Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Why attending NAB Show is dangerous and the best investment for your video production

NAB Show Las Vegas, every story starts here.”  Each April, media professionals flock by the tens of thousands to Sin City to get their hands on the latest and greatest technology and hear perspectives from industry professionals at the National Association of Broadcasters annual conference.  I had the opportunity to attend last year for the first time and it was quite a spectacle.  Millions of dollars are spent on exhibition booths by top AV brands like Canon, Panasonic, and Black Magic in the enormous Las Vegas convention center.  I’ll never forget the Atomos CEO standing on the second floor of their booth (yes, second floor) chanting “ATOMOS, ATOMOS, ATOMOS!  OY, OY, OY!”  through an ear-piecing PA system while his associates threw T-shirts off the balcony and everyone crowded in anticipation of having their ticket drawn to win the then unreleased Ninja V monitor.  It’s an incredible experience to say the least.  

I loved going. It’s such a positive and inclusive atmosphere where you can directly interact with company executives and working professionals in lectures and on the show floor.  I learned about new lighting equipment (which I eventually purchased) and even about the seemingly mundane products, like flight cases and how small details make all the difference.  I met a New York DP at the Panasonic booth who filmed exclusively on the EVA1 and answered any question I’d throw at her and met a well-known YouTuber at the Black Magic booth who gave me a personal 15 minute DaVinci Resolve color correcting lesson.  You leave each day feeling better about the work you do and that you have the potential to be incredibly impactful.  However, attendance to NAB can be dangerous.
It’s way too easy to get caught up in the latest gear and tech at NAB.  And while it’s fun to experience it all while you’re there, it’s important to remain pragmatic about your production.    What works best for you and your clients?  What are you delivering?  Just because technologies that were previously too expensive are now attainable, doesn’t mean you should buy them. New cameras may have more dynamic range, higher data rates, or some iteration of V-Log, but it doesn’t mean that it’ll make your productions any better or give you more credibility.  When the Canon 5D Mark II debuted video recording, a professor of mine told me, “now that everybody has access to these cameras, they can all get great looking footage.  It comes back to one thing:  the story.”  He was right over 12 years ago and you know what? He’s still right.  “Every story starts here” is only partially true.  Your gear will only take you so far. What’s important is know how to use it and achieve the best image possible from it. And what’s more important than that is knowing how to tell a good story.  

Here’s my best advice for improving:  Invest time into watching and analyzing films, talking to other professionals, taking stock of what others are doing on the internet, and reading.  Work with others in crafting stories; you’ll pick up some new techniques and perspectives that will help to shape the way you work in the future. Above all, listen.  Listen to your clients and your subjects.  Truly understand the story you’re telling and who you’re interviewing. Not only will the interviewee appreciate your dedication, your story will benefit from a deeper narrative.  The more open you are to ideas, listening and variations in story telling methods, the more successful you’ll be. And then decide what gear you’ll need to tell those stories.

This same sentiment has been written over and over but lately I’ve been feeling the need to express it again with NAB around the corner. And don’t get me wrong, even though NAB offers a dizzying amount of displays, there are even more professionals with invaluable knowledge.  Be sure to take advantage of the networking opportunities as much as the opportunity to learn about the new technology.  That’s what I remember most from my first visit to NAB.  And with that said, I can’t wait to head to Las Vegas in 2 weeks to relive NAB all over again!

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Lights, camera, science! My thoughts on branding science in social media

I recently came across a PEW Research article, “Facebook and Science,” through a higher education peer group that I belong to in Slack.  Typically, social media research and data doesn’t apply to my line of work unless it involves video or educational applications, but the title of the article intrigued me.  Incidentally, my office (in higher education) is currently expanding upon our coverage of stories related to environmental sciences, data science, and engineering, so I felt that the timing in which I discovered this research was fortuitous in nature.
I love science.  Like most young children, I was fascinated by space exploration, electronics, children’s science museums, and the way things worked.  But even today as a 30-year-old, I still find myself spending my free time reading extensively about engineering, tinkering on my motorcycles, learning about AI and VR, or discussing the geometry and algebra inherent in carpentry with my wife, who, as a math teacher, welcomes the conversation.  To me, it’s no surprise that science related pages are very popular on Facebook.  Science is almost a spectacle; I’m making an assumption that a majority of people who aren’t scientists will find the “news you can use” approach to science news most satisfying because it gives them a small glimpse into how science is intertwined into their lives. (I filmed a story about this very topic a while back:  The Science of Mythbusters, below)

