quarter or less of their pages.

“The important thing is getting video on page to see what the results are going to be,” said McLeod. “So many times publishers try to solve the issue internally first.”

Thus, despite the overall proliferation of video content on the internet, nearly half (48%) of respondents reported not generating enough video viewership today. More than a third (34%) of respondents said their companies are reliant on third party platforms for driving video viewership.

As one respondent put it, “We'll be starting from scratch so we're not sure of content, viewership, advertising demand, etc.”

To be sure, it’s also hard to build up intentional viewership on a particular website, when so many consumers gravitate towards social platforms and aggregators.

Spanfeller would tend to agree with the aforementioned commenter. “It’s hard,” he said. “There is little to no money in Instagram, TikTok and Snap. On YouTube you can make some money, but it’s small money.

In addition, developing an off platform strategy requires giving up a degree of control, without any guarantee of success.

“You have to constantly be ready for algorithm changes, and the next platform that pops up,” said Cameron Saless, chief business officer at Trusted Media Brands, which manages properties ranging from Reader’s Digest to FailArmy

Publishers struggle with resources.

Even in 2023, many publishers struggle with how best to build up video production capabilities, let alone churning out a viable volume; 29 percent of those surveyed said that ‘not enough content’ was a challenge.

For many text-centric publications, video is still not core to their DNA. Plus, a large number of publications have gone through various “pivots to video” quickly ramping up then winding down their video output. 

One respondent noted a cultural issue with the editorial team pushing back on video as a real audience need. “It puts them in a tough spot going forward, especially as every company is looking to justify spend,” this executive said.

“Lack of production resources is a large reason why publishers cannot produce the required volume of video to scale this business and keep in line with their editorial values (content vs. advertorial) and without a meaningful volume of inventory the sales team appears reluctant to focus on video or is not equipped to sell it,” said Brian Cullinane, CRO at VideoElephant.

The level of volume and customization needed to capture the market opportunity mostly likely won’t be practical – or profitable – for many publishers. “You have to have the DNA,” said Saless. “It wouldn’t naturally happen. You need to bring in talent one way or another.”

That increases costs, and publishers are more focused than ever on immediate revenue vs the promise of revenue at some point in the future.

“We definitely have experts on everything from TikTok to long form,” said Prough. “But we also run a tight, lean organization. So our strategy is often, ‘let’s start off slow and see how the engagement goes. Some things won’t hit and that’s OK.”

Most publishers don't know what impact the new IAB standards will have.

Earlier this year, the IAB Tech Lab released a set of standards focused on creating a clear distinction between ‘in-stream’ (video ads that run when a person is watching videos) and ‘outstream’ video (video ads that run in non-video environments, such as on text pages). The idea was to bring clarity to the market and more consistent pricing. Yet according to the survey, a full 68% of respondents said they don’t have a great sense of what impact these standards will have in the market.

In fact, a recent Adweek report found that there has been very little adoption of the standards, as both buyers and publishers have exhibited hesitancy to potentially throw a wrench into the video ad market.

Thus far, it seems that many publishers have elected to proceed with business as usual, as this slow adoption hasn’t helped or hurt their ability to make deals.

“We monitor it,” said IGN’s Prough. But the company isn’t necessarily waiting around for a consensus to build. “We continue to want to innovate.”

The CTV Opportunity

Web publishers have long wanted to dent big TV advertising budgets, and streaming is seen as the clearest path. However, if the streaming wars are causing casualties among giants like Disney and Paramount, things are likely to be even more challenging for web publishers, even those with large audiences. “Discovery on CTV is impossible,” said Spanfeller.

That’s why, for many publishers, partnerships are crucial. Consider The Weather Company. Clearly, there is huge demand for weather forecast information on CTV - and just about every platform. But will most consumers download a standalone Weather CTV app? That’s an open question many publishers face.

Thus, Weather has focused on inking deals with broadcasters to power their own weather content on CTV. In addition, through a partnership with LG, Weather now pushes alerts via LG smart TV ‘homescreens,’ taking advantage of that primary real estate where it can bring advertisers along for the ride.

“Demand for weather on CTV is there,” said Olesnevich. “If there is value for the consumer, brands are going to want to be there.”

In the case of Trusted Media Brands, it has paid to work with CTV distributors early on. The company started curating home and decor related video for free streaming platforms like Pluto and Xumo as early as 2017.

“There was no money,” Saless said. “But we gave them three hours of content, and said ‘let's get on there and look at the data.' Not all of them have worked out. But now we have a streaming team.”


Like many industries, publishing is entering a more-with-less era. That means making smart investments and not overspending on expensive infrastructure. The clear revenue and strategic opportunity in video is not being captured in large part because of a hesitancy or inability to spend what is needed.

There is also an element of once burned, twice shy. Publishers have been disappointed by several video opportunities in the past, whether it was the distributed video craze or on-site players promising “easy” video monetization. The proliferation of autoplay video, and the concerns cited around negative user experience, highlight this tension.

“There is also a lack of in-house expertise at many publishers on how to best shape the video environment and the overall user experience,” said VideoElephant’s Cullinane. “They will need guidance on how to both drive viewership of the content, and to integrate advertising in a way that doesn’t adversely impact audience and viewership.”

Video strategy turns out to be a collection of strategies: production, monetization, editorial, team resourcing and more. Publishers can excel at one or more of these sub-strategies today, but their current thinking is they need to boil the ocean of all of these in order to scale video. Instead, an incremental approach is needed, with a new approach that builds on shortcomings of past efforts, with a mix of internal and external resources.