Media Revolution: Podcasting (Part 2)
Written by Steve Garfield and David Tames | Posted by: Anonymous
In Part 1 of this article we introduced audio and video podcasting and provided some examples of what’s out there with an emphasis on audio podcasts. Now we look at video podcasting in more detail, provide a glimpse of some video podcasts, and offer some suggestions how you, as a filmmaker, can harness the technology, either to promote your film, or as a new medium for expression.
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Video podcasting is like having your daily newspaper delivered to your doorstep, or your favorite television show recorded for you by TiVo, only now, you decide which creators you want to subscribe to, when to watch, and on what device: your personal computer, portable media player, internet-connected media center, etc.
The majority of video podcasts are associated with a video blog. A video blog is just like a text blog, with the addition of video. When you watch video right there on the web page you could simply say that you are watching a video blog post. Video podcasting, a term Apple likes to use, describes the process of subscribing to the latest video entries in a blog. Essentially, video podcasting provides the means of delivering content to your computer on a subscription basis and then optionally moving it onto a portable device like a video iPod.
The ‘casting’ part comes in when the video from that blog post is sent off in an RSS feed and delivered to a device. You can think of it like the difference between audio blogging (web-based consumption) and audio podcasting (computer or portable device based consumption). Video podcasting is also known as vlogging, you will see an ongoing rewriting of the definition in real-time at the Wikipedia pages for vlog, podcast, RSS, and web feed.
In the beginning there was the blog
Web video has been with us since the first cro-magnons figured out how to put video on a web page. Those videos were on static pages and hard to find. The recent popularity of video on the web has come about because of the synergy between blogs, video hosting services (e.g. blip.tv and YouTube), portable media devices that play video, and high speed internet connections in the home. Now each video has a permanent address that others can reference and a distribution method that makes the videos easy to acquire by a large percentage of internet users. With video as portable and personal as music has been, things are set to take off.
For years, early adopters have been experimenting with putting video on their blogs. By the end of 2004, bloggers were using the ability to add video as an enclosure to an RSS feed, allowing viewers to subscribe to videos and have them delivered automatically to their computers. This solved the problem of click and wait, where you had to wait for a video to start playing when you clicked on it from a web page. With more and more homes wired with fast always-on internet connections, there’s lots of bandwidth that can be put to use in the background for downloading media files while you do something else. By 2005, more people were discovering vlogging and exploring the many ways to add video to a blog. This was accelerated by wide range of new software and hosted solutions that made it easy for anyone to share their video on the web.
As we begin 2006 video podcasting is taking off and receiving lots of attention, including filmmakers looking for an alternative means for promoting and distributing their work. The popularity of NBC Saturday Night Live’s The Chronicles of Narnia Rap Video back in December underscores how easy it is for people to make and consume media. Although not authorized by NBC, the video was uploaded to the video sharing site YouTube and seen by over a million viewers. Rather than freak out over the unauthorized distribution of copyrighted material, insightful people at NBC realized the benefit of this viral form of marketing and added the video to the iTunes Music Store as a free video podcast available for download. There’s a fine line between media distribution and media piracy, and savvy players are taking advantage of this new form of virtually free distribution, rather than fighting it.
The revolution will not be broadcast
Spend some time viewing the many video blogs at co-author Steve Garfields videoblogging information site, and we’re sure you’ll agree with us that there’s a trend emerging in the media and entertainment landscape: citizen media, or end-user produced content, is beginning to shape our patterns of media consumption and production. This revolution will not be broadcast over the airwaves. In contrast to mainstream media, podcasting (both video and audio) is a bottom-up movement and squarely the domain of individuals who are being guided by human creativity and expression, rather than corporate agendas and economic exigencies. Unlike media forms before it, there are practically no barriers to people producing their own videos and posting them to their video blogs for others to view and provide feedback.
With the cost of video cameras in the hundreds, sophisticated computers with video editing software available for just over a grand, and high speed always-on internet connections costing less than the average cable television subscription, the means of both production and distribution are now in the hands of practically anyone with something to say. More importantly, the two-way nature of the internet makes it possible for media makers to engage in a genuine conversation with their audience, rather than simply broadcasting messages targeted at the lowest common denominator. Broadcast content must deliver large numbers of viewers to advertisers, who in turn, cover the high cost of maintaining the broadcasting infrastructure, and these costs are passed right back to the consumer in the form of higher prices for nationally advertised goods and services. Now there’s a way to reach smaller, targeted audiences economically, and the cost of the infrastructure is distributed through access fees, regardless of any specific content or audience.
