Video production used to be about fancy equipment, cool effects, big budgets and ‘creative’.
Today, effective video production is more about delivering measurable business results.
Back in the ‘big-iron’ days of corporate video you took some shots of the corporate headquarters, threw in a couple talking heads yammering on about the company’s mission statement and their place in the universe, added in a whack of superfluous motion graphics and $25,000 later, voila! – you had yourself a corporate video.
Then, a few years back, Sony introduces the EX1 camera, shooters like Phillip Bloom start telling everyone their secrets, Canon accidentally turns their DSLR’s into fantastic little video cameras and you have the beginning of a revolution. Today, everyone and their aunt is now a video producer and… here we are.
Video Production – Where we are today
1. The industry is in transition.
Let’s put one myth to bed forever. Video production is no longer a dark art mastered over decades slaving at the the feet of your local video Jedi master. Video production is just another technical and creative skill that can be learned by anyone with a bit of ambition and imagination.
My daughter was taught video editing in grade nine and she’s quite good at it. My other daughter takes phenomenal photographs with her iPhone (aided by a bit of Instagram magic.) My son, who worked with me in video production with no prior training was ahead of me in many (perhaps most) aspects of video production after a year or two.
I took up video production after 20 years in marketing (old dog, new tricks.) The ground beneath us continues to shift.
2. The means of production have been commoditized.
Software is (virtually) free. For $80 a month you can get every bit of new software you’ll ever need from Adobe.
Hardware is quickly becoming irrelevant. Sony recently introduced the FS6 which does everything you’ll ever need a camera to do (4K, low-light beast, slo-mo, great image quality, high dynamic range, amazing auto-focus, etc.) for under $10k.
The purists, tech snobs, and big budget players will always spend more on gear – good for them, but the differences in final output quality are becoming less and less obvious to the general viewing public. (Remember those audio geeks who bought the 1/2 inch thick, gold plated, plutonium enriched speaker wire and claimed it provided a much ‘truer’ sound experience? Those same guys are now playing their iPhone tunes through a single wireless Bose speaker.) Tech (via lower prices and more convenience) changes everything.
3. Everything is trending to Free.
Chris Andersen made a bold prediction in his book ‘Free : The Future of a Radical Price” that any business with a digital trajectory (many/most businesses as it turns out…) will have to deal with the fact that the future of many of their digital products and services will trend to free. That’s scary because it also means that commodity services will continue to be subsumed by larger companies who can afford to give stuff away. Like Google, for instance.
Google still makes most all of its money from search. Sure, we all use Youtube and Gmail because those are free services that Google has poured billions into over the last decade. Youtube only started making a profit a few years back. Imagine the competitive advantage you have when you can afford to loose bucket loads of cash every year on your product or service and still be able to increase your investment in the service.
Google, if they chose to be evil, could literally wipe out any web-based service they cared to. The amount of free stuff online is staggering. Photos, video clips, training, software… the list goes on and the list is growing. The services you provide may not yet be ‘free’ but as Andersen pointed out, bundling services with other things that you actually get paid for is the next wave. “Ya sure, I’ll throw in video production if we get to manage your entire account.”
4. The world is shrinking.
I’m currently working with people in India, Serbia and Kyrgyzstan on a variety of projects… because I can. You say you’re a really good shooter? So is the eager kid just out of college who’s been shooting since he was 10. You’re an amazing editor? So is a guy in Pakistan that edits for $10 per hour. You’ve got wicked experience in all aspects of video AND marketing? Yep, so does the ad agency that just added video production to their list of services to stay relevant and to keep their creative directors happy. Everyone is doing video production everywhere – and that trend is accelerating.
So that’s the ‘chaos’ part.
Corporate Video Production – Where we’re going, and what will matter.
