Very soon, hardware will cease to be a differentiating factor in corporate video production.
Way back in the day (i.e. five years ago) the equipment you owned defined your place in the video production hierarchy. Big production houses had very expensive equipment and charged accordingly. Then, out of the blue, Canon added a basic video capture feature to one of their portrait cameras and the video production industry has never been the same.
Today, professional video editing software is virtually free – so cheap that the cost is immaterial. Premiere, Final Cut, Media Composer, Vegas… whichever NLE that suits your purpose – they’re all great products that do much the same thing. The differences between them now relegated to angry LinkedIn rants. Same goes for editing platforms. Nobody knows or cares if you edit on a Mac or a PC. It’s irrelevant.
Hardware still matters in corporate video production today, but not for much longer. Black Magic has just announced a $4,000, 4k camera with a global shutter. That’s astonishing. It’s not perfect, it’s not quite ‘full featured’ and folks with ‘real 4k camera’s’ will dismiss this new camera as something less than ‘professional,’ but that would completely miss the point. 4k workflow is still a bit of a kludge for many, tomorrow it won’t be. Technology is narrowing the gap quicker than any of us realize and the subtleties and nuances that we in the industry chatter about are lost on the average corporate video viewer. Granted, there will always be the need (or desire) to employ the most expensive camera on the market to shoot an immensely complex high-end video for theatre advertising of for broadcast but for the vast majority of corporate video projects the tools we need are readily accessible and they are getting cheaper and better by the day.
We never really see these things coming – we can’t. Our linear brains are not wired to anticipate or predict the effect of exponential growth in technology. The incredible change we’ve witnessed over the past few years in the video production industry is really just the beginning. In a few years we’ll all be shooting and editing in 4k. (Whether it’s one, two or three years doesn’t really matter.) The point is that the cost of hardware is going to follow a similar path to that of software. It will never be free, of course, but it will be cheap enough that hardware will cease to be a differentiating factor in corporate video production. Everybody is going to have access to the same great equipment and the same great tools. What happens then?
1. A new pecking order will emerge
Each geographic market will continue to have a video production market leader or two – the big name production houses that attract top talent. That won’t change. Beyond and below that however, we’ll start to see a lot of change, in fact that change has already begun. There will continue to be a flow of new market entrants as the cost of production drops. I’m not referring to the steady churn of ‘dabblers’ at the low end of the industry. I mean creative people, marketing people and people with other strategic skills who will begin to take up video production on their own… because they can. We’d all like to think that video production is a highly nuanced craft that requires years of mastery and training but the truth is that if you have talent and drive today there is very little stopping you. You don’t need to work your way up in a production house spending years learning different skills. We’ll also start to see creative firms competing across service specialties. Most ad agencies are already experimenting with video in-house and you will also begin to see video production companies working in social media, marketing and other non-traditional areas. Video production will remain a specialty for some, but for others it will become part of a more integrated offering.
2. More sector specialization
Calling up a prospective customer and saying ‘we do video, would you like some’ used to bear fruit. Today it doesn’t. Being ‘everything to everyone’ isn’t how you want to be positioned going forward. The value in video used to be in production and post-production. Today and tomorrow the real value will be in pre-production. That’s where the ideas, the business logic and marketing strategy are developed. Finding someone who has good equipment and understands how to frame, light and edit won’t be the biggest challenge. The challenge will be finding firms that can help you create a storyboard that delivers some type of measurable business outcome. I’m not diminishing the need for great production and post production skills. I’m saying that these skills, to some degree, will become table-stakes and they will be abundant. We’re already starting to see the first stages of specialization in the Industry. Video production companies are beginning to specialize in specific business verticals. This evolution is inevitable. As a business owner who would you rather work with; someone who understands the quirks and dynamics of your industry (and someone who might even teach you a few new tricks), or a firm that does corporate video for everyone or simply to finance their entertainment ambitions. As new (non-video production industry trained) entrants come into the market they will bring their business sector knowledge with them – and that will add value to the process. Making beautiful video won’t be as important as making video that achieves a measurable marketing objective. Prospective customers are going to start asking you what type of video you specialize in.
