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Be Your Own Project Advocate

May 19, 2016 Leave a comment

ID-10081312If there’s one challenge for production/creative managers in the enterprise space, it’s the struggle to define, implement and operate a new technology system for their productions. Many communications leaders are specialists in the creation and development of high-value video and audio content. They are well versed in scriptwriting, lighting, shooting, pacing and the other key aspects of film production.

Where many of these managers get tripped up is in the proper implementation of the increasingly complex delivery systems available to share their creations online. Whether the system is homebuilt or vendor-driven, leaders suddenly find themselves in complicated discussions of bandwidth, streaming protocols, ideal bitrates, transcoding and every other detail of properly instituting systems for delivering video content. There’s a tendency on the creative side to defer these questions to the “experts” – let the IT guys work that stuff out, I just have to focus on providing the content.

That kind of attitude is understandable, but can do enormous damage to the project and possibly kill it altogether. It’s imperative for even the least technical manager to get both interested and informed about these details as if the project depends on the managers understanding and discussing them intelligently. There are a number of reasons for this, but it boils down to your advocacy is the only one that will focus completely on the project meeting its goals successfully.

The first driver of project success is focus – the team needs to define goals to meet the business needs, layout essential functionality and see that the project stays on track. Ostensibly the Project Manager assigned by the IT department for the project will handle those efforts. In reality, my experience has demonstrated that even the most well-intentioned and skilled PM is juggling at least a half-dozen projects at once. Yours may not be the most complicated or the most high-profile, and by definition it will settle down to the bottom of his list. The tech team doing the initial due diligence is likewise swamped, and broadly speaking are unlikely to be experts at first in the details of streaming video. Moreover, there’s often a distance placed between the project’s business owners and the guys in the trenches, and every layer in between guarantees details will be lost in translation. The high-level sponsors of projects are fire-and-forget – they stand up to support a project, but they usually don’t want to know anything until it’s all done (or they have to yell at someone). The vendors are focused on many things – they want you to use and love their products, but often they have limited staff trying to manage multiple clients and thus their goals are different. In the end, you’re the only one invested enough to keep pointing like a laser at getting a working product that you’ll be living with for the foreseeable future.

Another key concern for these projects is the distance between the promise and reality. Again, you’re the one that has to work with these tools daily. Everything always sounds good at the kickoff meetings, but too many of the stakeholders there don’t have to deal with the actual day-to-day function. Practically it makes no difference to a VP that it takes 14 steps to deliver each piece of video out to the audience – but your team is going to lose productivity in massive chunks if the design doesn’t take your processes into consideration. Something as critical as metrics can be a major stumbling block if it’s not considered early – can they deliver what you actually need to know and report out to the stakeholders?

In the end, no one should know the needs and the uses better than the direct owner of the systems. These concepts may  be foreign to you, but it behooves you to learn them and be able to discuss them intelligently. No one will show more concern for the success of your project than you will, and the more you can direct it, prod your partners and shape the final results the better it will turn out.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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A Tale of Two Video Projects

March 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Image courtesy of suphakit73/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve gotten involved recently with two separate video projects and the two efforts couldn’t be farther apart in approach. The purposes are different and the end products need to accomplish separate things. There’s also two very different approval chains involved and that changes things dramatically.

The processes of these efforts, however, are the most different of them all and the most instructive about success and failure with a video project. One project has been multiple months in the discussion, planning, back and forth, delays and consultations. The end products are supposed to be extremely short teasers to provide a brief visual and an enticement to the readers to continue on with a text piece. It provides a welcome sense of the writers and a chance to associate names & personalities with their thinking. It should, frankly, be a slam dunk of an easy exercise to settle on a basic approach both technically and content-wise and get some samples in the can and ready for publication. And yet months later we’re still discussing.

On the other project, there was an almost passing request from a colleague to shoot some video for an online tool he’s developed. We arranged a day, I borrowed some equipment, and over the course of a single day we shot what turned into 35 short segments for him to add to the tool. In less than a week I had it all edited to his satisfaction and back over to him. I am by no means a cinematographer and these talking head pieces may not be the most brilliant ever, but we accomplished everything he needed to do in a very short space of time.

It’s no surprise which I consider the appropriate way to get a video together, but it’s not always possible. There are many good reasons to work by committee and often the final product needs the input of many people. There are certainly times when a professional quality videographer, a formal script and trained actors are necessary for the production to reach the level it needs to reach.

