The state of video journalism on Ars Technica—and its future
Ars Technica will soon be celebrating its 20th birthday—an eternity online. In those two decades, we've experimented with different formats of reporting and blogging, with each experiment aimed at better serving our readers. It has been a fun and wild ride: those 20 years have spanned some of the most turbulent and fast-paced years in the entire history of tech. We've witnessed the death of dial-up Internet access, the transformation of Apple from a punchline to one of the most valuable companies on earth, the end of the megahertz wars, and the rise of the smartphone. We've watched the online media landscape evolve, too, and that's why we are eager to tell you about our plans for video.
Video is not really new to Ars (remember data bears, anybody?), but most of our past efforts have been ad hoc, infrequent, and noticeably below the grade established by our written content (and sometimes they've just been very, very silly). We are now laying the groundwork for a bolder, more central video unit within Ars, capable of turning out video that truly improves upon the Ars experience as a whole, from the professionalism of the cut to the importance of the topics covered. In the past couple of months, many have noticed that our on-site video skillz were getting sincere. Next week, you'll know it! There's more detail on next week's big debut below, but first we want to share some thoughts on video and the mission here at Ars.
Tools for the job
In 2018, you're going to see much more video on the Ars front page—at least one or two videos per week. Some videos will be secondary to the stories they're attached to, while some will be the story. In situations where the video is the primary focus of the story, you'll notice a big "play" button on that article's listing image on the Ars homepage. We want to make sure that the medium is serving the message and that when we put in the time and effort to produce a video, it's because that video needed to be made to deliver what we had to say (in our judgement, of course).
We do know that some of you despise video, but most of you don't (unless millions of complete video views are made in anger). For those who hate it, new Ars videos will feature both closed captioning and transcripts, although both will be available after a short delay. This process is automated (our video CMS interacts with Rev.com's API, so the CC generation process starts automatically when we upload the final video for distribution) and usually results in closed captioning being available for videos within an hour or so of publication. Transcripts, likewise, will be automatically generated within an hour or so of publication and will usually show up for download pretty quickly.
Of course, Ars is a business. It took a few years, but we have arrived at the point where video is not just commercially viable for us—it's critical. A significant amount of our operating budget is funded through video ads, and being able to offer video options as part of our overall advertising strategy greatly helps us. Some of you don't care how the sausage is made, but trust us when we say that Ars sincerely tries to evolve in sustainable ways.
So what’s next?
We are pleased to let slip that we have something amazing queued up for you: a six-part series celebrating 50 years of the Apollo lunar program that will feature extensive reporting and extensive video. The hour-long, multi-part video documentary accompanying the series is based on more than 30 hours of footage shot with a dozen interviewees and has taken a bit over 90 working days to cut and score; it has been a passion project for both the Ars editorial crew working on it and also our video team. It is far and away the most complex video project we've ever tried to pull off, and it has required the daily attention of teams in three cities on three coasts (West, Gulf, and East)—not to mention generous time commitments from NASA engineers and astronauts present and past.
We really hope you like it. You will not get anything like it elsewhere. We will be telling you more about this in the coming days, and we've even got a trailer that should go live tomorrow.
So sit back and enjoy the show. The next few weeks will bring the first three parts of our Apollo series, and we all very much hope you enjoy reading and watching it as much as we've enjoyed making it. Over the next few months, we're going to be running several video pieces that are aptly suited to the medium (including one that involved hanging out at Lord British's house), and we're going to do everything we can do to make sure they're presented well. The cadence of video will slowly increase, but Ars will never be a video site—they just take too much time and money to produce for it to be our main content type. And our first, true love is still the written word. Video can and will help us grow strong into the future.