Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Thoughts on content production

My partner Jeff and I had what I thought was a really productive conversation today about the direction we should be heading in producing broadband and mobile video content. For those of us trying to make this kind of content a profitable and artistically satisfying pursuit, the first question can't be, "what is the economic model." It has to be, "what are we trying to produce?" "What are we selling?"

If you're a commercial production company, you're selling the ability to mount a production from beginning to end. To get the right people involved to put together a 30 second, or minute, or 30 minute piece of work that communicates the client's message and vision in the most effective an economical way possible, and then to steer that team through the creation of that work, to completion.

One of the effects of the dv revolution is that the barriers that prevent most people from accessing the means of production have been all but torn down. Not only is the equipment much cheaper, but the skill sets that used to belong only to trained professionals are now possessed by a growing segment of the internet population - probably most of the inhabitants of, for example.

Now relocate that commercial production company to the web and tiny mobile screens, and the barrier falls a notch lower, because the exhibition resolution drops just as higher resolution capture equipment becomes available (like hdv and Panasonic's new DVCProHD camera for under 5k).

There is no technical specialty (at least not one that can't be mastered in an afternoon) that prevents those that want to produce content on the web from just doing it themselves. For a broadband content production company, there has to be more to the story. So where do we fit in? There are a few answers to this question:

1) Watch a video iPod for 30 seconds, and it becomes painfully obvious that professionally produced content is even more important on a little screen than on a big one. Handheld, jerky, blown out video will make you sick in no time. But the highly produced ABC show LOST looks fantastic and is easy to watch for 45 minutes straight.

So great, but it doesn't take a production company like mine to bring LOST onto an iPod. It doesn't take a production company at all, just a good encoder. That content has already been produced for television.

This brings me to number 2, and the far more interesting answer:

2) Broadband and mobile video has the potential not only to provide an alternate distribution method, but to add value to a brand or product. A production company who is thinking in the broadband world has a much more diverse set of tools with which to enhance your relationship with your customer or viewer. The four key areas I mentioned in December (and this one too) are the tools, and the ability to grasp those tools, understand how they can be imbedded most effectively into your content to achieve your goals, then be able to put the whole thing together - now you're talking about needing a production company that specializes in this sort of thing.

I just read a very good article from Inside Branded Entertainment that drove home the point to me that ad agencies, content providers and brands (our three highest potential client areas) see the same necessity for broadband specialty that I do:

While some streaming video services, such as MobiTV, allow advertisers to buy 30-second spots, some agencies are discouraging clients from using mobile media in that way. TV spots may include a level of detail that can become muddy on a square-inch screen. But, most importantly, by repurposing TV ads for mobile viewing, advertisers may miss out on more nuanced ways to connect with their niche audiences. "Nobody wants to download a commercial," Carson says. Some devices, like the PSP and video iPod, even allow consumers to lock out commercials and download only what they want.

and a bit later in the article...

"The moment you put a device in someone's hand, you raise the creative bar," says Chris Bradley, creative director at MFP. But to adapt to this increasingly wireless world, creatives have had to raise their technology bar as well. In many cases, that means traditional agencies working with interactive shops; and in some cases, it changes the creative process.

Let's hope that other companies follow Burger King and Samsung's lead, and build on what they are doing.


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