Enhancing social and mobile video practices

Bringing together Trushar Barot, Mobile Editor at BBC World Service, Martin Belam, Social and New Formats Editor at The Guardian, Holden Frith, Editor at The Week and Researcher Nikki Usher from George Washington University, a panel examined the differences and overlaps between social and mobile audiences on 8 April, 2016 at the International Journalism Festival.

As video operations receive more attention and investments in the digital and social world, what type of content should organisations produce?

The conversation started with panel moderator Garrett Goodman, Director of Business & Development at the online video creation platform Wochit, discussing the success of media outlets on social platforms such as Facebook.

CNN’s Facebook videos are getting shared 5.6 times more than their other links – he said – Not only there is huge consumption, but a lot of potential for advertising as well, as we saw with IAB UK (Internet Advertising Bureau).”

How does a digital platform break into video?

Holden Frith recalled that while working at The Times, online journalist received video training involving camera work and presentational skills aimed at producing high quality video content. However, they realised that applying mainstream video tools to the digital sphere was not resulting in the positive outcomes they hoped for.

That was why, he explained, at The Week he developed a video strategy based on three main rules: use professional footage only, don’t repurpose online stories, and don’t include voiceovers. Following this strategy, The Week launched The Weekday, a round-up with news and analysis lasting one-minute that goes live twice a day.

“While all social video is mobile, not all mobile video is social,” he said. More specifically, Frith stressed on the importance of distributing stories over several videos, which according to him increases the chances of getting the user engaged with the story itself: “By sharing a single story, you get to know something about who the user is.”

The newsroom dilemma

Looking into newspapers and video research patterns, Nikki Usher raised the issue on whether video content should comply to the same standards of its online counterpart: “You can’t do Guardian-quality videos when what draws users is what goes viral,” she said, presenting the Meet Joy: a mini pig and movie theater mascot video as an example.

According to the George Washington University researcher, digital platforms have to come to terms with the fact that, sometimes, users perceive video differently than other media, which in turn could require video teams to have a separate newsroom. “What kinds of standards are you willing to experiment with? Are you ok with some stuff going viral on your site?” she said.

At the same time, with Facebook allowing news outlets to get revenues from video viewings, monetisation is gaining ground as the number one target.

Maximising the story

Mobile Editor Trushar Barot gave insights about the BBC’s strategy of sending out a digital producer alongside the reporter to “document the documentary” on Snapchat and to then produce a short 10-minute video story – like the BBC News Snapchat documenting the refugee crisis.

“The successful method was getting our reporters to tell stories in a more personal, human way through mobile devices,” Barot said.

“When you are using a different platform, you can maximise the capability of the story itself using filters, animations and other tools – he continued – They take a user right into the heart of an environment that they have never seen before.”

Barot also stressed on how alternative platforms allow broadcasters to feature content that otherwise would be neglected: “Our websites can’t handle 360 videos a day, but other platforms can.”

The production gap

If on the one end social platforms allow more content to be featured, on the other they also become the main competitors to written content.

“The kind of social success of videos is really making us think about the way we distribute things,” said Martin Belam. To prove his point, he proceeded to retell the case of a video about a refugees’ family loosing their cat that was produced by The Guardian. Edited to make for a more soft piece, it soon reached a high view count and made the editors reach a clear conclusion: “Once a few million people have already seen it on Facebook, what’s the point of making the second extended version – Belam said – You’ve done it, and you might as well move on to the next story.”

The Guardian’s Social and New Formats Editor also brought up the differences between the video team and its audience: “There is a huge production gap. Most of the time when you make a video you use big screens and big monitors, but then your audience is going to access it on the phones,” he said.

Then the idea of having journalists streaming live from their phones on Facebook is not so far from becoming a reality. Indeed Belam mentioned how sites like Buzzfeed UK are experimenting with their video content by ditching the use of producers and relying solely on the live experience.