Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Six original ways to use online video

Posted in Online Video, studio .fu by Adam Westbrook on August 1, 2011

I’ve said it before: everyone’s getting on the online video bandwagon. There are huge opportunities out there for film makers, video journalists and motion graphic designers, if you know where to look.

There’s also a fantastic opportunity to break new ground, and use video in new ways. Here are six different ways online video is being employed around the web.

Six original ways to use online video

NOTE: this is a video-heavy post; if you’re receiving this blog post as a newsletter, make sure you click on the link to see all of the embeds.

.01 product launch

OK, this one isn’t so much original as obligatory these days. If you’re launching a new website, product or service, you almost certainly need a video to promote it. Using online video can serve two key functions: firstly you can use it to generate an emotional response (usually, “this new thing is amazing!”) or you might just need it to explain something complicated.

En vogue right now is motion graphics and kinetic typography, such as this new launch video for infographics site Visual.ly; if you do it, try and use it alongside a narrative.

 

Don’t feel obliged to go down this route though. Live action works just as well. I really like this Wes Anderson inspired ditty from FireSpotter Labs to launch their new restaurant review app Nosh.me.

If you’re an online film maker, startup videos are a good stock of work: in the last year alone I’ve helped produce launch films for TheMediaBriefing, I Am Creative (not published yet) and I’m currently working on two more for launch in the autumn.

.02 training & explainers

Video, although not naturally designed to convey complex information, is excellent at explaining things – if put in the right hands. It’s difficult though – my personal project to explain the AV Referendum this year took some serious cognitive juice to avoid it drifting away.

 

Australian TV show Hungry Beast are masters at explaining complex stuff to young people: this explanation of the Stuxnet virus is one of the best things I’ve seen online all year.

 

A clear leader here is Vimeo – who’ve published scores of excellent training videos, explaining everything from ND filters to tripods.

.03 404 page

Online video on a 404 page? Seriously? You betcha. Serious credit again to Alex Cornell at ISO50/FireSpotter Labs for this gem of an idea. They’ve shot their own action film to appear every time you hit a Page Not Found.  It’s all filmed in one shot, but took some setting up to get right. I’ve never seen this done before, but I imagine it’ll appear all over the place before too long.

And the purpose? No-one likes seeing a 404 page – why not turn it into a treat? It makes your website more memorable.

.04 profiles & portraits

Here’s a little tip for any young film makers looking for work. There are loads of companies out there moving into creating online video and need people to do it properly. There’s a huge market in both online publishing (companies producing their own web content) as well as internal communications.

Interestingly, a lot of them use their online video space to produce simple interviews. After all, it’s quick, cheap and the easiest thing to learn. But actually, interviews are pretty boring, even in video. The more original video producers are instead producing portraits or profiles – that is, telling a story as a (legitimate) way to entice viewers.

For example, software company 37Signals have just advertised for a video producer position in Chicago, but they say explicitly they don’t want to just film interviews: “Testimonials are usually boring – we want to be sure to avoid anything boring.”

The challenge for these companies is firstly recognising portraits and narratives are better than quick interviews, and in finding the people good enough to do them. Make sure they know that’s you.

.05 create a blockbuster

OK, never mind portraits, explainers or product launches – why not suck up the balls and go all out, producing a mega blockbuster?

That’s what visual effects house Red Giant Software did to demonstrate their range of colour correction packages. The result is an epic story called Plot Device which cleverly references the archetypes of Hollywood cinema and shows off the product in a way you didn’t expect.

No deadpan screencasts here: you can see what the software does, at the same time being taken on a memorable journey. It takes a talented director and cast to make sure this doesn’t come off as seriously lame, but done right the results speak for themselves.

.06 behind the scenes

And finally, another new way to use video is to produce behind the scenes films of you, your business, or client. Transparency is big in demand these days and video is great way to show people that you’re human, and you have fun doing what you do. As well as adding a face to the name/brand it can be an effective way to add a personal touch.

UK national radio station Absolute Radio recently hired me to shoot this behind-the-scenes piece about a stunt they pulled in central London back in June. It shows all the fun, effort and camaraderie that people tune in to hear every morning.

