Newspapers seek best uses for online video

The convergence of video and print news moved a step further on Tuesday as the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 News all led on footage gathered by The Sun. The scoop, featuring American pilots in an incident of friendly fire came less than a week after The Sun and the Daily Mirror both announced deals with online video portal ROO.

The catalyst for the heightened interest from the nationals is down to a number of factors including the roll-out of affordable broadband and the success of video-sharing sites such as YouTube and MySpace.

Research by Informa Telecoms and Media has found that the trend towards online TV and video reflects wider cultural changes. The company predicts that revenue generated from online TV and video services will rise from $42m in 2006 to $364m in 2009, rocketing to $708 in 2012.

Another study by Nielsen Analytics has revealed that broadband consumers are young, affluent, highly educated and tend to use high speed web access as an integral part of their lifestyle.

Julia Smith, head of digital at the Daily Mirror, says the paper's deal with ROO was triggered by two developments. The first is Web 2.0 — defined by Smith as a different perception of how people use the internet — which has had a "huge effect" on what users expect to see from the internet, specifically in terms of audio and video content. The second is YouTube, which streams around 100 million videos a day.

Partnering with ROO gives the paper access to hundreds of channels of content which the Mirror couldn't hope to cover on its own, says Smith.

"I'd need a raft of hundreds of journalists to give me the same amount of video footage that I can get from a partner like ROO." Celebrity interviews and red-carpet interviews will be the staple of the Mirror's in-house coverage.

An extra dimension

As a former broadcast journalist who spent 10 years working across radio and television, The Sun Online's assistant editor, Marc Webber, is well placed to assess the unique selling point that newspapers can offer readers when it comes to online video content.

The Sun website relauched in August 2006 with a video player in partnership with ROO. Webber says that the move was in part due to the realisation that "to bring people to the site and to get them to realise how great our journalism is, you have to provide an extra dimension to it all, and that extra dimension is either audio or video."

While most of The Sun's reporters are trained largely in print journalism, they have adapted to using the camera as a tool. Many of the journalists were used to operating cameras as they had been using them to do covert filming to go with their text investigations, and Webber says all staff work in a "video frame of mind", which can be as simple as a reporter asking local police force for CCTV footage.

According to Webber, newspapers hold the edge over broadcasters when it comes to putting content online because broadcasters are bound by Ofcom regulations about impartiality.

"We have the ability to provide video which accompanies the agenda of the paper, and I think newspapers have to get a grip of that," Webber says.

ITN On provides video content for the Telegraph newspapers. Managing director Nicholas Wheeler says: "As a content supplier, we have no issue with helping well established high-reputation sites with their video development. You could take a view that everyone is a competitor now — the question is how many of your competitors can be your customers? It's an enormous market and there are a lot of opportunities."

Cautious approach

Associated Newspapers is apparently taking a more cautious approach to video on its websites. The Mail titles and Metro currently use video on their sites as a means of adding a visual element to breaking news stories, sports events and showbiz premieres. Mail Online editor Stacey Teale said: "We have sent journalists out with cameras to record key interviews so we can bring an added dimension to the user. Video and pictures are a popular part of the Mail Online — and are embedded throughout — and we will be looking to boost this even further in the coming months."

The Guardian has the distinct advantage of already having a film unit in their building. GMG chief executive Carolyn McCall announced in October that the group would be launching an online video service and it would be tempting to think that The Guardian would be jumping feet first into the video market.

"We've done lots of bits of experimenting to see how you do video well," says Guardian Unlimited's head of editor development Neil McIntosh. "I think that's the critical thing because it seems to me that an awful lot of newspapers have rushed in to get video on their sites without thinking about how they can actually make a decent job of it or why you would tell a picture using moving pictures instead of still ones — what value you what add. Whatever we do, we're not going to end up with two journalists in a newsroom talking to one another."

Why bother?

For McIntosh, the first question newspapers should be asking is "why would you do this?"

Asking users to "sit forward" and watch video online is a "big commitment", he says, but the rise of YouTube has shown that there is a huge market for "good, gripping video in short bursts". McIntosh argues that this has been almost completely ignored by other newspapers.

"They are often producing very long things or content that is not very gripping at all, or full of stock images of men in suits walking through revolving doors. That works perfectly well on broadcast television but when you're demanding that the user pay attention for short bursts, you've got to do better than that," he says.

"There is no inherent advantage in being a newspaper trying to do video. The only reason why users will come to us, or anyone else, is that we're telling a story as well as, if not better than other places, or in a different way. It's something which we've seen with the success of our podcasts — they are strongest in areas in which we can actually deliver something which is different from the BBC — and let's face it they're our biggest rival in all of this."

Photo: Owen Hyphrys/PA 

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