Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

2011 in online video projects

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on December 22, 2011

Continuing my look back at work I’ve done in 2011, here’s some of video I’m most proud of this year.

I’ve been busy all year working on some interesting commissions for lots of clients; I’ve made short documentaries, produced interviews, made 10 minute long features and more. Although the clients have always been happy with the final pieces as I’ve delivered them, looking at this collection, I can see room for lots of improvements in 2012.

[NOTE: If you’re reading this in an email, click on the link to view the videos on the website!]

EcoMattic 3: home-made methane

The third film in a web series following Matt and his over-the-top attempts to cut back on his carbon emissions. He’s had his car crushed, tried recycling everything he owns. In this film, shot on the last sunny day of the year, he tries building a methane converter to power his house.

Attribution/ShareAlike

You can read a behind-the-scenes Storify of this project here.

Green Alliance: Bringing It Home

UK environmental think-tank The Green Alliance asked me to produce a film to support the launch of a major piece of research into peoples’ attitudes towards going green. It found some fascinating insight into what makes us tick when it comes to things like recycling and using plastic bags. I combined research footage, motion graphics and interviews for this piece which was shown to MPs at a launch in Westminster, as well as going online.

© 2011 Green Alliance/Adam Westbrook

MediaTrust: Untold Stories

This was the only piece of video which I produced for television this year (I work almost exclusively in online video). I spent some time with a British charity MENTER who support asylum seekers, and other minorities in the East of England.

© 2011 MediaTrust/MENTER/Adam Westbrook

Global Business Challenge China

A highlight of 2011 was traveling to Chengdu in southern China to produce a documentary about the Global Business Challenge. Nearly 100 students from around the world came together to battle for the crown and tensions ran high.

It was pretty inspiring to see such young ambitious people from places like Sri Lanka, South Africa and China showing their mettle with a determination young people in the UK don’t really seem to have: it makes you realise where the power in the future will lie.

© 2011 CIMA/Adam Westbrook

myNewsBiz: can journalists be entrepreneurs?

To promote our nationwide entrepreneurial journalism competition in 2011 we produced a short series of features, where some of the UK’s best entrepreneurial publishers shared their secrets.

Attribution/ShareAlike

And just for fun…the Absolute Radio Mobility Scooter Grandprix

Probably one of the more bizarre commissions I had in 2011. UK national radio station Absolute asked me to join their grand prix race through Central London …on mobility scooters for their breakfast show. It was one of the earliest shoots too: we had to do the race at 5am to avoid the police, and Buckingham Palace security.

© 2011 Absolute Radio/Adam Westbrook

Next week I’ll be looking at what went well and not so well for me in business terms, and thinking about my big plans for 2012. If you’re serious about doing great stuff and making a difference – whatever your field – then I highly recommend taking a good bit of time out to reflect.

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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!

Radio looks to the future

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on October 30, 2009

I’ve written on more than one occasion about my concerns radio in the UK is settling in as a back-seat passenger in the digital revolution.

With print and TV and online finding new ways to innovate all the time, the radio bods have turned up the “hits and memories”, closed their eyes and pretended it was still the 1990s.

How refreshing, then, to see the line up for next week’s Rate 2009 conference organised by the Radio Academy. A day in London looking at mobile technology, visual radio and other new platforms.

Some evidence radio is still a little hesitant to jump in, though, with one session entitled “Spotify: Friend or Foe?” (rule #1 of the internet: embrace or die) and “Why Radio Must Go Digital” (a debate threatening a schism in the industry).

It wraps up with what promises to be an entertaining Blackburn v  Bacon.

Unfortunately the £300 ticket price is a bit beyond my means, but here are the things I would say if I were there…

Share

Share your content – it adds to its value! With news Bauer is pulling its Kiss FM content from Absolute’s innovative Compare My Radio Player, it seems we’re a long way off this mindset with some companies.

Innovate

Remember what the first pioneers of radio must have felt when they invented radio for the first time. The first time someone used it to create a package; the first time someone used it to read out letters from listeners. We are very lucky to live in the first age where it’s possible to reinvent radio. What a shame to waste it.

Outside the BBC, Absolute Radio so far seem the only ones even bothering to try. It’s paying off though. Their One Golden Square Labs have already brought out several innovative products, including Compare My Radio & Dabbl.

New platforms means new content

The top-ten-at-ten on a smart phone is exactly the same as the top-ten-at-ten on FM. Invest time (not necessarily always money) in new content. Surprise your listeners!

Remember what radio is good at…

…speech! Radio is such a powerful medium for getting across ideas and emotions, and yet here were are, with only a couple of totally speech stations in the entire UK. I know it’s expensive, and “risky”…but in this scary new world, fortune favours the brave. And no-one can put you down for trying. Radio 4’s 10 year high in listening figures proves the demand is there.

Radio At The Edge is on Monday 9th November at 9.30. Thanks to James Cridland for the hattip.

It is time for commercial radio to embrace the web

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 19, 2009

Newspapers, television and radio – the rule is simple: embrace the internet or die.

