The Ultimate Guide to Creating Online Video Content That Works, Part 2

This article appears in the December/January issue of Streaming Media magazine. Click here for your free subscription.

In Part 1 of this article, we looked at the importance of understanding your audience—both existing and potential—and the different challenges facing major media companies and independent content creators. In Part 2, we’ll look at the importance of video production quality and the pros and cons of long-form and short-form content. We’ll also get some advice from successful content creators about what works and what doesn’t.

The Importance of Quality Content
When YouTube first burst onto the scene, it upended the traditional notion that what viewers wanted was content with the highest possible production values. Whether it is clips from old home movies or video diaries shot with a webcam, there’s been a sense that anything goes when it comes to the quality of online video.

"Usually, my message is that we’re still at a point where production value doesn’t matter that much; in fact, it can hurt you if you overproduce," says Kevin Nalty, a top YouTube producer known as Nalts. "There’s a certain level of resentment towards the people on YouTube who are trying to have the perfect shot and the perfect lighting. It suddenly makes them seem like they’re better than everyone else, and the video can come off as more commercial, more canned, and less authentic."

On the flip side, with the migration of TV shows and movies online, the highest-quality content is now generating some of the highest viewer numbers. Because of this, it’s important that the major media companies protect their TV brands by delivering high-quality video online.

"From an ESPN brand perspective, we’re always trying to maintain the highest level of quality," says John Zehr, vice president of the emerging media group at ESPN. "We do try to achieve the same production value as what goes on TV, and we’re able to take advantage of a lot of the facilities at ESPN. But depending on the budget or time, we may take a different approach. One size doesn’t fit all."

However, he added that viewers began to take fantasy sports shows more seriously when production values were increased. "They began to feel like we were treating fantasy football like NFL Countdown, like one of our studio programs, which increased the magnitude of the content," he says. "And as you make changes, you can see the impact they’re having on viewership."

Another emerging trend is affecting those who are now making the videos at these major media companies, according to Greg Clayman, executive vice president of digital distribution and business development for MTV Networks. "Five years ago, the people who ran the website would grab a camera and shoot something," he says. "But as it became a bigger business for us, it really made sense to combine our production efforts on-air and online, so it’s the same thing shot on the same HD cameras by the same crew, and the same producers and directors are involved in the creation of it. So when you’re producing a show for on-air, you’re thinking about producing content for online. And I think that gives media companies a general advantage over others."

However, the benefits of producing higher-quality video aren’t relevant only to major media companies, according to Jim Louderback, CEO of Revision3. "If you’re spending 10 seconds watching a cat riding a donkey, I think low quality’s OK, but if you want to create a repeatable, episodic experience that people will come back to again and again, it has to be good quality," he says. "Having something as good as TV is essential. The idea that quality doesn’t matter anymore is totally wrong for the sorts of things we’re doing."

Much of this has to do with consumer expectations and the demands of the content being produced. "If it’s a pretty girl walking down the street, people want to be able to see her clearly, but they don’t care about the overall production value," says Kip "Kipkay" Kedersha, the highest earner in Metacafe’s Producer Rewards program. "But if you’re showing a close-up of a circuit board, and it’s out of focus and the camera’s shaking, then the production value has a direct impact on how that video is going to be accepted."

Also vital to consider is the cost of producing high-quality content relative to the use, longevity, and potential revenue that can be driven off of any particular piece of video, says Richard Glosser, executive director of emerging media for CondéNet. "We try to be very efficient in how we produce video so that the cost is reasonable while still trying to maintain high quality, because ultimately, people are coming to our brand for professionally produced content," he says. "But you need to understand what type of video it is to appropriately invest in its production. For example, doing daily updates at a show like CES [Consumer Electronics Show] to put on has much more perishability than something like a cooking video that has a much longer shelf life. You need to balance quality and cost."

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