Taking Video Out of the Box
One of the points I’ve continued to make in these blog posts is that we haven’t quite figured out how best to use video online. It’s a bit like the early days of television when the conventions of radio and theater dominated the medium. We have yet to see how an ideally optimized online video will look, and actual innovation beyond the traditional paradigms derived from television, advertising and cinema, is very minimal.
12 years after its creation, YouTube remains the most significant medium for online video with a model that has not changed much in that time. YouTube made it possible for anyone anywhere to share their videos with anyone else, but it also spawned a myth that has been somewhat damaging to the development of the medium: the Myth of the Viral Video. While it is a fact that some of the most popular videos on YouTube, videos with millions of views, are essentially random home movies, the odds for even the most professional of videographers to produce that kind of “Viral Video” success are similar to those for someone playing the lottery. There are winners, as there are with the lottery, but just as no sensible person would rely on it as way to make money, no sensible brand or marketer should rely on the possibility of a viral video to promote their product or idea.
Which is not to say that YouTube is not a viable and important medium for video distribution. YouTube took us part of the way there by creating a ubiquitously accessible medium, aided by the power of search. But its power has also overshadowed our need to better align the power of video with the undeniable power of the Internet ubiquity.
One reason I believe people have struggled to find the proper place of video online is that while television is an all-encompassing medium, video online must find its proper place among text, photos, music, games and other media. As video producers, we need to start thinking of editing in a larger content than just within the video frame. We need to think about the way video interacts with other media and the choices a user makes when, for example, they are reading then suddenly click on a video.
The Soul of Wit
Among the things I pay attention to as a video editor are the length of the shot, what came before it, what comes after, and the information in the first and last frames of a given shot, including emotion. I always ask myself, What information is this shot providing? When do we reach the point where the information is redundant or repetitive? These parameters may work a bit differently when we’re mixing video with other media. For example if the user chooses to only read or only watch the video, in which case some repetition may be warranted. However, if we truly want to optimize video we must, in effect, create a situation where the information it contains is essential, so our goal should be to minimize redundancy and maximize the reasons for people to want and need to watch it, and deliver on that expectation.
I’ve begun to ask myself whether very short videos might in fact be the best option in certain situations. Say, for example, you are selling a product and your copy already gives you the basic information about the product. Might it be wiser to simply show an enticing example of the product being used, a quick shot of a burger being flipped or someone joyously kicking up those heels you’ve got on sale, rather than overwhelm your customer with more promotional hyperbole. For individual entrepreneurs with a service to promote, a quick snippet can provide a better idea of who you are than any amount of copy. But maybe give them just enough so that they “get it.”
There’s a reason three minutes feels much longer for an online video than a television show. It’s because when we’re online we’ve got other things to do.