Internet Video and Audiences

by Krishna on January 29, 2007

First of all, thanks to Robert Scoble for putting me on his link blog. Considering the recent controversy regarding the Intel videos, I thought an analysis of video blogs in terms of its potential audience may be an interesting topic to think and write about. Videos are a big hit on the Internet — the recent acquisition of YouTube has only fueled this trend. But every format has its challenges.

From my personal experience, here are the challenges faced by content providers who use video as their output:

  1. Video places a greater demand on the time and effort of the individual. While a person is watching a video, they can rarely do any other work with their eyes or ears. Only activities that can be performed non-consciously like eating or exercising can be done at the same time. This means
    • It is very difficult to see longer lengths of video at work. And I mean this for both the junior team member as well as the top level executive. The former cannot be seen watching videos while they are supposed to be doing their work. And the latter is busy with activities like meetings, emails, phone conversations, etc.

      Compare this with a text posting. It is easy to browse through text while talking to someone on the phone. You can subscribe to RSS feeds in your email and read them along with other emails.

    • It is not possible to see video while driving (duh!). And that is if the video can be downloaded. If it is being streamed, you cannot take it with you on a device to view while commuting on a train or so.
    • And don’t even attempt to see videos (especially technical videos) at home without making your family mad at you. Here is how it goes: You are sitting with your partner on the couch and watching TV. Now try switching on your laptop and playing a video. And yes, you can go to your work area and watch videos there. But now you are adding the video-watching time to the “other work” you are bringing home. Soon, you have no life.
  2. Videos on the Internet are very different from videos on TV. I am not talking about image quality, size or resolution. When you watch a video on TV, the only input device you have is a remote which is primarily used to enhance the watching experience (volume, contrast, etc.) Also there is nothing else playing at the same time on the TV that can divert your attention. When you watch Internet video on a computer sitting at a desk, you typically have many other applications (email client, blog reader, instant messaging) that make your experience interrupt-driven. The input devices also act as a temptation to drive you to do something different. Hence the “stickiness” factor is missing.
  3. An Internet video typically does not come with a trailer or packaging that helps you identify what you are getting into, unlike a TV program or DVD. A text post has the benefit of quickly browsing the entire text by a simple drag of the mouse. To get a feel of the Internet video, you need to watch at least several seconds or a few minutes.
  4. If a person likes the information in a video and wants to share it with other people, it is difficult to email that video to people as an attachment unless it is very short. They must provide a link. It is not easy to ensure that the person actually saw the video. With text, there is a greater hit ratio that people saw at least the general content of the message — such as bolded text.

How can this be remedied?

  1. Provide different formats for the same content — a transcript and a downloadable audio file along with the video file. Each format attracts a different audience. Some content consumers (i.e., audience) may even use all three. They may start with the transcript, find that perhaps it is too long and download the audio file to their iPod. They find that the audio is about a medical procedure which encourages the person to go back and view the video file. The reverse may happen — someone sees the video of a speech and doesn’t quite get a sentence or two and can refer back to the transcript.

    To do this is HARD WORK and TIME-CONSUMING. But it will pay off.

  2. Internet videos must be “rich” to keep the user engaged. For example, using shorter takes and incorporating music can make the experience better. It is also useful while doing an interview to use other footage instead of showing the person who is talking. Using strong emotions like humor, fear or excitement can help users stay on while the video runs.Once again, this is HARD WORK. In addition, it also requires good video taking, editing and mixing skills
  3. If you have a large video, break it down into manageable pieces. I would suggest using 2–4 minute segments. Make sure that the first segment is really interesting and inviting. And do the same for the rest too. Do an usability test with people to understand if it can be bettered.
  4. Provide a synopsis of the video and tell people why they must watch it. I am ready to watch funny cats on YouTube all day long because I already know what will happen. But if I have to see an interview with the CEO of a startup, I need to know why it is important that I tune in. Should I listen to him because his company is a good place to invest in? Or is it a potential vendor, partner, supplier, competitor?
  5. Allow users to simultaneously email the transcript and link to the video. Use a video format that will not require end users to do something new with their browsers.

Different formats of communication co-exist. For example, newspapers were not made obsolete by radio. Same for radio by TV. And TV by the Internet. Each has its unique advantages and disadvantages. The challenge is to understand the limitations and rise above that.

If video blogs find an obstacle in constraints of time, effort and viewing habits of end users, then it must accept those constraints and work to turn them into its advantage. It is futile to fight reality.

[UPDATE: I remove the word “formats” from the heading as it made it seem as if I was talking about the technology like Flash, AVI, MPEG, etc.]

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