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How Polygon produced a record number of video views in April

After working closely with Polygon this year on their audience development strategy for video, I was convinced, as the late New York Times columnist David Carr might say, 'somebody should do a story about that.'

Working with Vox Media’s verticals on audience development strategies for video, seven publishing brands, I have the unique opportunity of observing the varied ways teams operate -- how they communicate, delegate, plan, measure success, and then adjust based on analytics.

Teams share best practices and resources, yet all operate in uniquely different ways. None more so than Polygon, whose video offerings and organizational structure are wholly unique from Vox Media's other brands, SB Nation, The Verge, Vox.com, Eater, Racked, and soon enough Curbed, the last of the Curbed-Eater-Racked brands to be migrated to Chorus and restart their video programming. (Check out our channels and subscribe!)

‘Do what's in front of you and do it well. If you concentrate on your plot to take over the world you're going to miss things.’ -- The late David Carr in a May 2014 commencement address at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism.

For Polygon, that means focusing on creating quality, high-volume gameplay and walkthroughs that don’t require expensive budgets to produce. Staff from all across the country can partner up on projects as well.

It’s a work in progress, but very much working.

After an extremely promising March, April proved to be the audience windfall Polygon had been working towards.

  • YouTube views: +150% year-over-year and 2nd biggest month ever for YouTube views
  • YouTube subscribers gained: +285% and single-month record
  • On-Platform views: +600% year-over-year and single-month record
  • Facebook views: +175% month-over-month and third-most amongst Vox Media brands

When I asked Polygon editor-in-chief Chris Grant how he’d assess the record-setting April views in nearly every conceivable video metric, he said, "We need to keep the pressure on, and show that April wasn't an anomaly."

What drove these huge increases in video views?

The release of Bloodborne in late March certainly helped, and Polygon was more than prepared. In fact, the 46th and final ‘Bloodborne Let’s Play’ episode just went up on Thursday, and in addition to noticing a colleague watching Bloodborne ‘Let’s Play’ episodes one row ahead of me for weeks now, I can report that they’ve got at least one other fan: Shuhei Yoshida, President of Worldwide Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment.

Huge news and developments for two blockbuster franchises -- Star Wars and Destiny -- didn’t hurt either. Polygon was again prepared, with multiple single-day on--platform records set in the calendar month.

The addition of Nick Robinson as a Polygon video producer has also been instrumental. Grant hired Robinson in late February to direct Polygon’s YouTube strategy after a successful tenure at Rev3 Games. Just as Grant had hoped, Polygon’s YouTube channel saw a nearly 20% jump in its subscriber base: up to nearly 77,000 in the two and a half months since Robinson’s hiring.

"You have to make stuff. The tools of journalism are in your hands and no one is going to give a damn about what is on your resume, they want to see what you have made with your own little fingers."

A commitment to this simple philosophy is the best starting point for explaining why Polygon has leveled up (pardon the pun) several times after more modest gains and growth in the second half of 2014.

And it starts at the very top with Grant. In between high-level strategy and managerial duties, the editor-in-chief can be found rolling up his sleeves when needed to help capture a stream, upload video natively to Facebook, or build out a comprehensive wiki of best practices and 'how-to's' for his staff. His team follows suit and is thriving under the additional fluidity to their work.

"When I come into work on any given morning, I could be working on anything," explained senior editor Phil Kollar. "I could have a big interview or an exclusive feature. I could be on a review deadline. Or I could be creating a really cool video. And on most days, I'm doing some combination of two or three cool things that are working different parts of my brain and getting me excited for different reasons."

The participation is infectious. Jake Lear, a product manager for revenue products for Vox Media and Polygon, has woken up at the crack of dawn every Friday for almost three months to produce a video on what the exotic goods merchant, Xur, is selling that week in the hugely popular Destiny.

While keeping the team focused on the many immediate tasks at hand -- including planning for their annual high-stakes coverage of the Electronic Entertainment Expo in mid-June -- Grant also has eye on the second half of 2015 and beyond in terms of programming and expanding Polygon’s video offerings. "As we can show success and have some predictability to it, we're going to be looking to add people to the team so we can scale."

With over 30 videos published to YouTube already in May, and a team who is excited to get to work every day, the best is still to come for Polygon.