But there are also times when programs can overthink themselves into doing nothing. The old 80/20 rule, or the perfect being the enemy of the good really needs to come into play when projects get out of hand. A simple idea often needs a simple solution, even if it doesn’t entirely match expectations. The months spent on doing demos and passing them around and writing slide presentations would probably be better used cranking out short pieces and improving as we go.

As the cost curve on video production continues to bend in favor of cheaper, better video there’s no reason not to take the fast route through. If the end product is short and very targeted it’s really not worth the expense of very high end production when you get extremely good results with basic equipment and a decent understanding of basic videography. Get the lighting decent and the sound great and your average talking head video doesn’t need a ton of work. Even basic b-roll can be added with the same equipment, so why overexert yourself.

I’ve said numerous times during this process there’s a time and place for everything. Bring on the best when the best is needed, and bring on the good when it will do the trick in half the time and a tenth of the cost.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

A Video is Worth How Many Words?

December 10, 2013 1 comment

I ran across a statistic the other day in the course of working on a presentation about video. Reported in dozens of presentations, video clips and infographics is the remarkable idea that:

a minute of video is worth 1.8 million words

Try that google search and see if you get the same 38,000 hits I did. With almost no digging at all you’ll see it referencing both Forrester Research and one Dr. James McQuivey. (Who appears to be a very bright guy focusing on digital disruption and touching occasionally on the video space. Here on twitter if you want to know more: @jmcquivey)

It’s a wonderful statistic, and in a single line captures everything most of us want to say about video. It’s so much more powerful than words! You get more out of a minute of video than a book’s worth of text! How can you not do video when you get this kind of impact! Unfortunately there’s simultaneously a bit more and a lot less to this idea than meets the eye.

I wasn’t about to quote such a statistic without understanding the source and the meaning behind it, so I started to dig a little deeper. I am fortunate to have access to Forrester reports, and a few minutes digging turned up a report by Dr. McQuivey from June of 2008 on “How Video Will Take Over the World.” It’s a fine report, and made some smart predictions about the future and some that turned out to be overstated – risks you take when you attempt predictions. And there, in a small paragraph about the next step in human communications being video (a point I agree with, incidentally), is the line leading to the stat. In full, the report states

Now it’s video’s turn because if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a minute of video is 1.8 million words

And then the kicker – following immediately is a hyperlink saying see endnote 2.

Reading endnote 2 tells you that Dr. M did some basic math. A second of video contains 30 frames; a minute of video therefore contains 1800 pictures; ergo, at a picture = 1,000 words, one minute of video = (1800 pics X 1000 words) 1.8 million words.

All due respect to the fine folks at Forrester and Dr. McQuivey, this is how rumors get started and information gets misunderstood and misused. I suspect that this was not intended to be a formal statistic; the old “picture is worth a thousand words” is an aphorism, a popular saying but by no means a statistical truth. I don’t even think the report was trying to be too clever, I think it was just attempting to explain the power of video as an easy to grasp concept.

This is the “less” part I uncovered – you can’t really say that video is equivalent to X number of words since that number is entirely arbitrary. If you shoot at 24 frames per second, or 60, the number changes. Is video simultaneously worth more than 1.44 million, 1.8 million, 3.6 million words?  More significantly, one minute of bad video is considerably worse than dozens of pages of critical textual information, regardless of the general impact of video as a medium. Video may be powerful, but it’s very dependent on doing a good job of creating it.

On the “more” side the essential truth of the statement is that video is an extremely powerful delivery medium, and often provides opportunities to share ideas more efficiently than text can. Leveraging the power of video to deliver messages, sell products and services and build communities is a key responsibility for all organizations. Consumption is extremely high and likely to continue growing, and it’s imperative that a successful enterprise make the most of the opportunities video can drive.

So be careful of statistics and how you use them. To paraphrase a great sage, “Why you keep using that statistic? I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Video is Coming! Now What?

July 30, 2013 Leave a comment

I woke up in a curmudgeonly mood to begin with, and it wasn’t helped by seeing yet another twitter posting pointing out that video is on the rise. “Guess what?” says headline #2,367 – “we see video as taking over the internet!”

So what?

The key to trends is turning that into actionable strategy. I’ve seen multiple trends articles saying video is The Next Big Thing™, but what does this mean practically to the owner of a video service line? The big media producers and distributors know this already, and probably know a lot more about it than the experts making these predictions. The independent producers and small distributors may need the information about how to monetize their content, but that’s a relatively small portion of the overall video universe. What do these articles say to the companies that create and distribute video as only a part of their overall communications and marketing strategies?

