By Stuart Sweetow of Audio Visual Consultants © 2008
Originally published in Event DV Magazine
Website videos are a natural for event videographers. We use them to demonstrate our work to prospective clients, and they have proven to be a vital marketing medium to showcase our range of products. We might even post short video testimonials from happy clients or put our own talking heads on our sites.
Guess what? Other businesses are recognizing the value of using internet video too. They are beginning to notice the high impact of moving images, the human touch of watching someone speak with conviction and candor, and the ability to email links of video clips. As event videographers, we’re well-prepared to profit from online corporate video. Obviously, it means targeting different markets, but perhaps less obvious are the different production strategies involved in creating video expressly for online delivery.
We spoke with three videographers to learn how they shoot, edit, and encode online videos for their corporate clients. Because of the short attention spans of most internet users, videos delivered online are usually shortform, sometimes as short as 30 seconds. They frequently are viewed solo, mostly within a small window on a computer display. DVDs, on the other hand, are usually displayed on larger screens with bigger speakers. Frequently, the viewer is seated in a quiet room, watching the DVD with others. They may have blocked out a period of time to view the DVD, and in most cases they are not multitasking. That is why DVDs are generally longform and can incorporate robust production values.
In the world of business, sometimes creative production styles take a back seat to content—clear, concise, and quick. Business folks and their customers generally don’t want to take a lot of time watching an online video. But they do need to see clear images and hear a clean audio track.
Working with Corporate Clients
Videographers who know how to shoot, edit, and encode are in a good position to capture their share of this expanding market for website videos for businesses. Some videographers we’ve spoken to have even said goodbye to weddings and focused exclusively on the growing market for internet video production. Such is the case of veteran videographer Bob Perl (left), who shifted his focus from brides to business owners. Last summer he stopped shooting weddings and now concentrates on producing online video clips for small businesses’ websites. This is a big step for Perl, who in 2005 was selected an EventDV 25 all-star and was inducted into the WEVA Hall of Fame.
To reflect his new identity, he even changed his web address from www.perlvideo.com to InternetVideoProducers.com. “My entire business is internet content delivery,” says Perl. “Companies want more business with more cost-effective advertising methods, and video ads on a website cost far less than Yellow Pages advertising. Advertising dollars are flooding to the internet and the future of video is on the internet.”
Perl says that successful event and corporate videographers already have the skills they need to make the jump to online work. “If you can shoot weddings or corporate videos, you can shoot for the web,” he says. He adds that currently there is no need to shoot in HD because of bandwidth limitations. But he is confident that will change as the internet bandwidth “pipeline” increases in capacity. “Unfortunately, YouTube made the public numb to good production quality, but that, too, will change. Viewers of online video want content, information, and increasing quality.”
With high-end weddings as his core business, 2007 EventDV 25 all-star and WEVA Hall of Famer Tim Sudall (left) says he gets plenty of referrals to businesses that want videos for their websites. Many of those referrals come from wedding clients or their associates. A recipient of several WEVA Creative Excellence Awards, Sudall started as a wedding shooter, then shot TV news for an NBC local affiliate before returning to producing wedding videos full time about 10 years ago.
He says that clients value his work so much that they pass his name onto others. “Just the other day I got a call from a baker who was a social video client,” says Sudall. “They wanted an in-house training video for their customer service program. I created a package so they could send their digital assets via email, display it on their website, and link the video to email.” Sudall says the term “digital assets” demonstrates his versatility with offering his clients distribution in a variety of media, and it helps him book more jobs.
Sudall’s Video One Productions charges similar fees for corporate videos as he does for weddings—$3,500-$5,000. Wedding clients get a longform video. Corporate clients get a 4-8 minute training video as part of a package that includes DVDs, website video clips, mobile video for cell phones, and whatever other mediums he can offer.
South Carolina’s Scot Sheely (left) is another event videographer who spends his weekdays producing corporate videos. After he spoke at WEVA Expo 2006, he produced an episode on WEVA’s Tech Tips TV about DLT mastering for DVD replication. Sheely has a solid background in IT and has been working with codecs since his DVD days. His typical productions are corporate videos or commercials. He usually sells a package of different versions for DVD, web, and broadcast. With budgets in the $5,000-$20,000 price range, these packages include up-loading to clients’ sites and providing a DVD-ROM archive as part of the package.
