There’s much more to Reuters than the traditional wire service. As Global Head of Custom Video Solutions at Reuters News Agency, Munira Ibrahim manages three different departments within content solutions which help agency clients to produce exclusive content, and also produce content for broadcasters and brands.
We asked her whether she is tapping into a growing market.
I come from a broadcast background, so when I arrived at Reuters I was impressed by the infrastructure but realised that we need to further enhance it to make it more customer centric, as well as hire more broadcast journalists. I love what I do here at Reuters. It’s a brand that has credibility around the world and that can open so many doors for us, and our partners too. The reason we think there is a growing market for producing bespoke content is because of the demand for international coverage. Broadcasters come to Reuters and we can produce content or cover events or breaking news on their behalf, while utilising our access and global infrastructure to do so. We produce content in multiple languages, so we work with a variety of clients across the globe and we produce lives, updates from various locations, or fully finished programmes. Reuters has nearly 200 locations around the globe, so we can leverage this infrastructure. If there’s a breaking news story in Tunisia and our client doesn’t have a presence there, we can use a Reuters journalist to report live for our clients. That saves them money and we’re ensuring that our content and our people are being effectively utilised.
How does what you’re doing differ from the traditional TV wire service that you have?
Reuters World News service (the TV wire) is extensive raw footage, with video constantly arriving from our video journalists around the world, covering a whole range of topics and events. It is available to all clients in a non-customised form. Custom Video Solutions edits, packages and customises content for the client. For example, Kimberley Lim’s package for a client won’t be seen anywhere else (Kimberley heads up our team in London). This is different to the World News Service content where the broadcaster or media publisher will take the video and package it as their own. In most cases we commission new content specifically for our clients.
Do those clients know what they actually want?
It varies. Sometimes they have a very specific need and know exactly where they want to go but just don’t have the resources to do it. One of the big projects this year was a channel who had the studios and systems in place, but didn’t quite have the people in place to actually get going. So we launched the channel for them and that meant flying out 19 people who had the expertise to get the programme on air, on time and on budget. We continue to produce an additional one and a half hours’ worth of programming from London, which enhances their programming schedule. We built a new studio for the client and leveraged Reuters resources to help them launch the channel. On another occasion it was a very specific brief: “We need to have a live news and market update from these very specific locations, can you do that?” Our answer was “Yes, we can.”
Where does editorial control lie?
Editorial control remains with Reuters journalists: we abide by the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. Everything we report is balanced, objective and unbiased. We adhere to the Trust Principles at all times, but if the client decides they don’t want to broadcast a particular piece of content, they can make that choice. We also have to follow our editorial guidelines. This makes us stronger because people know what Reuters stands for, it gives us and our clients credibility. There are some broadcasters who specifically want to work with us as it will give their news operations further credibility: because it’s the Reuters team producing the content. I think the only time that we’ve had challenges is with coverage of protests. We had to say: “Unfortunately this is it. This is how the rest of the world is reporting it. This is how we’re going to report it. You can choose not to air it.” And they didn’t. People take us seriously. For me it’s a must that we have to comply with the editorial integrity guidelines.
Does the Reuters brand appear on all work?
It varies. It really does depend on the client. Some clients want to utilise the Reuters brand, while others have their own branding. We are able to give clients a choice because the content we deliver is in line with the Trust Principles.
So if I wanted to set up an international TV news station, I could come to you?
Yes, and we’ve already done this. We offer end-to-end solutions, from the very first stages of building studios and setting up technical infrastructure, to training, branding and enhancing coverage through Reuters News Service and custom programming. A couple of weeks ago I met with someone who wanted to launch a TV channel but didn’t quite know how to go about it. Maybe they’ll use our services, but in any case it starts a conversation, it’s a door opener. Even if it doesn’t lead to us launching the channel, hopefully it will lead to us providing content for them. But mostly it is about supporting our existing clients, enabling them to do things more cost-effectively while improving their coverage and programming. One example is COP21, the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris. We can support our broadcast clients by providing custom content for them so that they don’t need to send teams of people to cover the event. Another example is a client who sent over 200 staff out to the World Cup, but still commissioned us to do a series in the run-up to it. There’s a lot that the Custom Video Solutions team can do to help broadcasters, from new startups to established partners, there is a plethora of ways we can help them.
So is Reuters becoming a production company?
Yes, absolutely, but the difference is that we have video teams and bureaux around the world that we are able to utilise, passing on our cost-effectiveness to clients. We don’t need to fly people here there and everywhere, as the chances are we already have a team on the ground. Therefore it’s more cost-effective for us to do it than a production house, and clients have confidence in our quality and expertise. Additionally, because we already have people there, we can utilise their local expertise and the global recognition of the Reuters brand to gain access to events and high profile personalities.
Where’s the biggest growth?
This year as well as last, the biggest growth has been our work with broadcast clients. Additionally there are opportunities with online publishers. This is something that we haven’t actively gone to market with yet, but we are starting to do so this year. We’re providing video coverage that they can’t necessarily gather themselves.
How do you make your content fit in with the rest of clients’ programming?
It’s constant engagement, which we encourage. We work closely with our clients because we need to understand the context of the programming to ensure the output is relevant to the audience. If we are working with a TV station we often have somebody stationed there as our liaison point so that we understand exactly what they are trying to do.
What’s your message to broadcasters suffering budget cuts?
We’ve redefined the news agency to better serve broadcasters going through these exact problems. There are a whole host of services and solutions utilising the Reuters network and infrastructure, that our clients can take advantage of. If you have challenges ask us, challenge us. Let us come back to you with a cost-effective solution.
What changes do you see ahead?
We are solutions orientated but as broadcasters are more than just TV now, we also need to think about content for online. I think it’s going to be more graphics-based and focused on shareable content. People want to have multiple views and like to get their news in bitesized chunks. That’s going to be the challenge: how will we deliver to multiple clients in all the different formats that they need to engage with their audiences on multiple platforms. One of the challenges we have is that the broadcasters we work with differ greatly in terms of how far they have progressed and how their audiences engage with content and consume news. However, with our global presence we understand the needs of a given locality and therefore we’re able to tailor solutions that meet their requirements.
Could an organisation like the Huffington Post become a competitor to established broadcasters through a partnership with you?
International online publishers are already competing with established broadcasters. For example, they are equipping their journalists with iPhones to deliver video content. Online publishers partner with us for the quality and breadth of our global coverage and because we have journalists and infrastructure all over the world: the same reason that broadcast channels partner with us.
Munira Ibrahim, thank you.
This interview first appeared in Channel magazine and is published here with their kind agreement. You can view their article here.