Not much, which of course is why I blog about this in the first place – I’m filling that niche to help people make sense of their video efforts when it’s only a part of what their companies do. That’s really the problem these trend articles hold – there’s really nothing there to help video managers drive their video strategy towards overall organizational goals. That’s the critical part of a video program in most organizational settings, other than major content producers and advertisers who are in the business of selling video.

The job for an in-house video/media manager is to further the overall business goals of the organization, whether that’s selling widgets, curing patients or educating students. Your first and most critical question when creating content, building infrastructure or making partnership deals is “what is this contributing to the overall goals of the company, and how is it doing it?” If you can’t provide an answer to that it’s likely time to re-evaluate your plans. If you read the financial news at all you know that companies are sitting on cash – mounds of it in some cases. They’re not hiring, they’re not spending on capital improvements and they’re certainly trying to avoid spending it on unnecessary projects. If you’re going to a CIO, CFO or CEO these days to ask for funds you’d better have a strong business case to explain how this either makes them or saves them a lot of money.

Your video projects have to meet business criteria, and general trend information is at best a small part of an overall defense of a project’s value to the company. It’s nice to know, but all it does is underline the competitive landscape for your content. Take these trends for what they’re worth – confirmation of the power and reach of online video. Then move on to explain how video helps your organization do what it does better, more efficiently and more cost-effectively.

Planning for Live Streaming

July 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Eric Norell over at Streaming Media Producers offers some great tips for preparing for a live streamed event:

Six Tips for Planning a Professional-Looking Live-Streamed Event

All of these steps are critical to ensuring the technical aspects of the event are smooth and as trouble-free as possible. You always want your viewers to notice your content, not your technology – if it works well, they won’t be talking about the stream. If it works poorly, it’s all they’ll talk about, assuming they stick around.

What he’s underlining here is the need for thorough and careful preparation. What he’s not talking about (since it’s not his focus) is the same preparation needs to go into managing the talent and content that will appear during the show. You can have the best technical setup on the planet, but if your principal presenters are not ready for prime time it doesn’t matter how smooth the stream was delivered.

Here are a few things to think about and prep long before the day of the event – as a video manager you may not have direct control over every aspect, but it’s important to get involved in the process as early as possible and make sure these things are considered. And if you don’t have the CEO’s ear, find someone who does and lay out the details for them, make sure they understand it and hope they communicate it to the on-camera talent.

  • Slides/graphics – often these are at least laid out long before the day of the event. In general slides used for web viewing should be clean and uncluttered, all the more so if they are a portion of the live event. If you’re not the one preparing them, get to whoever is and make sure they understand the value and power of clean, easy to read slides. Test the connections to the slide presentation if you will be switching between a video view and the slide source – is everything readable and the switches are made cleanly? The visuals and delivery of those visuals both matter, and this is something you can check early.
  • Microphones and camera placement – Mr. Norell covers much of this in his post, but from a content perspective this is important as well. Does your speaker turn his head a lot when he talks? Will this have a negative impact on the sound quality? Does she move around a lot when she speaks, requiring a very attentive camera person to follow them as they ping-pong around the stage? The presentation can be affected by a lot of idiosyncrasies and it’s important to be aware of these before the day of the event. One caveat: don’t crimp your speaker’s style – the goal here is to make them look great, and better to adjust the video team’s planning than to force the CEO into a less comfortable format.
  • Switching & graphics – again this is more technical and covered in the original article, but put some content thought into this as well. Will they distract from the messages or enhance them? Are you switching views just to switch views, or is something meaningful being conveyed? Don’t lose sight of the keys here – let your principals deliver the messages they’re here to deliver and use the technology to make that a great show.
  • Audience awareness – make sure both the technical team and the speakers are aware that there’s a virtual audience in the room with them. There can be a sensation sometimes, especially if there’s no live audience, to think they’re speaking to themselves. I was on a live event recently where the cameras were made live – with no sound – 5-10 minutes before the start of the event. We watched the participants chat among themselves as if they were off camera, which of course they weren’t. Keep your speakers aware of the crowd out there watching, and ask them to behave as if they were live until they’re told otherwise. Obviously everyone needs to watch their language and actions throughout the process, but even without expletives and other issues it’s best to act as if there are people in the room.

