Journalists are not making the most of online video news

Just as early online journalists learned that writing for the web would have to go beyond simply shovelling the print product online, those now innovating video news online can't just reproduce techniques developed for television.

Three recent developments have made the world hungry for video on news websites: technology has improved, with greater broadband penetration and improved compression techniques making video easier to collect and view; news providers are encouraging their users to contribute video, hoping perhaps to strike gold with exclusive material shot by citizen "journalists" on a breaking story; and, crucially, video on news websites has become attractive to advertisers.

Until recently, major news websites found it difficult to sell advertising around video news. Breaking stories, which were unpredictable and invariably bad news, drive the high-volume traffic. And which advertiser wanted to be associated with bad news?

But now it is being acknowledged that more of us are watching news video online and that associated video adverts help retain "eyeballs" for longer.

A recent survey by the Online Publishers Association in the US showed that 27 per cent of internet users watch news video at least once a week — ahead of any other category. In theory, everything should look rosy for those wanting to provide video news online.

But the bad news is that there is a general lack of understanding about what attracts viewers online. With limited advertising revenue to date, there has been little or no investment in experimentation with new forms to make news video more interesting online.

TV news companies have simply placed their broadcast reports online and print organisations have often thought that online video is simply about letting chief reporter Fred Pencilhead intone to camera.

There needs to be more understanding of consumption habits. The online viewer is not the same as the TV viewer.

The online user is in control and has a shorter attention span. From APTN's experience serving new media markets with video during the past five years, the key driver is the compelling image that can be viewed repeatedly or emailed to a friend.

Online video also needs to have "social currency". In other words, a major talking point where you will be left out of the conversation with your friends if you haven't seen the pictures.

Broadcasters that use TV news agencies such as APTN use 80 per cent hard news video and 20 per cent entertainment and quirky stories. In the mobile market there is a 50/50 split.

What must never be forgotten is that video news is driven by powerful images, not just stories. A major political story may be best left residing in print in the online world. The dramatic car chase may not have much of a news story behind it, but the spectacular pictures may be the hottest video property on the web that day.

For new entrants to the online video business, adopting a broadcast model with on-screen reporters and traditional voice-overs may be burdening yourself with too much overhead. The users are prepared to accept fewer fripperies in presenting the video if it is worth watching.

To ensure compelling video, the investment costs can still be high despite the advent of cheap digital cameras and ability to edit the pictures using software.

The biggest cost is having the right people in the right places with the right skills to capture the interesting video.

At a recent conference of Europe's national news agencies in Vienna, the common cry was that agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to sell text services without video, but were having difficulty making a profit from video.

AP had developed a model in the US which provides news video free to newspaper and broadcasting websites. AP provides the content and Microsoft supplies the hosting, player and advertising sales.

All three parties share the advertising revenue. This model works because of the scale of the US market and because both AP and Microsoft can leverage existing resources, including video produced for the broadcast market.

For the moment, the power of the moving image online would seem to rest with the broadcasters and big TV news agencies, which have the scale and resources to deliver a regular diet of compelling images.

But whether you think the trend to online news video is nice or nasty, what is up for grabs is the development of new editorial techniques that deliver live or recorded video in new and compelling ways that appeal to the online audience.

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