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Six Sign Posts from Lessons Learned
by Jon Leland
Originally published in Videography Magazine, September 2001

Now is the time for re-evaluation and re-organization of everything Web — especially on the video Web.

While there’s no turning back (“the toothpaste is out of the tube” as they say), what a difference a year makes. So, what better time to take a closer look at the lessons that some of us may have learned as this new frontier is revealed… on the virtual horizon… in front of our digital covered wagons as we continue our pioneering trek into cyberspace."

Of course, there is no way to be comprehensive when addressing such a morphing, moving target; but I’m motivated by the sad stories of friends who have been dot-bombed in the recent digital (and analog) economic downturn. The pain of reorganizations and lay-offs — whether based on grounded or fear-based business decisions — has made the pundit in me want to do what I can to re-orient any video pro who may still be “reeling” from these changes, and who may be doing their own reorganizations in the hope of better digital days ahead. I hope this column helps.What follows are what I believe to be six valuable lessons that I have learned from these very early days and my work as a professional participant in the process of online video’s emergence. While we all know that “the only constant is change,” these insights are (in my humble opinion) a reflection of some of the most important dynamics that are current defining the evolution of the video Web.

Here are “Six Sign Posts” form lessons learned:

1. SHORTER IS BETTER
In a broadcast world somehow lost between half-hour sitcoms and ten-second mini-spots, video on the Web has nurtured a new short form medium that puts “short subjects” back in center stage. As I’ve said in this space before, on the Web, interactivity is at least as important as either content or production values.



... we all know that we live in a world of continually shorter attention spans.

And, what’s more, we all know that we live in a world of continually shorter attention spans. The Web is the ultimate wired example of this trend; and, in fact, an important Web statistic measures how long the average Web browser spends on your site. If you can hold web browsers for more than five minutes per visit, you are doing VERY well. So, online video needs to get down to business with clear, focused, targeted communications that take advantage of — rather than suffer from — short attention spans.

For those of you who may just now be getting up to speed with this kind of programming, here’s a tip: If you’ve got a long program that you want to or your client “needs to” get online, break it into shorter, more interactive segments.

2. R.O.I. MEANS BUSINESS
Perhaps the biggest shift in the online video world over the last year has been the focus on saving money, rather than making money. While the “get rich quick” mentality has fizzled, the reality of using the global network to meet corporate communications and training needs has continued to grow. The reality is that executives spend far too much money on their travel budgets while traveling has also become one of the least desirable aspects of doing business in general.

The financial world has taken the lead with webcasts of quarterly earnings events that have now become standard operating procedure. I fully expect more and more large meetings (and all kinds of virtual events) to be webcast; and, at the same time, the distance learning business is continuing to connect classrooms and training rooms at an impressive rate. Corporations in particular are waking up to the power of distributing video content over the Web because it saves them money. There is an obvious and measurable R.O.I. (return on investment) to using video to reduce the stress and expense of travel and to enhance employee training opportunities.

3. SERVICES OUTSELL CONTENT
… and the experience matters most.

If I hear about one more company shifting from a product business model to a services business model, I may have to scream; but that’s what makes good sign posts. The mantra “content is king” has given way to the reality that one of the best ways to make money on the Web is by spending other people’s money. Video producers are familiar with this model. Most of us are in a services business.

  The Experience Economy
  "The Experience Economy” is one of six sign posts relevant to video pros envisioning work on the video Web.
But this trend is probably even bigger that this. For example, I just heard about a book called “The Experience Economy, Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage” (Harvard Business School Press) which describes how companies, such as Disney for example, are now selling the experience rather than simply the service or the product. I’ve also come to understand that good branding — as well as good service — is a complete experience, not just the service or the logo style guide. The book’s premise is that Starbucks, as another example, is selling an experience, not just cappuccinos.

Video folk instinctively understand this kind of marketing because we are in the business of creating experiences. The concept of communicating via experiences applies in spades to video on the Web.

4. COMMUNICATION IS THE CONNECTION
Bill Clinton came to office behind the strategy of “It’s the economy, stupid.” I like to think about the wired world in terms of “It’s the communication, stupid” because it’s embarrassing how frequently people get lost in the technology and forget the fact that what this stuff is REALLY for is for people to connect. And what connects them? Real communication.



It takes more than technology to produce programs — on the Internet, on TV, in the corporate video world, anywhere.

My favorite example is the music business. What woke up the record companies to the online digital music revolution? The sharing of MP3 files. Technologically, this is called P2P or peer-to-peer computing; but it’s not the platform that’s important. Putting the copyright issues aside for the moment, what really matters is the way that people like to share their latest favorite piece of music (or to talk about the movie they saw last weekend, etc.)

Even Microsoft had to change the media player in their upcoming XP OS release. Initially, it was not going to allow for the ripping of MP3’s. Now it is. Why did they have to make that change? Because it’s something that people use to communicate, and nothing can stop that once it’s begun.

5. THE NUT BEHIND THE WHEEL RULES
Here’s why this stuff is being adopted so slowly. It takes more than technology to produce programs — on the Internet, on TV, in the corporate video world, anywhere. It takes creative professionals like you and me to make this stuff real.

Hey, most of the digital video and Internet video companies that I know don’t even “walk their talk” online. What’s that about? It’s about the simple fact that it’s the creative professionals, each of whom I affectionately refer to as “the nut behind the wheel” that make things happen. When there are enough clients demanding Internet video programs, you can bet that you and I will be there to produce them.

6. NET VIDEO IS NOT TV
While most productions, both broadcast and industrial, try to emulate TV production values, video programs on the Internet are a new medium that continues to push the envelope of both the technology and (even more so these days) the creativity of us producers.

Live webcasts of corporate earnings reports will never have the same kind of production values as NFL football games. Nor should they. But media formats evolve over time. Remember (or remember hearing about) the early low resolution days of TV when programs resembled radio more than they did today’s TV? The idea of what makes good TV transformed over time. The same thing will happen on the Web.

Now that the technology and the bandwidth have evolved so rapidly (and they will most assuredly continue to do so), all we need is the creative hutzpah of a few producers (like you and me) who are willing to take online distribution and Internet interactivity to the next level. Stay tuned.


Jon welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at jon@combridges.com
     
   
 
 
 
   
 
 

 

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