The video revolution is here
Web video has arrived.
The long promised convergence between television and the Internet is finally starting to happen. In a pattern that has become familiar after the war between Napster and the music business a few years ago, however, it is not a television network or video production company that is leading the way but a startup website, YouTube. And although YouTube, like the original Napster, does have a lot of unapproved content, the real surprise is how much it is being used to watch home movies, uhm, amateur video. It really is true that You can be your own Tube.
Perhaps the most influential video clip of recent times was uploaded to YouTube on 14 August 2006 by the staff of Jim Webb's US senate campaign. The clip showed Webb's opponent, George Allen, making racist comments about a member of Webb's campaign team. Allen lost his campaign by seven thousand votes and, as a result, the Democratic party gained control of the US Senate on 7 November 2006.
Youtube visitors watch 100 million video clips and upload 65 thousand new clips each day.
Professional video producers are now struggling to catch up, often by making deals with YouTube or its new proud owner, Google, to showcase their content.
Driving the revolution
Three changes have taken place recently that are driving the web video revolution:
- Cheap video cameras. Even many mobile phones have the ability to take short video clips.
- Broadband is exploding. Just a few years ago only about 5 percent of the web audience had high speed Internet connections. Now this is well over 50 percent in many countries. People with low speed dial-up connections are being left behind in the digital dust.
- The technology has improved. From new distribution techniques like Akamai's edge network to route around slow network connections to improved and near universal Windows video, Flash or Quicktime players on millions of computers, it is much, much easier to distribute and play web video clips then it was only 5 years ago.
NGOs slow to adapt
NGOs have been slow to adapt to this new trend. Most are continuing to focus on getting on the 6 o'clock news or a picture in the local newspaper. While traditional media outlets will remain important for years to come, the arrival of web video has opened up a huge new area of opportunity.
The rules are different for web video than traditional media, and for NGOs, the rules may be much better. NGOs are used to having to distort their messages into glib 10 second sound clips palatable enough to be run by television networks controlled by governments or large corporations. Now NGOs have the opportunity to use 2 or 3 minute video clips to spread their campaign message directly - if they produce the right clips, that is.
Not surprisingly, media-savvy Greenpeace is leading the way among large international NGOs in web video. Emile Poelman, webmaster for Greenpeace Netherlands, is the driving force behind Greenpeace.TV, a mostly Dutch language website devoted to short Greenpeace videos. I spoke to him recently about this project.
Greenpeace Netherlands gets about 63 thousand unique visitors a month. Of these, 36 thousand (or 57 percent) watch a video clip while they are visiting the site. Sometimes a clip is featured on the front page or, often, visitors deliberately visit the Greenpeace TV area to look for new content. On average, each visitor watches almost 2 video clips each (1.7 to be exact).
Unlike YouTube, which has tens of thousands of new video clips uploaded every day, Greenpeace TV usually has two new video clips a month. This is not enough to generate the kind of loyal audience built up, for example, by a weekly television show. For this reason, Poelman combines Greenpeace TV with a biweekly email message to supporters to inform them of new content. 70 thousand people have signed up to receive these messages. The email message contains general Greenpeace news and links to other web content. However, it always begins with a prominent link to a new video clip and this link typically gets clicked on ten times more often than any other link in the mailing.
A survey Poelman organised showed that Greenpeace TV watchers are significantly younger than general visitors to the Greenpeace Netherlands website. Nevertheless, Poelman notes that donations and Greenpeace memberships go up after the email message has been sent. Clearly web videos are helping Greenpeace carry its message to younger audiences and improve its fundraising at the same time.
A lack of frequency is not the only issue Poelman needs to deal with - so is convincing very serious Greenpeace campaigners to help produce popular video content. "Sites like YouTube and VideoBomb showcase a lot of light, funny stuff", Poelman says, "You need to evoke emotion to get people engaged". The most watched video on Greenpeace TV is a clip about energy efficient lighting narrated by a popular Dutch youth journalist. Other popular clips include one produced by Greenpeace UK starring British comedian Eddie Izzard about an alien spacecraft considering whether or not to destroy the Earth, and a Monty Pythonesque mock news report showcasing Olympic skiers having serious problems with melting snow.
Idea spreading in Greenpeace
Poelman's Greenpeace TV project is starting to inspire other Greenpeace initiatives. The huge and sprawling international Defending our Oceans site also includes an Ocean Defenders TV section using the same Flash application and design as Greenpeace TV.
Top ten tips for web video
- Keep it short - two or three minutes at most
- Keep it funny if possible or use celebrities (ideally both)
- Offer several formats or make it available in a popular universal format like Flash video
- Upload it to YouTube, Google Video, Yahoo Video and other popular video sites
- Consider saving bandwidth charges by embedding a YouTube video player on your own site and keeping your content on YouTube - this is officially encouraged by YouTube
- Use the video clip to build traffic for your website by advertising the URL in the clip and inviting people to take an action on your site
- Ask people to sign up to a mailing list to inform them of future videos
- If you cannot produce enough content to generate an audience, consider an alliance with other groups working on similar issues
- An effective and imaginative sound track can make a big difference
- Target a young (under 30, maybe under 20) audience