Local online news video design and usability: What’s working, what’s not

Movie Icon: RSS(Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series on local online news video, summarizing the findings of a thesis study that examined the Minnesota media market and their use of online video. The second focuses on design and usability. Tomorrow’s part three will explore advertising. Love to hear feedback in the comments below.)

In addition to yesterday’s look at what’s working and what’s not in online video content, local news sites have a long way to go in reaching usability standards for video players, including location, presentation, buttons, hosting and more. Many news sites simply don’t have the resources for a redesign, especially at smaller organizations.

Corey Anderson, Web editor at the online-only Minnpost, said as a result of time and budget constraints, Minnpost.com has not been able to organize and showcase its video on the website. Clonts from the Pioneer Press had a similar sentiment, saying that the current focus is to develop a strategy in content and then build a strategically-designed multimedia page.

Usability improvements that should be made:

  1. Location: The majority of the sites featured video content on the front page of the site. TV news sites especially did a great job in featuring its video players prominently on the front page. However, only two of the 10 sites featured the video player above the fold of the site. If news organizations are serious about exposing readers to its video content, the location of the player is very important. Furthermore, news organizations that place its player in the right sidebar should consider a re-design, since research shows readers viewing the first dominant image on the left side of the site first. John Daenzer, director of new media at WCCO, said he thinks having a player in the sidebar, above the fold, devalues the lead story at the center of the page.


    Number of sites (out of 10)

    Specific sites (or exceptions)

    Embedded in articles


    Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Minnpost.com, KSTP, FOX 9

    Right column of story (sidebar)


    KARE 11 and WCCO

    Link/thumbnail in article to video page


    Star Tribune, The Minnesota Daily

    Independent on its own page


    All except Minnpost.com

    Pop-out player


    Star Tribune, WCCO

  2. Connecting, embedding: Only half of the 10 sites connected readers between print and video stories that were related. Evidence shows that readers are much more likely to watch videos that are related to a print story. Anderson of Minnpost said that judging by the page views, videos seem to work better on the site when used with a story to enhance the readers’ understanding of the subject matter. The Star Tribune did a good job of connecting readers to its video content through multiple levels, something that other sites might take note on. Star Tribune’s site showcased video individually, embedded, on the front page and video page. This gives the viewer more possibilities to be exposed to the content. Durkin, senior Web producer at FOX 9, said not only is it beneficial for the design of the site and usability of the user to embed the player with related text stories, but it also keeps video content in context.embedded-video
  3. Navigation: It also plays a key role in exposing viewers to video and makes it easy for them to find video content. Sites such as the Pioneer Press and MPR did not include links to video content in its navigation bar, a poor example of providing useful navigation for viewers. This not only makes it more difficult for users to find video content, but likely contributes to fewer video plays.
  4. Sharing and Buttons: The local news sites are still working to develop the technological platform that provides users with tools to better use and share the content. Some of the sites are still lacking fundamental buttons that should be included with all players. For example, KARE 11 does not include a volume button on its player. Only five of the ten sites included an embeddable player or link/HTML buttons. These options could increase the exposure of the videos by being embedded within external blogs and being linked from other websites.

Things to be considered in design and usability:

  1. Button options: Because there is still very little research on the topic, news sites will have to conduct their own testing to determine which button options are truly helpful to readers. While players like that of Minnpost are simple in design, making it easy for a viewer to use, the readers also lose out on options to control the player’s functions and how they view video. However, a player that has complex options such as that of KARE 11 or WCCO may be overwhelming for the viewer, despite providing many options to control the functions of the player. The goal is to find a balance. WCCO’s Daenzer said the strategy behind the design of its player is easy usability by readers, which is why the player has a “pop-out” option that gives readers the ability to let the video load in an independent window as they browse the site. The news sites should look at the frequency use in each specific button and determine whether users truly find it helpful.
  2. Hosting content: Where to host content is a question that is yet to be answered. While sites like MPR are posting their video content onto YouTube, other news organizations such as MN Sun are implementing their own video players and moving away from hosting content externally. Though posting videos onto YouTube may provide more exposure on that site, hosting content externally poses navigation issues from the internal site. For example, users navigating MPR’s website are not effectively directed to MPR’s YouTube channel. Furthermore, it requires readers to go elsewhere to view your content.
  3. Mobile video: Similar to live video, mobile video is said to be the next big innovation in Web video. Providing readers with more ways to consume the content has become more important. As smart phones become more affordable, more readers will likely begin viewing content through handheld devices, and news organizations need to be prepared to meet that demand.
  4. Categorization: It allows users to better interact and navigate through video content available. Most of the sites categorized content in the video section page, but editors may also consider placing content-specific videos within coverage sections (business, sports, etc.). For example, the business section would only include business-related videos. The concept is an expanded version of the principle of embedding related content. It is more likely to get played.

Tomorrow’s piece will look at how local online news video is incorporating advertising in an effort to monetize the content. I appreciate the feedback thus far. I will not for clarity that this study was done between January 2009 and was completed in May. Some of the sites have made changes since then and there is plenty more to investigate beyond this study, as noted in this thorough response and reflection on the study. There is still very little research out there and I hope that this will spur some discussion on the topic of online news video and whether news organizations should truly be investing their time into producing it. Perhaps the reward in ad revenue will justify an investment. Come back tomorrow for more on advertising.


Sites studied:

3 thoughts on “Local online news video design and usability: What’s working, what’s not

  1. Pingback: Local online news video advertising: 6 ways to monetize content | Online Journalism Blog

  2. Jeff Achen

    About the “hosting content” segment, I think online video hosting services like YouTube and Blip.tv are a great way to solve a host of problems for any organization, particularly smaller ones. For one, it means organizations don’t have to host the videos on their own servers. Secondly, it helps push the content out from the host site to places like iTunes, Yahoo! and Google. It can also be embedded as individual videos and as a video player right on the news site. Thirdly, hosted online service like YouTube have a familiarity to them that users know. I think that news sites that host their own video players have more hurdles than those that use these services.


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