Webcasts are hard to produce well, harder still to make a hit

Long ago, I disavowed my former praise of TimesCast.

As I dove deeper into web casts, I found a number that were stunningly good, and realized the bar was much higher for episodic video than daily news video. If you want people to watch the same show every day or every week, it better be good. An audience will forgive less technical and product quality for something they’ll watch only once for a minute or two, but to keep them coming back for an episodic show of three-to-six minutes, it needs to be good.

Webcasts are something where good enough isn’t good enough. They need to be good. Period.

Examples of good:

What do the good have in common:

  • Great production values
  • A well defined, and consistently followed theme (focus)
  • Interesting content
  • Great on-screen talent that delivers the content in a personal, engaging manner (not like TV’s robotic anchors)

So far, I don’t know of any newspaper webcast production that hits on all four attributes — many hit on none of them. The best of the lot, Miami Herald’s What the Five and Naples News Studio55 suffer from less-than-personal on-screen talent. The hosts on What the Five come across as a morning radio team dropped unexpectedly in a video studio, and Studio55 tries too hard to be TV.

And if I wanted to take the time — and be that insulting — I could surf around and find links to many truly horrid newspaper webcasts.

The most common fault is either trying to be like TV, or trying to shoehorn the newspaper (“Let’s read the headlines and ledes on camera!”) onto video. There is also the problem of putting people on camera who have no business on camera, or at least need a lot more training and coaching before they should be doing this professionally.

(I should mention, there is another class of webcasts — the lone reporter who has camera and access to YouTube and one day goes, “I’m going to make a news cast!”  These productions rarely make it past the third episode before the reporter loses interest, but I applaud the entrepreneurial, willing-to-experiment-and-learn attitude. We need more of that in our industry.)

It’s not just newspapers that get it wrong, either. There are supposedly professional video companies trying to enter the webcast/video podcast space, and their results can be just as bad.

Consider Fountain Head Studios — supposedly a serious effort to produce great webcasts, and every one of their efforts so far fail miserably (hat tip to NewTeeVee). Compare Stock Rockets, for example, to WallStrip … clearly a ripoff attempt, but it suffers painfully from bad writing and bad talent and lacks WallStrip’s defined theme, except in a broad, unfocused way (it’s about stocks, not about stocks with an interesting story to tell in an interesting way). All of Fountain Head’s shows demonstrate the same lack of clear focus, plus poor writing and less than stellar hosts.

Let that be a lesson to you.

If you’re going to do a webcast, you should spend the money and take the time to get it right. You may get only one shot at getting right — and as music and television producers will tell you, it may take hundreds of shots to find one hit — this is tough stuff.

One thought on “Webcasts are hard to produce well, harder still to make a hit

  1. As someone that has taped, edited, hosted and published Web casts (The TimesCast), I will second that this is a tough way to present information on the Web. Especially if you talent pool consists of reporters and online geeks (like myself).

    Roanoke made a good move in having their investment for the TimesCast take a dual purpose: Their newsroom studio not only made online, and video, “real” to the non-believers, but it also allowed for the creation of great non-linear storytelling like their Homestand multimedia.

Leave a Reply