Don’t imitate live TV – make great online video

Much has been made of the announcement, the Washington Post is re-vamping its online video strategy. The publisher’s video director, Micah Gelman, has made it clear the Post will now concentrate on producing the;

“right stories for the right platform at the right time…..”.

It will no longer be called Post TV and re-named Washington Post Video. A subtle but important difference. It signals a move away from the attempt to imitate live TV.

It has always been a mystery, why so many organisations persist with the idea, that what works on TV will also work online.

To use the old analogy – you don’t film theatre and call it cinema. They are very different forms of content with very different storytelling techniques.

You don’t film a play performed in a theatre and call it cinema.

But why did this take so long to realise?

It has always been obvious, online video is a vastly different beast to TV. The skills to tell stories are poles apart. The viewing habits of the audience are nowhere near and the means of distribution bear no comparison.

The mistake has often been that legacy newspaper groups and publishers, have known they need video to compete in a multi-media, multi-platform world – but they don’t have the expertise to make it. As a result they have simply copied TV – and regularly done it very badly indeed.

Interesting times

It is a fascinating time in the evolution of online video. We have passed the stage of do we need it? And moved onto the stage of – those who do it effectively – and those who don’t.

Facebook-Syrian Boy

There are some excellent examples of online news video. Few better than the New York Times, the BBC Trending team, and the superb AJ+ (shown in the above image). They are all creating, powerful, engaging and compelling films that fit beautifully into the multi-platform online world. They show how traditional media can successfully make the transition.

Drowned Syrian Boy Symbolizes Refugee Crisis Sweeping Europe“Humanity washed ashore” – #KiyiyaVuranInsanlik – went viral after a drowned Syrian toddler’s photo became a symbol of the refugee crisis sweeping Europe.

Posted by AJ+ on Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Add those to the relatively new kids on the block; Vice News, Vocativ and Nowthis News. These organisations have absolutely nailed the storytelling techniques for online video.

Look at the way the videos use text and powerful images, to draw the audience into the film. The use of text is increasingly important. It recognizes the way people view and first engage with video – from social media feeds.

The films are emotionally compelling, powerful, and relevant. They seize you from the very beginning. You have such a limited time to grab people, it is essential to use those first few seconds to pull them into the story.

But sadly there is still so much work to be done. The vast majority of online news video is a poor imitation of the traditional TV reports. Many organisations have come up with clever tech and means of delivery. However the content doesn’t live up to the same standards.

There are too many reports that are simply bog-standard scripts with agency video wallpapered over the top. This copies the age old methods of TV news, not the crafted digital stories that can work so effectively.

I recently did some work with Mukul Devichand, the editor of BBC Trending. He had two pieces of advice for anyone thinking about making online videos.

Firstly you need to grab the audience’s attention. You only have 7 seconds to engage people – if you don’t, they will go elsewhere. The second is – a film can be any length, as long as it’s compelling the whole way through.

There is a real skill to making online video. You can’t do it by some sort of formula or copying techniques used for a different medium.

No matter how good the tech and the platforms are – the content is king, it’s what drives people to the story and make them want to engage.