Online video strategy is not about getting GAS

Several years ago, when I was active in the online virtual community for guitarists, WholeNote, I learned an interesting term: Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS).

The symptoms of GAS? Every spare dime you get finds its way through the doors of the local guitar store. You might have stopped by after work for a set of strings and walked out with a new effects pedal and Monster Cable. You had to have all the latest and coolest stuff. You needed new and better toys.

I think about GAS when I read yet another videographer arguing that publishers should just shut up and buy them all the best equipment. Forget strategy. Forget other spending priorities. If you aren’t buying them Canon XH-A1s, then you just don’t get video.

I have the deepest respect for PF Bentley, whom I met while I worked in Ventura. I have no doubt that every aspiring videographer could learn a lot from the man, who is truly one of the icons of the field. But, memories of GAS came flooding back while reading his piece on DigitalJournalist, “Just Say … Wait A Second.” (Link via Doug Fisher)

So now you need to make the switch to video and the bosses are asking if you can do “that video stuff” on some ultra-mini DV camera and edit in iMovie. Ask them if you could shoot the big game with a digital point-and-shoot. Hey, cut costs more by only using Photoshop Elements. Finally, tell them you could further cut costs if they’d move out of their plush offices and sit in the newsroom with a plain, unfinished pine desk with a rotary phone with dial-up Internet.

Going back to another memory, I think of the first post I ever did encouraging newsrooms to equip reporters with point-and-shoot cameras. It was comical the level of hostility my old posts aroused among many otherwise level-headed journalists. I’ve gotten pretty hot under the collar writing about this topic, as have others. But the bottom line is, it still doesn’t make sense for newsrooms to get a case of GAS.

PF says IT shouldn’t be making video equipment purchase decisions. I agree, but I doubt any newspaper IT department in the country is making these decisions. Those decisions are usually made by the online editor or online director. The actual purchase order may be processed by IT, but only after getting clear direction from an experienced online professional.

And that experienced online professional isn’t making purchase decisions based on your case of GAS. He or she is making STRATEGIC decisions.

GAS is not a strategy.

Thinking about how best to grow audience through video, how best to leverage the strengths of the newsroom, and about where you want your newsroom to be in regards to video three to five years from now are all strategy questions. Once you answer those questions, then you can move onto finding the right equipment to suit your strategy.

I agree with PF that digital content is moving toward video and that there is a huge opportunity for newspaper web sites to grow video advertising revenue. But going out and spending $20,000 on just a couple of video kits is no way to ensure your will be well positioned to reap those advertising dollars. In fact, it’s damn near a sure fire way to ensure you’ll fail to get those dollars.

If you don’t widely develop video literacy within the newsroom, you will not have the resources to move rapidly with the changing video world; you will have too little talent concentrated in too few people. Most importantly, you won’t be producing enough video on a daily basis to grow audience.

Critics of the disruptive video strategy seem to think that buying smaller, more mobile cameras is all about cheaping out, as Bentley says above. But if you’re doing this strategy right, it’s not cheap. For example, our company has bought more than 140 (make that at least 280 — see note from Sarah Corbitt in the comments. Ed: Don’t you know how many cameras your company has bought? They’re breeding like rabbits. I can’t keep track.) point-and-shoot cameras with extra memory and carrying cases. That isn’t cheap. We’re also investing in training, and will invest more.

One of the interesting lessons of our video purchases is that not all photographers who want to do video want to be hobbled by the Canon XH-A1 (we’ve purchased some of these, too). Some photographers are asking for more nimble equipment, such as the Canon HV20. They have print obligations and the XH-A1 is too much equipment. Lugging it around and setting everything up slows them down.

Just to be clear, pursuing a disruptive video strategy isn’t about being cheap. It’s about being smart. It’s about taking limited resources — all newspapers have limited resources — and deploying them in the way that seems best to suit strategic needs. It’s about getting Return on Investment, not about saving money. In fact, if you’re doing it right, you’re spending just as much money on video as you would if you took PF Bentley’s advice.

One last thought: Do you know what your newspaper’s video strategy is? Whether your company is buying pricey video kits or sending reporters out with Casios, have you made sure you understand the strategy? You should be asking the questions, for two reasons. First, you want to make sure the work you do aligns with a well articulated strategy, so you work efficiently and in concert with the other parts of your company. Second, if your company is spending money on video just because everybody else is, then your company is in trouble. You should know that. And if that is the case, it doesn’t matter how good your equipment is, or how poor, because your efforts will be without direction and soon peter out once people lose interest or think video just isn’t working.

Strategy is important. Make sure you have a strategy before spending a dime on video. Don’t get GAS.

