The fight is over and video won. If you’re not putting video up on your websites, blogs and other media, you’re ignoring a very large fraction of your audience. Because chances are if you’re under the age of 30 you’re more likely to watch than read – and if there’s nothing to watch, you’re not going to stick around for long.
Unfortunately video production is mostly still in the dark ages. It’s the bastion of specialized workers – one of the last true priesthoods in media. Many of us are still making video exactly the same way – and with the same roles – as we did 20 years ago. Talent, writer, editor, producer – and for live production and expanded narrative, director, teleprompter operator, show runner, directors of photography, are all typical roles you’ll see on many video production teams.
All these roles might make sense if you’re creating Game of Thrones. But today’s rapid-fire media landscape, where trending topics, first-to-web and new outlets including Facebook, YouTube and Vine make traditional video creation prohibitively expensive for all but the biggest and most well-funded media companies. But here’s the rub – in most cases they just aren’t needed.
Video has Evolved, But Costs Are Still Sky High
Ten years ago, the rise of YouTube was mirrored by a rise in something called “Video Blogging” or vlogging for short. It eschewed all those go-betweens, instead focusing on a person, a camera and a narrative – usually just a stream of consciousness, captured with a webcam. Over time a video blogging style emerged, created in part by now President of Buzzfeed Motion Pictures Ze Frank, where rough-cut edits cut out pauses and delivered a rapid-fire stream of consciousness that was embraced by many. How familiar does this once leading-edge format now feel?:
So, vlogging developed into its own media, but still didn’t replace the traditional video narrative. And even though certain roles were combined – the new-fangled “preditor”, for example, which combines a producer and an editor – most video production still required a team of specialists to make meaningful content.
Unfortunately that still means a decent video – even for a breaking news story – can take hours to produce, and requires multiple specialized staffers. I’ve built and managed a number of rapid-production video teams for the web, and our cost for each piece was generally in the one (or more) man day of effort, when you add up editor, host/writer and supervising producer – or roughly $350-$500 a video when you add in salary, benefits and overhead. More traditional video production workflows typically range from $1,000 to $5,000 or more per video. Even those stripped-down costs are too much. With blog posts costing less than $100, video needs to come into line – because web audiences demand it. At $500 a video you’ll need 100,000 views or more to break even. And very few companies or individuals consistently deliver that.
New Video Platforms = New Opportunities
But now there’s a new set of video production platforms that bring the per-video cost down substantially – led by video creation platform wochit (disclosure, I’m an advisor and consultant to wochit), but with a number of other entrants. These companies allow almost anyone to create a video in 15 minutes – at an all-in cost that can be a fraction of what more traditional work-flows end up costing. And just as YouTube and cheap webcams gave rise to video blogging, these new platforms are spawning their own new type of video format – the video reblog. In the same way that Tumblr brought reblogging to the text and photo world, now anyone can create a quick and high quality video around virtually any topic of interest.
What’s the breakthrough here? There are three:
- First, these platforms make it amazingly easy to snag any web story and turn it into a decent video script. It’s not perfect, but it gets the video reblogger more than half the way towards writing a decent voice over.
- Second, these platforms provide a wide variety of professionally produced video and photo assets for those videos, in many cases offering it to creators for free. And third, they’ve reinvented the assembly process, where script, voice over, video and still images are combined into a compelling narrative.
- Finally a truly watchable video can be conceptualized, assembled and published for the cost of a basic text blog post.
Video Reblog: Find the Right Platform for You
So how do you find a video creation and reblogging platform that delivers on this promise? Here are six areas to evaluate as you make your decision:
#1 Evaluate the quality of the provided source material. If you’re creating trending news, entertainment or business stories you’ll want access to wire-feeds including The Associated Press, AFP, Reuters and Bloomberg. For more general-purpose video reblogs you’ll want access to Getty, Corbis or other libraries of general b-roll and still images. More specialized videos – like those focused on science or technology – will want access to NASA footage, content from universities and video from tech events and press conferences.
#2) Look carefully at the text to script conversion software. Lots of promises have been made using all sorts of technology mumbo-jumbo, but it’s still really hard to turn something designed to be read into that conversational style that video demands (especially in multiple languages). Don’t expect turn-key results here, but look for a good head start. Many video creators today want to use their own voice, so using a platform that gives you this option should be considered a winner (I talk about this a bit more below). And as an aside, this is where you’ll probably spend the majority of your time-to-reblog any story.
#3 Determine how easy it is to find that source material and match it to your script of topic. You can have all the best material in the world at your fingertips, but if you can’t find it easily, you won’t be able to use it. Even better, look for automated search tools that will surface appropriate video and still images automatically – that’s another great way to streamline your production. Also make sure you evaluate how easy it is to preview those those clips, snip out relevant pieces and build your collection of visual imagery.
Oh, and when it comes to source material, look for more than just video and still images. You’ll want the ability to quickly and easily bring in not only your own assets, but also web pages, social feeds (including Twitter and Facebook, infographics, charts and other source material. In addition, look for other automated types of content, depending on your story type. Business-style videos can often benefit from stock charting features. Maps help to tell a wide variety of stories. Text overlays and supers can help visually, particularly when you’re posting to mobile sites where many viewers leave the sound turned down.
#4 How easy is it to marry those videos to your script? Traditional video editors required painstaking positioning to ensure complete coverage. The best of these new video reblogging platforms make it simple to drop a handful of videos into your script – including allowing for sound or dialog from those clips to interject between the voice over. Even better, look for a platform that will auto-fill your selected video clips around the two or three that you’ve placed precisely.
#5 What about voice overs? How easy is it to record that voice track? Can you quickly do it yourself with minimal retakes? Some platforms even include the ability to outsource voice overs. wochit, for example, calls this Uber for VO, and has a team of voice experts available 24-7 to deliver a voice over in 15 minutes or less.
#6 Finally, how well is everything pulled together? The polish on the finish is almost as important as the script, companion video and other assets. Audio mixing, for example, is often overlooked but can be the most important part of the end product. Look for the ability to normalize volume levels and filter voice over sounds, natural sounds and “sound on tape” – or sound bites – so that your video sounds consistently great. Otherwise you’ll end up with an uncomfortable experience akin to when TV commercials are 50% louder than the show you’re watching.
In addition, look for smooth transitions between videos, motion applied to still images and web pages (commonly called “The Ken Burns” effect) and video effects or motion applied to maps, stock charts and other canned infographics. All these little touches will make your video seem much more polished and professional – and if they’re missing it’ll leave your end product dull and dingy.
Video Reblogging: A Quick, Affordable Production Option
With the right tool, you should be able to video reblog most stories in well under a half an hour. The best of these platforms will even let you create a quick video in 15 minutes or less. And all-in, you should be able to video reblog any story for well under $100– including personnel, overhead, source material, voice over and other fees. Even better, some platforms offer a free version that’ll let you embed any video reblog on your site free – the only cost is the 20 minutes or so it will take you to create it.
With these new tools there’s no reason why virtually any story on the web shouldn’t have a video companion. Whether it’s a personal blog, a professional site or a social media platform, you can now create summaries, teasers, or even full-blown narratives without having to resort to the video priesthood – and generally in less than 30 minutes. In addition, you can use these tools to create brand new stories that stand on their own, and rival anything you’d see on a variety of news and information websites and even on traditional television. The sky really is the limit – as video reblogging truly lets video become as ubiquitous as text.