“We saw growth with Facebook video” – ITV’s Jason Mills talks #GE2015 at News Impact Summit London

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Today I’ve been at the News Impact Summit London, and the first panel session was about coverage of the recent UK General Election, a subject rather dear to my heart.

It featured Miranda Green, Buzzfeed’s Tom Phillips, ITV’s Jason Mills and the BBC’s Steve Herrmann. Here are my notes about what Jason Mills said…

“We saw growth with Facebook video” – Jason Mills, ITV News

Jason Mills is Head of digital at ITV News, and he was following on from a talk by the BBC’s Steve Herrmann. Steve had been showing loads of graphs of the BBC’s impressive traffic figures, and so like most of us, Jason opened by saying “I’d love to say our numbers were comparable – but don’t think anybody would believe that.”

What Jason went on to say, though, was that the overall picture was comparable. “Our whole structure was set-up with mobile and social at the forefront” he explained, and stated that 85% of their traffic comes from mobile or tablet devices. “We believe that mobile and social are the way that people are getting their content nowadays.”

I’ve blogged previously about the ITV News website design and their tight focus on mobile use cases.

Jason Mills said that the dominant themes they saw on the site during the campaign were the constitutional ones around the SNP and coalition, although like everybody on the panel he had to point out that this narrative was guided by the opinion polling numbers that turned out to be so far from the result.

He wanted to especially point out a couple of widgets that ITV News built.

Their “Who matches my views?” decider, he said, was very different.

ITV who to vote

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Rather than getting “experts” or journalists to frame the answers to the questions, they went to the parties themselves to get a score on each question.

Some issues, for example, “Do you support the Bedroom Tax” got very binary results with parties scoring them 0 or 100 on a scale. But others had much more nuance – to the extent, he said, that there were some questions that some parties would not answer because they did not want to expose that nuance.

He also pointed out the interactive they had running during the ITV Leaders’ Debate. Users could hammer away at button saying whether they agreed or disagreed with what was being said right now. ITV used it to power a sentiment “worm” and an individual “needle” for each leader.

They were very careful to frame it as “a bit of fun” and didn’t use the results as demonstrative of anything. Just as well, Jason implied, as there was a strong sense of tribalism and rooting for the underdog. “If we’d then relied on that to tell us what the story was we’d have got it totally wrong.”

It had massive engagement figures though. They recorded 30 million interactions during the course of the debate, the average length of time using it was 30 minutes, and some users stuck with it for the full two hours of the debate. There was quite a lot of incredulous laughter about that in the room, and I do genuinely think journalists and media people often underestimate just how much time people will spend button-mashing for a bit of fun.

Other sites had rolling live blogs for their election coverage, but Jason reminded us that the ITV News site is effectively one long sprawling live blog of the news as it happens. He said probably their biggest break-out story from the live updates was Nigel Farage’s comments about immigrants with HIV/AIDS – a despicable comment which we fact-checked on Ampp3d.

He also said that they’d seen a big growth with using Facebook video.

“It may have had something to do with auto-play”, he pointed out, and then playfully suggested that some people actually stuck around and watched them too.

Things like “Instant Articles” and native video on Facebook are putting publishers in a difficult position, but Jason had a really important point about that. He said that ITV were whacking up clips of the key moments in debates as soon as they happened. “We know people are going to be screen-grabbing us” so we might as well at least get them getting it directly from us.

[Full disclosure: the ITV News website was originally designed and built by Made By Many, who have been a client of my company Emblem]