There’s still no evidence that ‘big and huge’ is the right video strategy

Any John From Cincinnati fans out there? I mention JC because the phrase “big and huge” keeps popping into my head today (the day after the season, and probably series, finale).

There’s a contingent with in the online newspaper community who think we should only do video if it’s “big and huge.”

The juxtaposition of pulling that phrase out of the air for a post on newspaper video is just about as odd as any dialogue in JC, so forgive me my JC moment. Except, we all know that the ones and zeros in Cass’s camera contain the answer.
Ryan Sholin put it better in his post about the FasterMores vs. the BiggerBetters. Ryan pretty much nailed it.

For the BiggerBetters, consider the graph with this post. It represents YouTube.com audience growth as tracked by Compete.com. Consider that Viacom forced YouTube to remove all its “BiggerBetter” content in February. Up until that time you heard a lot from the BiggerBetters, within our industry and without, that YT only survives on stolen content. Yet, Viacom’s takedown order has done nothing to slow YT’s audience growth. And you know what, when I go to YT, I find lots of fresh, poorly produced, but highly trafficked UGC. For example, this piece picked somewhat at random, which has gotten more than 36,000 views in about 20 hours.

There’s no shortage of video most BiggerBetters would find repulsive getting a lot of attention on YT.

Consider those observations along side this article that Angela Grant linked to about ManiaTV deleting 15,000 pages of UGC from its site.

“We decided that user-generated content is passé, and not a part of what we want to do in the future. We tried it, we didn’t think it worked and we’re getting rid of it,” said Richard Ayoub, ManiaTV’s vice president of programming and development.

So, some off-brand site generated 15,000 pages of UGC video, but “it didn’t work.” Ummm … isn’t that kind of insane?

Based on Angela’s brief comment, I take it that she thinks this is evidence that the BiggerBetters are winning. But note what an industry analyst says later in the same article:

Sites focused on user-generated content also are finding it hard to compete with popular video-sharing site YouTube, said Josh Bernoff, principal analyst for Forrester Research. “The (reason for the) stampede of people moving away from user-gen is that it is difficult to make money off it and impossible to make money off of it if you’re not YouTube,” he said.

Sites that are moving away from a UGC-centric content model (note, this says nothing about UGC as part of a broader content model) aren’t doing so for lack of audience interest, but because they haven’t figured out how to offset the high cost of storing and hosting the video with advertising revenue. This isn’t an audience-growth decision; it’s a cost-analysis decision.

That’s a legitimate reason for moving away from UGC (though I think it shows a profound lack of imagination), but let’s not be hoodwinked into thinking that it tells us anything about what audiences want from video.

10 thoughts on “There’s still no evidence that ‘big and huge’ is the right video strategy

  1. I never did say that I think higher-quality video storytelling is the only thing that newspapers should be doing.

    I’m actually always saying that different stories deserve different treatment. So there can be a video brief, 12-incher, 60 incher.

    You’re always pushing your disruptive strategy so hard and never mentioning the place for higher-level video storytelling.

    I think you should start mentioning it along with all the other stuff you advocate.

  2. While I don’t, as you know, dismiss taking a bigger approach to video, I do believe that doing it at the expense of a disruptive approach is a mistake. Newspapers that have the resources to do both, should. Newspapers that have to choose, should choose disruptive. Newspapers that can do both, should work hardest on the disruptive strategy. We need to get that right first, that’s why I push it so much. I’m not saying it’s the only correct approach, but it is the most correct approach. Or so I believe at the moment.

  3. You’ve got a very good point, Howard, about the lack of imagination regarding UGC–which is usually evident in Terms of Service agreements that emphasize that the person turning over the UGC will (a) never see any monitary gain from it and (b) must turn over all rights, usually in perpetuity. It’s like a tacit admission that “we want the stuff, just don’t know what to do with it yet.” Content producers should think twice and perhaps wait till outlets figure out what to do with it, and can give better terms.

  4. I think the priorities should be: Be there, with the best you have.

    It might help for newsrooms to think about general assignment video and projects video, just as they have daily general assignment coverage that any reporter can do, and those longterm projects about the safety of bridges or levees. One of the advantages newspapers have over TV is the potential to have more people in more places. It would be a shame for a reporter to not do video because the video team was somewhere else with all the good equipment. And by developing a relationship with citizens, a newsroom can have even more people in more places.

    But the no-frills video gets its charm from its unpretentious person-to-person warmth, and newspapers should try to keep that spontaneity going. If it’s just boring ideas done on the cheap, that’s not enough. But a five-second pan showing what an accident-prone street corner looks like might be valuable. Or a video story of late-night street racers that takes a month to do might be valuable too.

    A quirky columnist might do one kind of video, a talented photographer might do another kind, and a police reporter might do another kind.

  5. “It would be a shame for a reporter to not do video because the video team was somewhere else with all the good equipment.”

    I agree with that! It would also be a shame to get the video team to run around like TV shooting fires and car crashes. Reporters will be there anyways, let them shoot the accidents or whatever. Let the video team work on more meaningful stories.

  6. This is why we do “Footage” and “Produce video.” The former is fast and gets the point across. The latter is carefully edited to tell a story and include quality sound and b-roll. There’s plenty of demand for both and it is no different than a reporter taking a P&S shot of a crash when a staff photog can’t make it.

  7. I should post this in both places, but I have found a couple of valuable messages from both Howard and Angela. From Howard: Don’t wait weeks between doing videos, then put them deep in your Web site where they’re hard to find, because people won’t think of you as the video source. From Angela: Don’t settle for sloppy shots, lighting and audio because the novelty of amateurs doing video will wear off and people will want the best work you can give them.

    And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the reporters who start out with point and shoots keep going and start asking, “How can I make my videos as good as Angela’s?”

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