3. More accountability
Accountability is the thing that most production professionals don’t see coming. As the cost of production drops it becomes harder to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. Businesses are going to start to hold production houses accountable for results. “Hey, I just shoot and edit video, it’s your script” won’t cut-it. Similarly, winning awards, looking cool and being clever won’t matter the way it used to. As the web becomes the medium of choice for the vast majority of corporate video, feedback and measurement tools will have to become part of your service offering. And why shouldn’t they? This is exactly what business owners want. If you’re going to spend $5,000, $10,000, $20,000 or more on a video wouldn’t you want some way of measuring its value to your company? The production houses that bring some level of accountability into the process will thrive. A cool production reel won’t be enough.
4. Video Quality will improve.
I‘m not referring to the overall average quality (average quality has to drop as more people and businesses cycle through bad experiences in the vast lower margins of video production.) I am referring to the quality level of output from most professional video production houses (the folks and businesses who make a full-time living in video production ) – the quality level from full-time production houses will continue to increase. There are many reasons why:
Better tools (all other things being equal) better tools in the hands of professionals will result in higher quality products.
More experimentation. Access to high performance tools will result in more new methods, styles and uses of video. This will lead to better products over time.
Better and quicker learning. There is an unprecedented amount of great training available online either for free or at a very low cost. There are very few secrets in video production today. Just ask Phillip Bloom. Besides that, the best way to learn is by doing, and having access to all of the exciting new tools of production (not just classroom access as was traditionally the case) will result in much faster learning.
Better reference materials. Let’s not kid ourselves, just like in the movie industry; all corporate video production is derivative. We learn from others. We copy others. We do what other people are doing. The quality of reference materials and access to great video samples (i.e. on Vimeo) is accelerating and there is no end of people wanting to showcase their work. We will continue to learn from, and emulate others. The spiral is definitely upwards in this regard.
Specialization. As more people employ video in their marketing activities more specialists will evolve – both in-house and in production houses. This will result in better quality video because the content will become more focused and strategic.
Necessity. Owning equipment used to guarantee you work. Tomorrow it won’t. That means that only companies with initiative and talent will survive. By definition then, the overall quality has to improve.
Business demand. Video marketing will continue to grow in importance. Today video marketing is important mostly for web-based companies and large businesses who can afford broadcast advertising. Tomorrow virtually all businesses will be employing video in their marketing activities.
Allocation of funds will be more efficient. Money spent today on using expensive equipment will be put to better use in pre-production, distribution and measurement.
New and better ecosystems will evolve. As video production increases in use and popularity we’re seeing the development of new and exciting ecosystems develop. Amazon just introduced an automated storyboard tool. Hardware manufactures are all clamoring to announce new motion stabilization tools. All of these support and peripheral tools used in video production will quickly drop in price as competition and broad adoption brings in more money and technology to the industry.
5. Video Production Costs will continue to drop as video production becomes mainstream. (But the amount of work will continue to increase.)
My daughter learned video editing in grade 9 and she’s rather good at it – so are many of her friends. Basic video skills are already a commodity and the downward pressure on equipment prices will result in a hollowing out of the low end of the industry – much the same as we’ve witnessed in photography. Corporations will take simple video production in-house because they can and because it makes sense to do so – especially for basic point and shoot projects. Companies serving the vast and ever-changing middle market will also experience price erosion but specialization and new added-value services should help to alleviate some of this pressure. We’ve seen the same phenomena in website production over the last few years. There is little to no money to be made designing and developing simple/basic websites because there are too many free and DYI options available at the low end. Yet there is still a vibrant market for servicing mid and higher-end websites. The valuable work now for websites is where it always should have been – in creating compelling content. Video will play a larger role in future content creation priorities for corporate websites.
While prices at the high-end of the market have dropped the volume of work has increased dramatically. Television commercials and high-end corporate overview videos used to be the only high-end corporate video production opportunities available but today there are many different types and uses of corporate video.
These market forces will continue to cause production houses to become leaner (and yes, perhaps a bit meaner…) and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. New tech drives new efficiencies in every market it touches. Working out of your house is a good thing. A two-man crew that can do the same work that a three or four-man crew used to do is a good thing. Fitting all of your gear into a car rather than a panel van is also a good thing. Being lean and being nimble is a very smart way to run a business in an industry in transition.
As the cost of equipment continues to drop, talent, drive and specialized skills and knowledge will become critical success factors in corporate video production. What equipment you use won’t really matter.