1. The demand for video is insatiable.
Video is everywhere and the use of video by businesses is accelerating. That’s the good news. The best indication that corporate video has finally ‘arrived’ as a mainstream business activity is the fact that news articles and video production blog posts have finally stopped mentioning this months YouTube upload figures. Yep, we get it – the average person ‘watches 25 hours of video each day’ and ‘3.7 years of video footage is uploaded to Youtube every millisecond.’ Whatever.
We’re finally getting over hyping the numbers to ‘prove’ that businesses should jump on board the video bandwagon. Granted, a great deal of this new video output will be terrible but the fact remains that millions of business videos around the world are being created each year… and somebody has to create these videos.
2. Specialization (adding value) is the key to future success in video production
A buddy of mine works for a local App development company. (Like video, everyone is building Apps.) His company specializes in building Apps for Museums – big museums like the Louvre and the Guggenheim. His company is able to land marquee museum customers because of their unique knowledge of, and experience with museums – not because they are wicked App programmers. This is exactly where video production is heading.
Offering generic video production services is going to continue to get more challenging because undifferentiated video production services are commodity services. “Hi, I’m Bob from Bob’s Video Production, would you like some video?” doesn’t move the dial any more. There is only one way for the price of a commodity service to go. (Down.)
The new breed of video production company will begin to specialize in specific business verticals like health care, or real estate and will develop knowledge and experiences that add value to their engagement beyond just being able to shoot and edit well. Vertical markets are one way to specialize. There are many other ways to differentiate your services.
You can develop a recognizable and unique style like Sandwich Video has done, or you can specialize in a type of video like the grandaddy (if your grandfather is 30 years old…) of explainer videos – 2minuteexplainer.com has done, or you can bring in the best people to do really, really good work like the folks at Variable seem to do on every frick’en project.
In every case where a video production company is growing and successful it’s not because they are great at the mechanical aspects of video production. It’s because they’ve moved beyond being technicians and they are adding unique skills, experiences, perspectives, and ideas to the video production process. Buying a new camera doesn’t change anything. Telling your client how they can use video to solve their business problems – that changes everything.
3. All the world’s a screen.
Apple’s big idea – the one that changed the trajectory of their company was the re-imagination of the cell phone from a stupidly complex mechanical input device (loads of buttons) to a sheet of glass (a virtual device.) The interface options are infinite with a screen. Today we spend a growing portion of our lives staring at screens. Desktop computer screens, mobile phone screens, tablet screens, television screens, promotional display screens.
Our interface to the digital world is through a sheet of glass and we are all becoming digital… and video has become the digital rockstar.
4. ‘Real Reality’ (experiential video) and the coming tsunami of un-staged video.
Most marketing video today is fake (staged). Even the video that is supposed to be real – testimonial video – is staged to some degree. Most people watching corporate videos understand this. Marketing is the art of positioning (faking) stuff to sound and look real and important. All of us who work in this industry live on that continuum. We simply decide how much ‘fake’ we and our audiences can stomach.
Un-staged (or ‘slightly staged’) is becoming more relevant because it seems less fake. Most successful viral videos today look real even if we all know how much behind-the-scenes planning went into creating all of that reality. The next wave is going to be Real Reality – video that is genuine and spontaneous and not stage-managed. Where is this video going to come from? Everywhere. We all now carry really impressive video cameras in our pockets and we’re all getting quite good at using them. The flood of experiential video is going to change the corporate video production landscape and it’s going to change the style of corporate video even more.
Winning with fake is going to get tougher and tougher. Entertainment will be the exception here, but as we begin to see real reactions to products and services it’s going to be tougher and tougher to show people how they should ‘really’ feel about your product. Wearable tech like Google Glass (even though everyone’s first reaction to seeing those things are ‘WHOA, DUDE!!!! are you filming me right now????’ – not a good thing…) will make it easier and easier for us to lifestream our entire existence.
If your product sucks, there’s going to be no place to hide any more and no amount of PR is going to fix real (and shared) perceptions. And for those futurists out there – the bionic eye is already here. Very soon we’ll be capturing everything we do. And we’ll be sharing it. Nowhere for businesses to hide anymore.