Sheely’s Interactive Media Gurus started using the web just for client previews around 5 years ago. He sends his clients an email with a link to a draft edit for them to preview for approval. He says this approach helps save time and money. Because of the “instant gratification factor clients experience when viewing Flash-encoded video clips on the web,” Sheely says, they now request their videos be put on their websites as well as on DVDs.
Sheely sometimes conducts what he calls “social engineering,” where he observes viewers watching and interacting with his DVDs and website videos. He notices how frequently they use the player buttons, volume control, and screen-size adjustments. This provides him with feedback to determine bitrate, player controls, and optimal settings for each distribution method.
Big businesses either have an in-house production studio or they have an ad agency on retainer who is responsible for their internet marketing videos. Rather than pursue the large corporations, Perl aims his marketing at small businesses with limited budgets who can’t afford to keep an ad agency on retainer. “There are tons of these small businesses around,” says Perl. “You usually get to deal with the owner of the business.”
Perl’s streaming video clips range from 30 to 120 seconds. They could be a simple static shot of the owner speaking on camera or documentary-style footage of the company with narration and music. “Videotaped testimonials from clients are a very powerful addition to any website,” says Perl. “They give any business tremendous credibility. Online video testimonials could be a business model by itself.” He also creates a Google AdWord account for his clients, and, if they wish, he shows them how to limit the searches to local ZIP codes to save the client money. According to Perl, business owners are more inclined to use video on their websites once they learn that websites with video get higher Google rankings than those with text only.
Web Video for Clients Without Websites
If the client has a website, Perl produces, edits, and encodes the videos for their existing websites. He then FTPs the file to their webmaster. For those companies without websites, he creates video landing pages for them. A landing page is single webpage that presents the client’s message and, in this case, contains video. The landing page is hosted by Perl’s ISP. It has a title at the top of the page followed by text content about the business. He positions the video clip in the middle with contact info boxes at the bottom.
“Bundling web and video can solve a client’s problem,” says Tim Sudall. “It takes only 10 minutes for the client’s web guy to add a link to their website.” If the corporation’s site is not ready to handle streaming video, Sudall can set up a system similar to the landing page that Perl uses. He creates a link that sends visitors of the corporate site to a page on his own website. “The page with video emulates the client’s website. We host their video on our server. The corporate web guy only has to put a single button on one of their own pages.” Site navigation is not affected.
Sudall uses software from MyPodcast.com to create a turnkey service for his clients. This program lets him create previews from Photoshop templates, and it even lets him set up a view counter so his client knows the number of views the video is receiving.
Shooting and Encoding for the Web
Sudall has several shooting and editing tips for videographers producing for the web. Rather than shoot head and shoulders or a medium shot, go for a tighter close-up, such as a full face, when shooting video for a small online video window, says Sudall. He also recommends that you avoid soft-focus filters when you are producing for the web. “They can become a blur,” he explains. Additionally, he tries to use hard cuts or short dissolves, rather than the lingering dissolves or slow motion so popular with wedding videos.
He also suggests that you pay close attention to the background—be sure it provides enough contrast from the foreground. Prominent colors can help viewers to clearly distinguish the subject from the background.
Sudall uses Final Cut Pro for editing and encoding, and he uses Sorenson Squeeze for compression. He creates Flash Video files and uploads them to a custom player he had made for his own use. He recommends the integration of still images; that might help with compression and viewing, since stills load more quickly.
To keep production time and costs to a minimum and draw in more clients, Bob Perl encourages customers to visualize the end result that they would like to see before they meet with him. He also coaches his clients to show some feeling when speaking on camera, rather than appearing flat and unemotional when reading from a teleprompter.