UPDATE: Ryan Sholin can’t stop writing about this topic, either. He has a related post on video strategy as a long-tail strategy.

11 thoughts on “Online video strategy is not about getting GAS

  1. Our video strategy started with me borrowing my wife’s digital video camera for four years and editing with iMovie. We certainly learned a lot with that camera, and it would still be our best camera today if I hadn’t had to give it back to her. Thanks to that experience, we know exactly what to buy for what we want to accomplish.

    We bought one of the Pure Digital 30-minute point-and-shoots and played with it for a few weeks before investing in more (difficult to call it investing when they’re $90). Now, we have seven Pure Digitals to go along with six consumer-level digital video cams (mini-DV and high-8).

    We get some pretty good stuff with the Pure Digitals. We beat the crap out of our TV competitors by posting within the hour what they won’t air for eight hours.

  2. Great comment, Andy. Thanks for sharing that. You guys are doing some neat videos. That’s a good example of being entrepreneurial with video.

  3. Howard, nicely articulated.
    As a guitar player, photographer I have seen and occasionally fell victim to the GAS since I bought my first four-track recorder in the 70s.
    And that camera you show in your November 2006 post is the one I used in Moscow at the World Editors Forum ( five months earlier to demonstrate reporter-driven video strategies. Video literacy is the take away. If everyone on staff can take 10megapixel still frames and capture a vox pop or breaking news with a camera that they pull out of their front pocket then that becomes the base.
    UP from that you have story teams that carry tripods, lights, beter mics and a slightly more Ex$pensive camera – and at the high end you have your dedicated videographers working on HD documentary projects that could be screened at the local cinema if the story and promotion was handled right.
    That’s the potential – it is not to cheapen anything we do – but add a richness of video storytelling.

    It is funny because these Lumix cameras are so cheap. ($250 – $600 field equipped)
    I ran into an unusual problem when I was designing and speccing a system last year to outfit reporters for a client last October – the expenditure wasn’t even going to be large enough to qualify as a capital expenditure. Thats a nice problem to have!

  4. Howard:

    As of today, our company has handed out 267 Casio Elixim point-and-shoots to reporters, who have shot hundreds of videos since April (which is when we handed the first wave of cameras out). I’ve pasted a link below to a video made by an online producer candidate, highlighting the videos made with the Casios:

  5. […] That video thing. I’d like to recommend to you several pieces about newspapers and video. Howard Owens, in Online video strategy is not about getting GAS, has more to add to the high vs. low end equipment debate. The long tail is a newspaper video strategy is Ryan Sholin’s latest on how newspapers present video. Both pieces contain much wisdom. Seven Myths About Online Video isn’t journalism-related, but there’s stuff there for everyone. […]

  6. great analogy. A camera is a creative instrument not an electronic gadget. Junk this insane obsession with miniaturization and focus on professional instruments to do professional work.

  7. Since you have bought a few higher-quality cameras, is that an acknowledgment that there’s some type of place in your strategies for higher-quality video storytelling?

    I’d be very interested in hearing more about that point.

  8. Previously, I’ve never said anything different, and in fact have talked before about buying Canon XA-H1. Our approach as been to buy inexpensive cameras for reporters, nicer ones for photogs.

    However, we’re finding we’re not really getting the ROI on the bigger Canons, so we’ve put a stop to buying those in favor of the Canon HV20s, which we’ve viewed that class of camera as the upgrade path for reporters, but I’m not currently convinced of the need to go beyond that right now. But it’s a fast moving, evolving environment, so who knows where this will all go equipment wise.

  9. I agree that the top-level HDV cameras aren’t necessary. I’m a sony girl myself, and I’d be perfectly happy with the HDR-A1U instead of the Z1U (although I’m not complaining).

    When it’s all said and done, you’re compressing the hell out of the videos anyways. I doubt anyone could tell the difference between videos shot with the Z1U compared to the A1U.

  10. GAS – I’m liking that.

    I was amused to see PF’s article resurface – via the newspaper video group where people where bemoaning the lack of features in the new imovie.

    I’d made a connection with another article on the ethics of using high-end equipment in a post earlier this year. PF replied to the post with a number of comments including: –

    For those who know me, I hate gear! When I was shooting behind the scenes political stills for TIME Magazine my kit was two bodies and two lenses. That was it.

    If I could do my job with a point and shoot I would of… and sometimes thought of covering a campaign with only those Kodak disposable cameras! But the non adjustable F8 lens would not work in low light (I never used a flash either).

    I think I’m more annoyed at the attitude of management than the actual gear.

    I must say that guitarists are guilty of GAS in a class of its own. (with drummers a close second) :)

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