5. More efficient video production processes
Back in the day (say…. a couple years ago…) if you wanted to get help on a project you’d either call somebody over to your cubical or give someone you know a call and try to explain your dilemma. Today there are so many online resources like training tips (I.e. Google: How do I extrude a 3d shape in After effects) or Royalty-free video clips (the prices are dropping and the quality is increasing very fast – why go out and shoot a reference clip of a city if you can download a great aerial shot for $100 or $10 or $1 or for free – remember that everything trends to free online…) and collaborative tools (either integrated tools like Adobe anywhere or AVID Everywhere or Autodesk 360 or stand-alone tools like Wispter, Remark, and Vidma
6. We’re entering the Post-hardware Era of video production
Remember when it used to matter which desktop publishing platform you were on, or which photo editing software you used, or what coding platform you developed on? No one cares any more. Really, no one cares. Same thing is happening now with video.
I wrote a post about this a while back and it’s interesting to see the old guard still griping about ‘kids with camera’s.’ The hardware you owned used to define your position in the video production industry. Today you can do great stuff with just about any camera and if you’re missing a special bit of functionality wait a couple months and some company will be dumping that into their newest model release.
How you solve your customer’s business problems is what matters today. Having expensive video equipment doesn’t make you a good video producer any more than having an expensive pen makes you a good writer.
Some near-term video production trends
1. Video continues to go in-house.
Businesses will continue to create their own video because they can and because, for certain types of video projects, it makes sense to do so. Businesses will also experiment and waste valuable time and resources on more complex video projects that they will ultimately out-source but, like a petulant toddler, they’ll have to make these mistakes and suffer through the pain in order to learn.
2. Better integration of video with marketing
Video continues to be a bit of a stand-alone activity for many businesses. This will change. Video has to be integrated with all other marketing activities. As an example video has to be properly optimized for SEO, video always benefits from building a strong landing page presence to support the video and video needs to part of a larger distribution and promotional process. Putting your video up on your website and on YouTube isn’t enough any more.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure. If you don’t know how people are reacting to your video (open rates, completion rates, where people drop-off, call-to-action completions, etc.) you can’t tell if your video is having an impact. There are many online services / platforms to assist you with both video hosting and tracking such as vzaar.com, wistia.com, and brightcove.com and analytics software like Google Analytics are excellent tools to help you to understand how video is affecting your business.
4. Shorter continues to be better for business video
There is no correct length for a corporate video. Your video should only be as long as you need to make your point and not a second longer. There will always be exceptions and with certain business uses of video such as training and post-sale support it makes sense to produce longer videos. But, all things considered, shorter is better. Mobile is beginning to overtake desktop as the primary venue for watching online videos. Attention spans continue to shrink, particularly when people are using mobile devices.
5. Pre-production is where all the value is today in video
If you don’t have the right message and the right concept and the most appropriate style all decided beforehand in the form of a final storyboard that everyone understands and agrees to then you’re wasting your time with video.
Having some video up on your website used to be a goal in and of itself. If you don’t start your video project by first identifying the specific business goals that your video needs to accomplish then you’re waisting your time with video. No amount of shooting and editing and creative is going to save a video that is not on message or delivering a specific business outcome.
6. Personalization and mass-customization.
We’re still a few years away from technology allowing us to easily mass-customize the delivery of video, but the personalization and the creation of focussed, targeted content will become more prevalent over the next few years. Broadcast viewing (programming that makes you watch stuff on some-one else’s schedule) is being replaced by personalized, mobile viewing. That means a video targeted to a mass audience is going to have less and less value. Context, where you are and what you are doing is going to require videos that are created and delivered to meet the needs of a very specific audience, wherever and whenever they are.
And there you have it. Please feel free to share your ideas and comments below on this topic below.