Perl encourages video producers to encode to either Windows Media Video (.wmv) or Flash Video (.flv). Perl recommends that video producers minimize the use of flashy effects and fancy transitions because they can use more bandwidth and don’t always encode smoothly. He encodes to Windows Media and Flash using Sorenson Squeeze 4.5 or Adobe Flash 9 encoders. Flash Videos play back in an embedded player window on the webpage, while Windows Media videos usually open up over the top of the current page.
Perl’s videos range in size from 480×360 to 640×480. He encodes the edited video to Flash, and then he embeds the video file in the body of the landing page. He sometimes uses Word to create text and Front Page to format it.
After he edits and encodes the first draft, he uploads it to his server so the client can preview the video. Then he can incorporate any needed changes and re-encode. “If their webmaster’s server is not equipped to handle streaming video, we host it on our server, says Perl. “If their webmaster’s server can host video, we FTP the encoded file to their webmaster.”
Although he has edit bays for both Adobe Premiere Pro and Final Cut, Sheely prefers to use Premiere Pro. Before using Flash he creates an .avi file at full resolution. Sheely then imports the .avi into Adobe After Effects 7. “This encodes cleaner and faster than Flash 8, the current version I own, based on extensive testing I have done with these tools,” says Sheely. “I can do a batch render to .flv, as well as to several other files types if necessary, while I go to lunch or move on to another task with another computer.”
Once the file is encoded, Sheely then takes the newly created .flv file into Flash 8 and creates a webpage and a player using the presets available within that application. He makes sure the time indicator and buttons for play, pause, and stop are visible and operational for the viewers. Sheely says that his research shows that the average user prefers to have these controls available to him at all times. Sheely positions the play controls below the video stage, instead of on top of the video itself.
Next, he uses Macromedia Dreamweaver MX to add tweaks and positioning adjustments to the HTML page. Then he prepares the final HTML code to fit with the client’s website. Sheely cautions that if the audio or video data rate is encoded too high, the Flash Video can take longer to load for the client than most web viewers are comfortable waiting for.
He pays close attention to the differences between narration-only and music encoded video files. If he is using the video in a setting where the music quality is important, he encodes the audio portion between 128Kbps and 192Kbps. For narration-only projects, he says that 32Kbps-128Kbps is acceptable in most cases. Sheely adds that “strict review policies on multiple platforms (operating systems and computer hardware) are the key to ensuring excellent quality video content.” He uses the half-resolution settings in After Effects, encoding the .flv at 360×240, and he encodes video at 750Kbps-1500Kbps. He uses Sorenson Squeeze with its On2 codec for compression.
Sheely uses his own website in most cases for the client review pages, but occasionally he uses MySpace for the convenience factor. He says he favors MySpace over YouTube. According to Sheely, YouTube’s terms of service claim that they own all of the videos uploaded to their site. He says “they can edit your videos and do whatever they want with the content in the future, while MySpace doesn’t make those claims.” One caveat Sheely discovered is that MySpace and YouTube both use the Flash 5 codec. “If you intend on uploading content to either of those sites, it is best to encode directly to that version of Flash. Doing so will keep your videos at the data rate you choose. Otherwise your videos will be recompressed, even if you encode them in a later version of Flash.”
One of the reasons he is cautious about displaying video content on MySpace or YouTube is that commercial music tracks are not allowed on these social networking sites, even if the editor modifies the music to avoid copyright infringement. He says that MySpace is more aggressive at removing copyrighted music than YouTube, although he adds that both sites have cracked down on infringement in the last 2 years.
“I recently gave a demo for a client using my iPhone,” says Sudall. “I brought up a video clip from my website, and they were amazed. Some clients don’t want their videos on their public websites,” he adds. “The competition could copy their ideas, such as was the concern with one of my clients—a high-end decorator.”
When that is the case, he will speak with his client on the phone and email him a private link to his web video—one not visible to just anyone visiting his website. Mobile videos, viewed on cellphones, can let businesspeople demonstrate and distribute internet videos without them being available on a public website.
Sudall has learned that local satellite offices of large corporations frequently sell a product or service that is not part of the core business of their parent company. These local offices may want a regional video, and Sudall creates a supplemental video page for them so they can sell locally.