Of course, I ultimately read this article to gain some perspective on how I could do my job a little bit better.  How would I be able to pitch and craft better science content for social media?  Is there data that would support my assumptions that shorter length is better, more focused content is better, and that video is still king of social media and is continuing to expand?  In short, yes.
Analysis of the types of posts yielding the highest average of interactions shows that visual posts with little or no text tend to yield more audience engagement than most other frames…The most-engaging posts from either Facebook-primary or multiplatform pages during this period included a wide range of topics and frames. Video was a common feature of these highly engaging posts whether they were aimed at explaining a scientific concept, highlighting new discoveries, or showcasing ways people can put science information to use in their lives. (Pew Research, 2018. p. 5)
Now keep in mind, I find much of this data to be true of any topic, not just science related pages and posts.  However, Pew decided to focus solely on science and, as I mentioned earlier, the research came at a time when I will be ramping up my production of science related content.  My key takeaway from above is that video was very common in the highly engaging posts.  People want and share visual content and it also seems to be more eye catching for habitual scrollers.  I would like to add, however, that while this may be true of Facebook, it isn’t necessarily true of every platform.  I personally think that this is the reason why Instagram has become increasingly popular and will continue to grow rapidly with IGTV as a key development tool.
            Looking at user relationships to science news, Pew referenced an earlier study that they conducted in 2017.  “A 2017…survey found most social media users in the U.S. report seeing science-related posts and a third (33%) consider it an important way they get science news.  Some 44% of social media users say they see content unique to that platform at least sometimes, and 26% of users report that they follow a science-related page or account” (Pew Research, 2018. p. 5).  This isn’t surprising, especially when you take a peek at the chart they’ve included, which show a multiplatform content producers publishing an estimated 18,600 posts per year across their channels.  That’s almost 50 posts per day! If anything, we can certainly assume that persistence is key to social media!  But what makes this important to my job in particular is that if we want to promote more science stories and content, we need to embrace the capabilities of each platform and potentially promote our content separately from our main channel.  The benefit would be that new users could subscribe to a consistent science page that not only feeds an audience hungry for science content but also showcases what our university excels at with discreet marketing/branding.
            To further support my pitch to creating separate social pages, Pew compiled a “Chart of Topic Concentration” (p. 14) that, aside from demonstrating each page having a narrow focus, shows engineering/tech and energy/environmental sciences as being the least covered topics of the surveyed pages on Facebook.  The largest investment in either of the topics came from NASA for energy/environmental sciences.  Another observation is that many (if not all) of the pages surveyed in the study use a single frame for their stories (Pew, 2018.  p. 17).  Doing so makes each story less complicated for the audiences and more consumable.  These findings led me to my consideration I mentioned earlier for covering sciences separately from our main content and embracing each platform.
But how would we cover these new stories?  “The bulk of posts across the 30 Facebook pages utilized one of three frames: news about a scientific discovery or development, science-related “news you can use,” or a promotion for a media program on another platform.” Although there are currently no higher education institutions that I know of producing this type of single frame content for specific pages, I see it as a real opportunity.   There is no reason that my office can’t produce a variety of consumable content using our professors to relay the information.  We already do that, in a sense, and so do many other schools.  The key to making it work is to, again, create a separate following and embrace the strengths of each platform.  And more important than having a separate page that will be focused on science content is filling it with visuals.

An example of a science story I produced with a single frame and trending topic that was developed specifically for social media.

User engagement with posts on science-related Facebook pages is more common for visual posts, calls to action. While the most common frames for posts on the 30 science-related Facebook pages in this analysis feature new discoveries or science “news you can use,” posts with more engagement – a term used to characterize the number of user interactions with a post from shares, comments, and likes or other reactions – tend to use other frames. Posts from the first half of 2017 with the highest average number of interactions per post used frames related to science research funding and pictures or other visual display with little or no text. (Pew Research, 2018.  p. 25)
I’m not claiming to be a social media strategist, but I do have to advocate for the type work that I do and video goes hand-in-hand with social media.  I think that creating fresh video and photo content within a new context is certainly worth exploring for any brand.