Several of the above films have their own behind the scenes films, including Plot Device and Nosh.me. Hey, even Peter Jackson’s doing it!

Of course, behind the scenes video can also be a neat way to bring in some extra revenue – in the form of a DVD release or similar.

So the takeaway? Online video is not television, so why make it mimic the idiot box all the time? Video is far more flexible and hopefully this post has shown you some of the pioneers who are pushing it forward. Now go and join them!

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Revenue streams for your news business: part 2

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 24, 2011

Image credit: Meneer Zjeron on Flickr

This is a 2nd of a two-part series suggesting ideas for revenue streams for a news business. Read the first post here, and don’t forget, the deadline for entering myNewsBiz (to win £1000) is Friday 1st April 2011.

In the previous post, we talked subscriptions, partnerships, newsletters, affiliates and B2B revenue streams. But that’s only half the game, if none of those appeal, try some of these on for size.

10 ideas for revenue streams for your news business (part 2)

.06 a store

This is a method of income completely separate from the journalism, but an online a store is relatively simple to run. It relies on your content bringing in the eyeballs to your site – again, building a community of like minded folk – and then offering them products which you can be confident will appeal to them.

So, for example, say you edit an online magazine for retired people who want to be more green. Once you’ve built up a community of readers, there’s a whole range of things you could sell on the side, from jute bags and wormeries to slippers & christmas cards. You’ll most likely want to partner with a fulfilment company, who will manage sales, stock and delivery for a percentage.

Who’s doing it? You’d be surprised. Big newspapers like the Sunday Times make a mint out of their wine club, which ships wine to readers; multimedia producers MediaStorm sell DVDs and even T-shirts on their site; UK hyperlocal The Lichfield Blog recently started selling t-shirts too.

.07 events

Again, if you’ve got a loyal readership focused around a niche, events are another way to convert them into money, and this is nothing new. Everyone from Mashable to TheMediaBriefing run events tailored to their audience: think Journalism.co.uk’s successful news:rewired series for another example.

Conferences are big to organise but through ticket sales and sponsorship offer revenue opportunities. Beyond conferences there are meetups, speed dates and training.

.08 digital products

If selling someone else’s products to your lovely readers doesn’t appeal, then why not create your own? Digital products – in particular ebooks, training and podcasts now cost virtually nothing to produce. The two ebooks I have written and sold to date have paid for themselves many times over…chiefly because they cost absolutely nothing to make!

If you’re positioning your product as the ‘thought-leader’ in a particular area (as you should be), then you can legitimately package your expertise in digital form. To recall our environmental magazine example, you can create an ebook called ‘10 Ways To Grow Your Own Allotment‘ or ‘The Ultimate Guide to What’s In Season When

.09 by-products

Jason Fried, founder of 37Signals argues every business has a by-product. In his excellent book Rework, he describes how the band Wilco brought someone in to film them recording their album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. It was released as a DVD called Am I Trying To Break Your Heart?. So they successfully sold their main product (the album) and a by-product (the DVD).

This clever idea can be adopted by journalists, their products and services. You don’t just make one thing, so what else are you creating? A wealth of data about a story or topic? Stock footage or images? Training opportunities? A book or DVD?

.10 advertising

And here’s the one you’re most familiar with. But it’s at the bottom of the list. Why? Because it’s the first (and often the only) revenue stream most journalists think of, and that’s why they never get very far. But it’s also so dependent on the economy. Advertising will boom again I’m sure, but until it does (and when it eventually collapses again) where does that leave you? Sure, do advertising: services like Addiply can help magazines, blogs and other products, for example.

But – in my opinion only – it ought to be the thinnest slice of the pie.

The greatest revenue stream of them all…

Which brings me neatly to the best, most reliable, and safest revenue stream: lots of them.

Having read this post and the one before it, don’t take just one single revenue stream and hope to make a living. Instead pick and choose the 3, 4 or 5 that are most relevant or appealing to you and your business idea.

If one of them doesn’t work, swap it round for another, and keep testing the soup til it works.

So who said journalism doesn’t any money? A targeted combination of several of these revenue streams could keep your idea going. But there are surely more…what have I missed off? Tell me in the comments below!