Sunday, February 22, 2009

Press play. Make work.

I spend too much time pressing play. For the purpose of this argument, I will default autoplay into the same conversation. On the flipside, I spend too little time making it work. Not because I don't want to or because I don't try. It's just not really possible yet. Like everyone else I take videos, stick them on the internet and then tell people where they are.

I am not going to slide into the media fervor on video monetization models or the lack thereof. Outside of the fact that the economic pressure on the segment makes speculation nothing short of useless, I am actually more specifically concerned about making the playing itself work better.

For example, let's assume it is possible to create, recreate, share and repurpose web video into a more personal experience and that we are not really all that happy firing millions of bits of unwanted bouncing pixels into our retinas in a fire-and-forget fashion.

We want to benefit from deep engagement, we want sites and tools to understand how we use them, and we want them to improve their recommendations and results for us, but everywhere we turn content and site owners are forced to push semi-relevant or just plain old irrelevant messages into these emerging channels. All this serves to do is make a few dollars and unfortunately further alienate viewers. Short-sighted is as short-sighted does, even if it drives a few eyeballs hopefully in the right direction.

Increasing responsiveness to commercial messaging in online video through rich interactivity and powerful personalization is still emerging and while this holds promise there are still a lack of standards and a definite shortage of relevant data to realistically project how audiences will interpret, interact, share and extend these experiences.

Moving along

Companies in the space are also working to maximize traceability with the goal of understanding and exploiting usage patterns, but there is little indication or promise that this data will be used to enhance the experience or help the user towards their explicit goal. Ultimately this means that the promise will have failed every time, at least for now, to empower content and marketing teams by providing any meaningful rich insight into the way video is consumed. So, guess what happens, everyone just puts it on YouTube - at least they know people watch it there.

Compounding this issue is the way in which we have traditionally imagined introducing this new layer of interaction and engagement within the viewing experiences. The whole objective we have traditionally been focused on in advertising is to yank the viewer out of the wonderful experience we have decided to sponsor or support through getting them to click, to leave. Recently a publisher told me that they were not interested in building promotional experiences that drove viewers out of the site. Seems logical, and somehow I forget what made us (the collective industry us) think that the exact same interaction model as search or banner ads (click to visit, click to learn more) could ever effectively translate to engaged viewers in an on-demand world. The reason you change channels during commercials on TV is not really going to translate well here.

Or the alternative to just sticking your stuff out where the world watches currently seems to be a slippery slope of high investment, mass customization, expensive content production, and ultimately complex IT-centric integration to systems designed to handle text and images in order to arrive at a point where you are still going to need to drag the eyeballs in front of your new screen. I have spent a lot of time tripping through corporate channels and video areas, and unless the video is actively integrated into the content the views are disparagingly low in most cases.

I am not saying there are not solutions out there that solve this. I am simply pointing out that from a layman perspective, the incredible complexity and potentially high investment rate have not delivered a returns model that can easily translate to a normalized business decision making process.

Okay, so I've put the problem out there...what's the solution?

The first step is to unbuckle our collective, exhausted Frankenstien and let him out of the corporation video lab in order to make room for some cleaner R&D and fresh thinking to happen. While that happens, I don't expect anyone to stop pressing play, but I am willing to bet that clicks on the little X to close continue to increase. I will most likely never post 'my' version of the solution here until I have something to show but I will absolutely jump into any conversation on it.

Morgan Brown, director of marketing at TurnHere, said in this Advertising Age article, "Web video is its own medium. Authenticity and information are a critical part of ensuring that viewers aren't disappointed in their decision to view the video. Video advertising with poor production quality or uninspiring content creates a negative brand experience. To make a video truly actionable it must emotionally engage viewers, building the trust and familiarity that forms the backbone of return on investment."

Great points, but now that you have them emotionally engaged with that amazing story and appropriate level of production value for the web, what makes it actionable?

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