Marhshall McLuhan argued that in each socio-cultural era the medium in which information is created and transmitted determines the essential characteristics of that culture. He also predicted the evolution of an interconnected ‘global village". The shift from a centralized media industry modeled on industrial revolution structures to a decentralized chaotic information-age soup is having a profound effect on the messages we exchange and shaping the characteristics of our culture. The global village comes to a crescendo with podcasting, and you can participate in the revolution with tools that are easily within reach: your imagination, the computer you’re using to read this web page, and a video camera. We’re not going to predicting what’s next, as that’s going to depend on what you, yes you, plan to do with new media. If the flutter of one butterfly wing, can trigger a chain reaction of events resulting in a storm half-way across the planet, imagine the effect millions, or billions, of individually produced videos will have on the characteristic of the global village and the media landscape.
A vlog to call your own
We’ve come to a place where you can easily create content from your own home and share it with the world. Video blogs foster linking and conversations between content creators and their audience. With an idea and a few blogs, Michael Verdi and Ryanne Hodson have created FreeVlog.org and node101.org for virtual and on location training for prospective vloggers. And they don’t even live in the same state: Michael is in Texas and Ryanne is in New York. Alternatively, Feevlog explores other vlogging options using paid and free blogging services. Visit videoblogging.info for starting points and tutorials. Camcorders are ubiquitous and most new computers come with free video editing software, Apple bundles iMovie HD on new Macs and most Windows PCs include Movie Maker to get you started.
You don’t even need a video camera to start videoblogging, the mashup culture is in full force in the videoblogging world too. Remix pictures, music, and videos from others. Look for a Creative Commons license attached to content that allows you to use media you find on the web. A Creative Commons license makes it possible to share media with others yet retain some of the rights granted to you under copyright law, and in turn, to use media created by others without violating their rights, making it possible build on the work of others and share alike while respecting intellectual property rights.
Video blogs are really more than just video posted to a blog. Videoblogs are about individuals, sharing, and grass-roots community. They are people expressing their authentic and unfiltered views through video. A large group of vloggers, over 2,000 at last count, actively participate in the Yahoo! Videoblogging Group from all over the world. In this community of vloggers, you can get help on putting video onto a blog and discuss issues of interest like licensing music, lighting, sound, and generating revenue and buzz for your vlog. Vloggers also have twice weekly video conferences where you can see and hear all the members of the video conference. The videoblogging community is welcoming and happy to help people who are just getting started. Videobloggers also hold local Meet the Vloggers sessions where you can learn about vlogging first hand and meet some media creators face to face.
Does collaborative vlogging presage the future of documentary filmmaking?
Vloggers are utilizing new web based tools to express themselves, promote their work, and work together remotely on video projects that in the past would have encountered lengthy delays shipping tapes via package delivery services, and promote their films. Here are some examples that stand out:
Rocketboom is a daily 3-minute news video blog out of New York with correspondents collaborating from around the world. It demonstrates the democratization of media every day. Delivering over 130,000 downloads per day, Rocketboom is also distributed on both Akimbo and TiVo where they are right on the same program guide as the BBC and CNN.
Kent Bye’s Echo Chamber Project is an open source investigative documentary about how the television news media became an uncritical echo chamber to the Executive Branch leading up to the war in Iraq. By implementing collaborative techniques in the production of the film, the filmmakers are exploring a solution to the challenge of incorporating a broader range of voices and perspectives into the mainstream media. Bye writes on his site, ‘With the right software tools and analytical methodologies, then an ecosystem of citizen journalists could provide credible, peer-reviewed reporting on vital issues concerning their local, national and global communities.’
Another interesting example, though not directly related to vlogging, is This is What Democracy Looks Like, which incorporates footage from many contributors to take a collective multi-perspective look at the WTO protests in Seattle.
New software tools are allowing producers to easily share video, for example, SpinXpress from OutThink allows video producers to easily share footage, remotely, with a drag and drop interface. Remote producers use the SpinXpress interface to share footage amongst themselves. Many innovations for sharing, collaboration can be expected over the course of the next couple of years. The internet is about sharing and collaboration, in fact, ‘The Strength of Internet Ties", a new report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project done jointly with University of Toronto sociologists, shows that the internet helps cultivate social networks and encourages people to talk by phone or meet others in person.