Newspapers were the first to feel the cold breeze of death standing nearby. Now papers from the Guardian right down to local titles run regularly updated websites, often complemented with video coverage.

The BBC has embraced it with much gusto across both TV and radio. From the groundbreaking (and bandwith-breaking) iPlayer to the Editors Blogs to Scott Mill’s daily podcast.

But commercial radio – not for the first time – is standing on edge of the swimming pool, tentatively dipping its toes in, while the others are doing underwater cartwheels. Visit any local commercial radio website and it is distinctively web 1.0. The focus is “what comes out of the speakers.”

But new communities are forming. People don’t just make connections with the box in the corner of the kitchen anymore.

As a whole, and as individual groups and stations, radio needs to act. Now.

What can it do? Well the wonderful world of web 2.0 offers a whole host of options and ideas for the digital prospector; here are a few. For as many as possible I have tried to include real examples.

Local news

This is the first and the most obvious web option. But news editors across the land please don’t just copy and paste 3 line cues onto the web. It doesn’t make the viewers journey there worthwhile, and you don’t write online text like you write radio cues. If this isn’t an option, at least take the time to remove radio-isms like spelled out numbers, typos, pronunciation guides and the word “sez”. Here’s an example of how Real Radio do it in Wales.

Presenter blogs

A well maintained and updated blog can create a new channel for presenters to connect with their listeners. It can reveal the ‘off air’ side to their life, and make listeners feel a closer connection. Features and competitions can be plugged too.

Newsroom blogstwitterscreenshot

The same thing goes for a newsroom blog. A chance to show what goes on ‘behind the scenes’ of the daily newsroom operation. Appeals for stories and interviewees could turn it into a goldmine. Similarly it must be regularly updated, and must use platforms like WordPress to ensure a Google ranking, tags, meta data and comments.  Mercia FM in Coventry were an early adopter. Sadly the blog looks abandoned since October, and it didn’t contain any RSS feed.

Presenter twitter

Tweeting during shows gives followers the inside scoop on what’s going on in the studio. Most of all it gives listeners a free way to respond to on air elements. Text revenue might take a hit, but interaction will boost. It works particularly well on ‘getting-the-listener-to-suggest-ideas’ features. According to the Media UK twitter table, Radio 2 DJ Jonthan Ross has 106,000 followers and Chris Moyles has 66,000. There are more than 164 radio presenters registered.

Playlist twitter

An automated system can tell music fans what your station is playing now and next. Imagine if you just saw your favourite song was about to be played on XYZ FM. Wouldn’t you click on a link to listen online? Q-Radio based in London have their own playlist twitter-feed.

Podcasts!

The only reason these haven’t become a stable of commercial radio, like they have with BBC radio, is resources. In honesty though, making podcasts is so much fun, it’s hard to see why programmers aren’t gagging to put in an extra hours work once a week.

webspecialscreenshotOnline specials and archive

Big events and news stories should be given their own specific pages, with background information, extra facts, audio downloads and advice on where to go next. Key 103 in Manchester has developed an excellent page on cervical cancer in response to Jade Goody’s terminal diagnosis.

Audio slideshows

I believe this is a massive growth area for radio news. Practically it’s not possible to send a reporter out with both a microphone and a video camera and hold them both. But a small digital camera plus some cheap Slide Show technology can give your station the edge when a big story rolls round, and create something memorable.

Online video

For the reasons mentioned above this will likely remain a rareity. But it shouldn’t be disregarded altogether. Radio Aire in Leeds produced a report on the Karen Matthews case as the verdict was announced.

Traffic mashups

trafficscreenshot

Connect your traffic and travel data with google maps and show your listeners where the snarl ups are. The CN Group started this in 2008 and it looks great.

Web chats

A big issue affecting your listeners? Get an expert in to answer questions, during a live webchat. As well as giving presenters something to talk about it gives your station an authority over a particular issue.  At Viking FM we got a local financial expert to answer questions from listeners on the credit crunch. Lots of on air plugs and we got a good response.

Online polls

Thankfully this obvious way of generating original news content is being used all over the shop. In my previous life, working at Touch Radio, I used to run a daily news poll on the big issue of the day and run the results as an add-on to the story in the 5pm news.

A design overhaul

As I mentioned radio websites are “sooo web 1.0” and aren’t designed to be platforms for large amounts of media and meta data. They need to be far more accessible and designed to operate in Mozilla and Google Chrome, not just Internet Explorer. A look at just some of the free WordPress templates floating around shows just how much there is to improve.

Turn listener communities into virtual communities

Imagine if listeners could register on your station website and set up their own profile? They could build their own community of fans of a particular show, swap pictures, get heads up on competitions and all that.

Facebook bonuses

The next best thing for this is to create an effective, regular and well run Facebook community. Thinking outside the box reaps rewards too. After launching a Facebook campaign to save a presenter from suspension, Viking FM then gave everyone who’d joined the group free entry to a local nightclub. Even before the nightclub announcement more than 3,000 people had joined.

Just a taste of the sheer numbers of people out there – if stations would just reach out and touch.