Sheely says that for some reason 3GP mobile videos (a version of MPEG-4) on the 3G network tend to appear a little darker than their Flash web cousins. He says it probably has to do with the data rate of the video and the smaller screen size. So he usually increases exposure about a half f-stop, or he adjusts the video in post in his NLE. “We did a Christian music video recently with a very dark-skinned African-American woman,” Sheely says. “We had a mix of light and dark shots, and the clothing she wore was both black and white. The lighting used on set was 600-watt PAR lights using narrow beam reflectors to create a very theatrical effect. In Premiere, we mixed that with virtual software ‘spotlights.’ When I encoded it for mobile 3GP and 3GE we needed to lighten it a little in the NLE first.”
Bob Perl says that mobile devices will be the next type of screen that video producers will be shooting for. “The iPhone and others like it will transform mobile video into the preferred medium of delivery for many users in the near future.”
Business web video production is an opportunity for event video producers to expand their horizons. According to Perl, “When you combine your video skills with good internet marketing skills and the endless internet business opportunities, you just can’t lose.”
“The opportunities are boundless,” adds Sudall. “The stocks that are trading actively are those that deal with bandwidth and fiber. The financial pros are scurrying to find the next frontier where the computer and TV merge to one. The need for content is always going to be there.”
As we went to press, Yahoo! made a bold move. Within 2 weeks of announcing layoffs of 1,000 employees, the company paid $160 million to acquire Maven Networks. Maven developed technology that enables high-quality internet video in a full-screen display using a download model. With estimates of online video ad-spending reaching more than $4 billion by 2011, Yahoo! recognizes the financial potential of online video. You could too.
SIDEBAR: SHOOTING VIDEO FOR THE WEB–THE MOVIE
To learn more technical details of shooting for the web, we spoke with Douglas Spotted Eagle of VASST, one of the video industry’s leading providers of training materials. Spot, as he is known, recently published a 2-plus hour instructional DVD titled Video for the Web: What You Need to Know. He sells it through his company’s website, and he posted some preview clips on YouTube that he embeds on his site, too.
Spot says that videographers shooting for Flash-based web clips need to consider bandwidth limitations. He recommends that, when possible, you limit camera movements and try to keep the background a static image.
“A tree with moving leaves can require quadruple the number of pixels than a brick wall would need,” he says. The idea is to make it easy on the encoder. Spot suggests that you reduce the saturation during editing, especially if you plan to post your video on YouTube or onto another low-bitrate delivery medium. “You want to feed your encoder the least amount of information,” says Spot. “The eye is not as sensitive to changes in color as it is with brightness changes.”
Additionally, Spot notes that when we view small-sized web videos we perceive them as more highly saturated than when we view them on a video monitor, and web images also appear a little darker. He recommends during editing that you crush the black levels slightly and increase luminance a tad. It may look washed-out when previewed in the NLE, but when you see the encoded video, it should appear properly exposed. Some editing software, such as Sony Vegas and the Sorenson Squeeze On2 VP6 Pro plugin, let you preview video and audio in their encoded form to check these levels.
Spot’s tips on encoding audio include saving bandwidth by avoiding stereo. He also recommends that when recording voice quality, you roll off the low frequencies about 18dB per octave starting at 90Hz. Similarly, at the high end, he suggests rolling off 8-12dB per octave starting at 12kHz. Most adults can’t hear the very high and very low frequencies, he says, but the encoder can. If your mic stand is producing an inaudible low-frequency rumble, your encoder can hear it, and you will be wasting bandwidth if you record it.
When you are encoding music, you can start your roll-off at frequencies as high as 15 kHz. However, Spot adds that most computer speakers can’t reproduce sounds higher than 12-14 kHz. “Audio is so much more important than video,” states Spot. “Website visitors won’t watch a video if the audio is bad.”
Stu Sweetow (sweetow at avconsultants.com) runs Oakland, Calif.-based video production company Audio Video Consultants. He taught video production at UC Berkeley Extension, was associate editor of Wedding and Event Videography, and was a contributing editor to Camcorder & Computer Video magazine.