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Feeding the Beast: Producing Serial Content Effectively, Part 1: Generating Content

Video publishers often struggle to keep up with the demands of viewers expect fresh content on a daily basis, and advertisers who want lots of inventory. This article explains how a two-person production crew generates 800-1,000 new videos per year for a leading site for investors.

As Video Manager for Morningstar, an independent investment research firm, I’m responsible for producing content for a big destination website with lots of visitors. For me, that means creating a sizeable amount of content to keep up the demands of our audience and out advertisers. In this article we’ll look at the challenges of delivering high-volume business content, including both the technical and the workflow aspects of what I like to call “feeding the beast.”

Although I’m based in Chicago now, I actually started my career as 1st Assistant Editor at Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, California. I worked on Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons, and Bolt. The big thing I learned at Disney was how to manage a high-volume workflow. We had great systems in place, we knew everything that we needed to deliver to the downstream department, and the entire operation ran like a factory for animated films. At Morningstar I’ve taken what I learned at Disney and applied it to online video.

When you work for a trade magazine or any site that has lots of visitors, you need to produce enough unique new content to keep those visitors coming back. Currently, CPMs are extremely high for video, and so if you’re responsible for producing video in your organization, odds are your ad sales department is always calling you or emailing you, asking for more content that they can sell. Being in high demand is a good problem to have, but how do you meet that demand in a way that’s quick and cheap without compromising quality.

What is Morningstar, and Why Does it Need So Much Video?

Morningstar is essentially Consumer Reports for investments. We cover everything from mutual funds to exchange traded funds, stocks, equities, and commodities. We roll all that up into a number of different products that serve essentially three main audiences. First is our retail segment, which includes all of our websites, where typical investors outside the financial industry can go to learn more about investments, and what might work for their portfolios. We also deliver content and research and data to financial advisers, so if you’re working with a financial adviser, chances are they subscribe to one of our services or one of our data feeds and use our research in their analysis as well. The third main audience is institutional--big asset-management firms, endowments, and pensions that are investing massive amounts of money and need lots of data and research to supplement what they’re already doing in-house.

In this article I’ll focus mostly on Morningstar.com (Figure 1, below), because that’s our primary retail focus for individual investors, and the repository of most of the video I’m responsible for producing. We get about 3,000,000 unique visitors each month. We have a free and premium model, so there’s tons of free content on there for investors including videos, articles, quote pages, and other data. We also have a premium model with 120,000 subscribers. They pay a monthly fee to get access to enhanced premium tools to enhance data, all of our analyst reports on particular investments.

Figure 1. Morningstar.com.

To serve these two audiences, we produce about 800-1,000 videos annually for Morningstar.com, drawing 300,000-500,000 monthly video views (Figure 2, below). We do this with a two-person team, including me and my associate, Scott Halver. We crank out content all day long.

Figure 2. Video reports on Morningstar.com.

Related Articles
The next key element of feeding the beast and maintaining high-volume video output is workflow; the choices that you make for your workflow are important for everything that you do, from studio space to production, post, syndication, and archiving.
This article will discuss an all-day webcast that Morningstar does every year for its Individual Investor Conference, going through the decisions made in pre-production, the vendors selected, and the workflow, and share some tips that readers take into your webcast productions.