Video: The Next Generation of Web Content?

YouTube’s been around for years, and it’s one of the most popular sites on the internet.  Sites like Hulu and Boxee are making American cable companies nervous (in Canada, Hulu’s blocked).  Certainly, the move from broadcasting on the tube, to broadcasting over the web is coming, but we have yet to see any groundbreaking made-for-web content. Last week, Rev3 put out a tongue-in-cheek open letter to Conan O’Brien, encouraging him to move his show to the web.  While the letter was a joke, is that so far off?]

The big question around broadcasting content on the web, however, is what’s the revenue model?  Network television makes its money through advertising – raising the same kind of advertising revenue on the web could prove to be problematic.  Cable networks make money through subscription.  This could be a possibility, but I think we’ll truly see if this is feasible this year if Hulu begins charging for content.

Where does this leave the advertisers?  Advertisers have used 30-second television spots with great success for half a century, but what happens when (not if, when) network television dies?  The logical answer is that advertisers will move these dollars to the web.  Some marketers are touting video as the next generation of advertising on the web.  Some marketers go so far as to imply that video will become the dominant content on the web, replacing text and static images.

This is where I get skeptical.

We have seen a number of success stories of people who have used video for business purposes to great success (the name Gary Vaynerchuk comes to mind, for one).  However, a few examples of success doesn’t mean that video is going to replace all content.

4 Reasons Why Video Won’t Replace Text

1. History Tells Us Otherwise

The web’s great value is that it’s a resource in addition to an entertainment source.  People go to the web to find information. That’s where there’s value for advertisers, because they can find consumers who are looking for answers.  Just as documentaries did not replace books as the way we do research, so too, will videos not become the definitive resource for a person searching for information.

2. People’s attention spans are too short

The web has nurtured an environment of people who have an 8-second attention span.  You might think this is an argument in favour of video, but it’s not.  How often can a person be hooked by the first 8 seconds of a video?  Not often.  Video as a medium needs time to develop, and it can’t easily be scanned.  Text on the other hand is inherently scannable.  I scan tens of thousands of words of text on the internet every day.  I do it because scanning text is easy.  I can’t scan hundreds of hours of video every day.

3. Look at usage patterns

When does a huge portion of web traffic occur?  While people are at work.  People will happily read/scan through multiple articles during spare moments at work, but very few people have the kind of job where stopping and watching a full video is acceptable or feasible.

4. The right way to use video hasn’t been discovered yet

The 30-second commercial spot on television worked because of the nature of the medium.  People had to watch it while they waited for their regular programming to come back.  There is a small trend of companies trying to reproduce this same format on the web.  That simply won’t work work on the web, because no one will actively seek out a commercial.  In fact, people watching television are actively looking for ways to avoid commercials.  What makes these companies think that just because you put them on the web now, people will want to watch them?

A Few of the Right Ways to Use Video

As mentioned earlier, there have been some success stories for using video, and as such, there are some lessons we’ve been able to glean from these about how to use video.

1. Promotional tool. Use video content as yet another avenue to guide people back to your web HQ.  This can be accomplished by posting something of interest on YouTube, and pointing people back to the HQ for more info.  This is about creating valuable content, not selling.

2. Do something different. A lot of people, especially in the world of blogging, are experimenting with video.  Unfortunately, most of them are simply taking the blogposts they would have normally written and reciting them into a webcam.  If your video doesn’t add anything, just write it.  Video allows you to demonstrate and visualize things in a way text doesn’t.  Take advantage of that, or risk creating some of the dullest videos on the web.

3. Add personality. The social web has demonstrated to us all that consumers like it when the brands they buy from have personality.  Video allows consumers to see who they’re buying from.  If you can create video that allows your customers to feel like they know you better, you’ve succeeded.

4. Create a viral hit. The holy grail of internet marketing is going viral.  It costs next to nothing, and all of a sudden everyone and their cat has seen your video and passed it along.  The problem with creating a viral hit is that there’s really no way to predict what will go viral.  The first viral hit of 2010 has been the American Idol rendition of “Pants on the Ground.”  Not sure that was intentional…

Experiment with video and add it to your marketing mix, but make no mistake, it is not a replacement, it is a supplement.

While you’re playing with video, you might also want to check out Get Seen, as recommended by Chris Brogan.  I haven’t looked at this yet, but Chris usually gives good recommendations.

Oh, and don’t expect many videos from me in the near future.  I know my strengths and my weaknesses, and I know that for the sake of anyone reading this, I should stick to writing.

6 comments ↓

#1 Paul D. Selman on 01.22.10 at 5:42 am

Interesting article, as usual, Adam. The subject of Internet video intrigues me as I have a sneaking suspicion I’m eventually going to try my hand at it. At the moment, I’m attempting to make my website (which is a kind of journal for my creative process as an artist) more interesting for the reader by showing my artwork at various incremental stages in the process, by means of photographing or scanning the pieces along the way, rather than just presenting the finished piece.
Video seems to me to be the next logical step in giving my readers some insight into my process. I’ve been giving some thought to filming myself working (focussing on my hands and the piece of work; nobody wants to see my ugly mug) and posting the video to my website for people to watch. What’s holding me back is (a) I don’t have a video camera at the moment and the funds to purchase one would need to be found from somewhere and (b) I have to admit to being more than a little camera-shy.
There’s also the issue of copyright to be considered. I always work to music, and there are legal issues surrounding putting videos on the Internet with music on them that you don’t own the rights to. This would leave me with the choice of making silent movies, but that would mean I couldn’t narrate my progress, or working without music playing, which is certainly not an appealing thought.

[Reply]

#2 Adam on 01.22.10 at 11:09 am

Hey Paul – I actually think videos of artist working is precisely one of the ways that I refer to when I say, “do something that you can’t already do with text.” A friend recommended I check out Val’s Art Diary (valsartdiary.com)

As for a video camera, pocket camcorders have become all the rage of late, and you can get a Mino Flip (or some competitor) for under $200 USD. Still not gratos, but a far cry from the close to $1K+ camcorders I remember from a few years ago.

Lastly, about the music, you’re right about the copyright issue, but I think that creates an opportunity. If you know local musicians, and enjoy their music, use that as your background music. They’ll love the exposure, and you don’t have to create silent films (plus, they’ll owe you a favour).

I look forward to seeing some of your videos, Paulie.

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#4 Kenji Crosland on 01.22.10 at 11:47 am

Your post inspired me to invent a scannable type of video. I did a quick search and it looks like someone beat me to the punch: http://blogs.zdnet.com/BTL/?p=4083. Not sure how reliable the technology is, but it’s interesting.

Even with this development, I’m sure text will be still be king on the internet.

[Reply]

Adam Reply:

Hey Kenji – interesting link, no question, but I think no matter what kind of fancy technological solution we come up with, the human brain can’t process scanned images and sounds as fast as it can scanned text. Therefore, we’ll always be able to absorb more from text than video.. unless we get a Matrix-like solution where we plug video directly into our brain… but I haven’t seen that yet. :)

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#5 uberVU - social comments on 01.22.10 at 3:12 pm

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