Thursday, June 28, 2018

Understanding vertical video and the impact of IGTV

Last week, Instagram launched Instagram TV (IGTV) and deemed it the future of video. It’s a bold statement, especially considering that they are only supporting a vertical video frame when almost all video currently conforms to a 16x9 horizontal frame. As a video professional, I’m hesitant to take statements such as those seriously, but I have to evaluate the platform’s potential. Instagram provided these statistics:
We're evolving with the times; these days, people are watching less TV and more digital video. By 2021, mobile video will account for 78% of total mobile data traffic. And we've learned that younger audiences are spending more time with amateur content creators and less time with professionals.
Again, I tend to be hesitant toward marketing data, however this isn’t the first time that I’ve seen data like this. Back in March, my colleague sent me a Pew Research article about the use of social media in 2018. Pew stated:
The video-sharing site YouTube – which contains many social elements, even if it is not a traditional social media platform – is now used by nearly three-quarters of U.S. adults and 94% of 18- to 24-year-olds. There is a substantial amount of overlap between users of the various sites measured in [our] survey [and] a significant majority of users of each of these social platforms also indicate that they use YouTube.
The data shown in Pew’s reciprocity chart demonstrated that an average of 92.5% users of other social platforms also used YouTube, a higher percentage than even Facebook. This past April, I attended the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas and sat in on a talk titled “Generation Z: The YouTube generation” which discussed the demographics, life experiences and media habits of a generation interwoven with social media. Though a slightly different analysis, the research presented at this session confirms Pew's data as well as the data that Instagram shared upon the release of IGTV. The presentation claimed that 71% of 13 to 17 year olds spend 3 or more hours per day viewing online video, with YouTube being the top platform for general knowledge, entertainment, and catching up on the news. They also reported a direct trend to shorter video content for teenaged users, citing eMarketer's research that a mere 8% of social video users are watching less content than they did the prior year, with 57% viewing more, and 35% viewing about the same. The presenter also conducted a small study of their own on post-millennial media and cinema habits, which confirmed the speculation that fewer younger people are visiting the theater and watching TV. Their results indicated that, out of the 211 national participants averaging age 15, a majority only watched 1 or 2 movies per quarter but spent 2.2 hours per day watching content at home, mostly on YouTube and Netflix. Not surprising, 2/3 of that time spent watching content at home was on a mobile device.

Many news outlets have speculated that Instagram has their sights set on YouTube’s market share as the top video platform, and it makes perfect sense. Instagram has been rapidly growing over the past few years and being able to keep viewers and content creators within a single app is good for business.

So how does this affect content creation and professionals like myself? While it’s still too early to have an answer, as IGTV has only been live for 8 days as of writing this article, I do have a few thoughts that have been turning over in my head. I don't think it's completely turning the YouTube model upside down, but I do think that there will be a shift in delivery. Like MTV of the 80s and 90s, YouTube is known for it stylized content and snappy, irreverent editing. Top YouTubers, such as Rhett and Link of Good Mythical Morning, do a better job of melding this style into a professional product, complete with top quality video, on-camera talent, production, and content. In my opinion, the best YouTube content is visually engaging and moves quickly but discreetly; it's most effective and seamless when you don't notice the edits and the narrative flows effortlessly.  YouTube has also played a part in redefining digital cinematography, allowing creators a platform to experiment on and push the limits of how good amateur video can be.

Instagram has for the most part been matching this style but its content creators have really emphasized the "snappiness" of YouTube. Since Instagram previously wanted users to create solely using a mobile device, content was less polished, exuberant, and rather ordinary. However, it was the short form and exuberance that kept the content afloat and engaging. It felt real. Eventually, content creators found work-arounds to Instagram's phone-only limitations and made crafty use of Airdrop and Google Drive to transfer more polished content. With IGTV, Instagram is hoping to keep the "real" aspect to the content by forcing the use of vertical video. Instagram claims that using vertical video makes their platform "mobile first" by showcasing content in the orientation in which people use their phones. They also say that IGTV's platform and vertical orientation are "making it easier for [users] to get closer to the creators and original content they love." This is well and good for typical users, but Instagram is also banking on the fact that businesses will be developing content for their platform as well, anticipating ad sales and post boosting.

So how can video professionals adapt? It's still up in the air at the moment, but I'll share a few great examples that I've seen during the debut week. A final positive note is that users make the conscious choice to view IGTV content. Unlike Facebook or previous Instagram video posts, which throw video content into a news feed, users purposely seek video content to watch by clicking the IGTV icon on the top of their screens or visiting the IGTV app. I’m hoping that this leads to better engagement, even if the viewership numbers are lower.

This screenshot from music store Chicago Music Exchange made interesting use of a 3 camera set up for a live acoustic performance. Rather than cut in close ups, they put all 3 cameras on screen at once and played them in sync for the viewer to watch.

These two screenshots are from Late Night With Stephen Colbert and split the screen between interviewee and interviewer.  The video then cuts to the close up once someone is speaking at length.

This cooking demonstration from Lele Pons' channel displays the overhead closeup of the food while keeping the host in view as well.

My favorite example comes from the NBA team the Los Angeles Lakers.  Here they interview a player in wide shot and close up to start.  When they want to make a cut, they switch the shot positions and rescale the framing. In the second image, you can see a b-roll shot a the bottom of the frame. Here, they cleverly introduce the b-roll in one of the frames and then change the interview shot from wide to close up when they want to make a cut. When they want to change the b-roll clip, they reintroduce the wide shot and the sequence is back to the first image.  It's definitely a style you need to check out and one that I will more than likely emulate in the future.

Addition on July 12, 2018:  

Here's my first edit for Instagram.  The main focus is still on storytelling, but I'm using some of the techniques that I discuss above.