The history of online video production and distribution is one of fragmentation (competing formats and players) followed by easy-uploads-with-inferior quality (YouTube); one of dissatisfaction with the cross-browser and cross-platform work-around (Flash) with hopes pinned on a new savior for rich media, HTML5.
If the future of the Internet is mobile (and I believe it is), then what types of content are mobile customers accessing today? According to a 2011 report from ComScore, in 2010 2-out-of-5 U.S. mobile customers used their mobile devices to access “news and information.” In Japan, where the mobile market is much more mature, the numbers jumped to 3-in-5. In the U.S., only 6% reported watching “TV or video” but 23% did in Japan, where mass transit is part of the lifestyle of a much greater percentage of the populace than it is in the U.S.
So what should a newsroom manager be thinking about the future of online video?
1. Avoid “Not Invented Here” Syndrome
There’s a time and place for home-grown solutions but video distribution is not, in my opinion, one of them. Leverage existing platforms like YouTube or Vimeo because the platform is familiar to your customers and it’s what they do. As Tom Peters suggests, “stick to the knitting” — which in the case of news organizations is creating compelling content.
2. Make It Easy To Share
Too often, I see a news story that has a video and (a) I can’t tell that it is a video because what I see looks like a still photo with no visual clues that a video is hiding underneath or (b) I can’t link directly to the video or (c) I can’t embed (share) the video in a blog post I am writing about the topic. Each is flat out a bad business decision. The first is a violation of good user interface design, the second screams “learn SEO” and both the second and third means that your content can’t go viral.
3. Make It Compelling
Whether we’re talking about TV news or online video news stories, too often the strengths of the medium are ignored. Use video for stories where action and sound are integral to my being able to understand the intricacies and nuances of the story. Oh. And there needs to be a story. Talking heads? Give it to me in text, please, as I can read a lot faster than the talking head can speak. Moreover, the text can be indexed by search engines; for the time being, that audio track cannot.
4. Get To The Point
A corollary to number three, get to the point means think about the environment in which this video is being watched. With television news, the environment is usually leisurely, in my home sitting comfortably on the sofa*. Sometimes, it’s “sound only” as the viewer is doing something else; the TV is on in the background. (And unfortunately too often sound is the only part of the medium that is essential to understanding the story.) But on my phone (or iPad) or even my laptop, I’m not in a leisurely state of mind. I’m not going to linger. And if the video doesn’t get to the point (or capture my heart) immediately, I’m outta here. That leads to ….
5. About Those Lead-in Commercials
I’d love to be able to say “ditch them” but I’m a realist. Americans put up with commercials in order to have “free” information. We’ve been doing this for at least a century, so I will bend to the inevitable. Except: Insist that the commercials you run be developed specifically for online video. This means that they need to be short! A 30-second commercial is a lifetime online. Moreover, if I want to rewind – watch the clip again – don’t make me sit through the commercial a second time. For the record, I’ve experienced these non-user-centric design pitfalls on too many news websites.
Pre-internet, we had three separate distribution (media) methods: print (newspapers and magazines) for text and still images, radio for audio, and television for moving pictures and sound. The internet, as a distribution platform, accommodates all media forms. It will be the primary distribution platform for content in the not-too-distant future. We live in a multi-media world; the successful news organization will create compelling content that best understands the advantage of each content form and embrace tools that allows customers to share content and also interact with both the content and its creator.
* I confess to not watching mainstream TV news. I watch The Daily Show (irregularly) and PBS/BBC (irregularly).