Again, much like the technical preparation, the content preparation is critical for the best live show possible.

Preparation Can Make All the Difference

February 14, 2013 Leave a comment

Producer Anthony Burokas posted an excellent breakdown of, well, breakdowns and how to avoid them:

Streamline Your Production Pipeline

There’s really no question that the event he worked on could’ve run more quickly, efficiently and of course cheaply if the producers had taken the time to sit down and map out what they needed to do and how to best set up their tools and personnel to make that work as smoothly as possible.

The same is really true of any video production – it doesn’t need to be a 7-camera setup in a major event space. A one or two camera shoot can be equally complicated and taking some time beforehand to walk through it can really make a big difference. If you’re planning a video involving senior executives, their time is extremely valuable and hard to schedule. Do you really want to sit down with the CEO and realize as he’s getting in place that the lighting is unacceptable, or the background is inappropriate, or you’ve scheduled someone else at the same time?

I had a conversation recently about a new effort to deliver live events via online video. What’s become clear to them is that rules will have to be set down and adhered to if the effort is going to succeed. Some of this involves developing those rules for preparation and requiring their content partners to provide their materials well in advance of the event getting underway. For the end user, especially during a live event, the fumbling and stumbling as presenters get situated is torture – by getting all of that in place with time to spare, the event can begin without delay, showing off the presenters in their best light and making it a better experience for the viewers.

None of this is rocket science of course, and with experience and the right team the processes will become more natural. But the process of production usually has a lot of moving parts and the more you can think through and get in place before you start the better it will come off.

It’s All About the Metrics

July 18, 2012 Leave a comment

More focus is being brought on the issue of metrics in online video:

As Online Video Campaigns Ramp Up, Metrics Present a Challenge

This particular article is focused on the advertising marketplace and the impact video has on marketers. Needless to say it’s critical there – you make your living off how well your ads do, and that’s hard to figure out if you don’t know what you’re measuring.

It applies to non-advertising video as well, of course, and I think it remains one of the greatest challenges to video production and delivery across industries and sectors.  There are some key components to the challenge:

  • What information do you collect?
  • Is it even collectable?
  • Are you affected by inevitable comparisons to the metrics available for non-media content?
  • Are you tracking what you want to know or what the business owner wants?
  • What do you do with it all once you’ve got the data?

Streaming media doesn’t offer the same types of metrics as text-based internet content. The technical details are less important than the fact that text content has both a track record and a support system.  There are any number of metrics available, and major providers offer suites of software to help the content owner slice and dice the numbers in multiple ways. Video is trickier – major formats like flash lack certain key information on the users viewing it; unlike text, there are fewer agreed standards that providers are offering – they tend to provide unique metric packages that only work with their broader delivery offerings. The inevitable result is that content owners want to know the same things they can learn about text content and it’s often not available; what is available may be more technical than the content owners want.

All of this is overshadowed  by the general lack of understanding of the concept of metrics by content owner and media manager both. People get focused on having numbers without figuring out what it is those numbers are telling them. It’s all very helpful to find out you had 1,000 views on a piece and on average they watched 25% of the video, but how are you interpreting that information? More importantly, now that you know this, what do you do next? Make the video shorter? Place it more prominently on your page? Speed up the pace of the piece?

All of these may be needed, or none of them. Partly because you may not have any idea who those people watching are. Again, if on average they gave up partway through, but 15% of the users watched till the end – and those people were your key target audience, and it led them to reach out and your company made sales – why on earth would you shorten the piece? If on the other hand your important audience left partway through, you really do want it shorter to keep their attention and again have the success you intended with the video.

Unfortunately I don’t have great answers to this, and only partly because video metrics are still maturing as a concept. The most I can say is to take some time to understand what you can track and then be realistic about making sense of it. You’ll always be somewhat limited in what you can tell from the raw numbers, but you can tweak the circumstances to help judge the effectiveness of your media. Drop in calls to action if you can – YouTube for one allows for clickable popups within a video; don’t go crazy, but a short message at the beginning or end of a piece will connect interested users back to a website or email to learn more. Track your sales via video – ask the call center to ask callers where they learned about a product or service, or place a field in an online form with video as a choice for the source. It’s by no means perfect, but you’ll get a sense as to the impact it’s having.

There’s an art and alchemy to tracking use of online video, and it has a long way to go; keep your expectations reasonable, stay focused on meeting business needs and make the most intelligent use of the data you can.

Categories: Process Management Tags: ,
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