Filmmakers tackle the new medium
Filmmakers Susan Buice and Arin Crumley created a video podcast to promote their film Four Eyed Monsters, setting up a page on MySpace and built a whole community around their film and the saga that revolved around producing and promoting it. Recently Buice and Crumley were chosen for the launch of Distribution Lab, a new division of Withoutabox designed to facilitate a filmmaker’s ability to self distribute their film. Withoutabox is best known for its online film festival submission system. With the internet distribution can become easier, linking filmmakers directly to their audience. Susan Buice said, ‘With an average of 50,000 downloads per episode of the Four Eyed Monsters video podcast, there is an obvious demand for our feature film to be released. Rather then hand over all of our hard work, building a fan base, to a distribution company, we plan to sell directly to our audience. We will use any proceeds to get out of the credit card debt we incurred from making the film and hopefully build a budget for our next film, which is already in progress.’
Related efforts providing direct distribution for independent filmmakers include CustomFlix and IndieFlix, however, at this time both are focused on selling physical media. It’s inevitable that distribution will move towards an all digital approach, direct to the audience.
Whither professional filmmaking and broadcast journanism?
Just as word processors did not put an end to professional authors and desktop publishing did not put an end to typographers and designers, citizen media will not put an end to professional video production and filmmaking. On the other hand, just as we saw with the explosion of e-mail correspondence, internet discussion groups, instant messaging, and blogging, tectonic shifts will occur in the media and entertainment landscape with personal media offering an exciting new outlet that will continue to grow in popularity. The challenge remains finding a means of distribution and access to an audience.
Just a few years ago, if you were a filmmaker, you could make a tape and share it with friends or maybe play it on the local cable access channel, and if you were really lucky, you’d get a chance to screen your film at prestigious festivals and if you hit the jackpot, land a distribution deal and/or license it for broadcast. But for most producers, viewership remains limited. Now, with video blogging and the web, your potential viewership is not limited by the structure and economics of the media and entertainment industry. Professional media and networks have to cater to the widest possible audience, videobloggers dont have to, you only need find a micro-audience.
You could be posting videos for your family, like Juan and Ximena from Viviendo con Fallas do, and find that your videos have an audience that is larger than what you had expected. This audience, in addition to watching your videos, now has a feedback mechanism to talk back. Just like readers like to leave comments for bloggers, viewers can leave comments for vloggers. Because the viewership of vlogs is a lot smaller compared to that of network TV, when you leave a comment for vlogger, theres a good chance that your comment will be read and you’ll get a response.
Video blogging enables filmmakers to engage in a conversation with their potential audience, it’s a medium that will compliment, rather than compete directly with, the traditional feature-length film. Furthermore, video podcasting opens up a whole new marketplace for short films
beyond the festival circuit, DVD extras, and compilations. For example, Chasing Windmills presents a daily web video series. Today there are few things limiting an emerging filmmaker getting their work out into the world. Given the social nature of the internet, cool and interesting films are talked about, linked to, and eventually find an audience.
The end of the 30 second commercial
Another aspect of the industry that has just started feeling the effects of citizen media is advertising and marketing. In light of the new medium, successful companies have started
talking with their audience, rather than at them.
In his book, Life After the 30-Second Spot, Joseph Jaffe challenges us to abandon the old paradigm of marketing and embrace the new opportunites made possible by the internet, video games, word-of-mouth advertising, etc. Owen Mack of cobrandit in a recent video blog interview quoted Paul Rand of Ketchum saying, "It’s the end of interruption marketing.’ What companies need to foster is a ‘sustainable relationship on a two-way basis". Video blogging will be part of this change. Other bloggers link to your video blog post from their own blogs and write about what they’ve seen. When they do that, they’ll link back to your original blog post and you’ll get more visitors. It’s all about link love.
TiVo recently started allowing subscribers to choose to watch commercials. That’s good out of the box thinking that makes sense if you buy into Jaffes thesis. Some of the best videos are commercials. BMW is allowing fans to subscribe to a video podcast of BMW videos, a perfect example of targeted marketing. It’s a lot more interesting and fun to watch than reading a brochure. In fact its more fun than a majority of broadcast television. BMW gets it.
A land of opportunity and adventure
Herein lies a tremendous opportunity for inventive filmmakers. We are entering a new era of expression and communication where the consumer has a choice and a voice. Andy Lippman, Associate Director of the MIT Media Laboratory, said at the first meeting of the Communication Futures Program several years ago, "Eventually every company in some way will become a communication company.’ These companies will need creative, internet saavy media makers to communicate their messages.