Viral Corporate Videos

By Stuart Sweetow of Audio Visual Consultants © 2007

Originally published in Event DV Magazine

For years, videographers have wanted better access to distribution channels for our work. Television networks and the Hollywood film industry have long dominated the distribution business. Filmmakers with connections or TV producers with advertisers have been the major players in the business. Now that video on the internet has matured, nearly anyone with a camera and a computer can obtain a wide audience for her videos. Social networking sites have helped bring democracy to broadcasting.
The sites offer more options to professional videographers to help corporate clients market their goods and services. Traditionally, videographers would produce TV commercial spots, but the clients would need to commit large budgets to air them. With the popularity of social networking sites, video clips posted to these sites can get millions of views. They are watched by viewers who select those particular clips because of their interest in that subject. This is a more targeted marketing technique than traditional hit-or-miss TV commercials, and it is yet another reason the internet is changing the way people get their TV.

Content Generation
In the article YouTube Generation that appeared in July, we reported on videographers posting their videos to video sharing sites such as YouTube and Google Video. In that article we explained how videographers promote themselves and provide added value to their clients by posting and tagging their wedding and event video highlight clips. Many videographers also promote their corporate clients by submitting advertisements to these and other sites that host user-generated content (UGC)—sites such as Metacafe, VMIX, and Veoh. Some now expand their distribution beyond YouTube and Google to a variety of UGC-friendly websites—sites that let you post commercial spots. These spots are not limited to 30- or 60-second total run times (TRTs) as with television, nor is there a fee to post commercial advertising messages, at least not for now.

Many of these of these UGC sites are eager for new content to satisfy the appetites of their viewers. Some sites pay for video clips, some offer contests, and some are even partnering with their top posters to help them increase their production values. One UGC site bought a new camcorder for one of their favorite videographers, and they sent him on his first trip to New York City.

The social networking sites encourage users to up their video production values. More robust content attracts more viewers to these sites. With large numbers of viewers, the sites have an easier time selling their banner ads and their pay-per-click programs. And with some videos gathering millions of views, posting to social networking sites can be an alternative to airing commercials on cable and even network TV. One of the more established social networking sites that accepts user-generated content is MySpace. Musicians have been using MySpace to promote their music. Videographers—amateurs and pros alike—use MySpace because of its large audience.

The viewership is so large that it is beginning to compete with network television. Some video clips are getting millions of views. A parody of the dancing penguin movie Happy Feet, entitled “Gangsta Happy Feet Remix,” which plays a hip-hop song over clips from the animated movie, had 16 million views at press time. “The Fast and the Furious—Arabian Drifting,” a 29-second clip of a bicycle trick set to pop music, had scored more than five million views. “Fast Hands” is a 31-second clip showing Wing Chun, a form of Kung Fu; it has 1.2 million views. With audiences of these sizes, videographers are starting to use these sites to promote themselves and their clients. We found a skateboard shoe company that produced a video entitled “Human Skateboard” that notched over five million views. The clip ends with the company’s URL—virtually free advertising.
Capitalizing On UGC Site Popularity
YouTube’s popularity has caught the attention of corporations large and small. Some companies hire pro videographers to produce videos to post to these sites. Other companies have resorted to producing their own videos and posting them themselves. The production values of most of the clips from the do-it-yourselfers range from mediocre to wretched. Enterprising videographers could help by providing their services both to the companies promoting themselves and to the UGC sites in particular.

Since UGC sites currently don’t charge for postings, company marketing departments get virtually free exposure. Most promote their products and services on a variety of UGC sites within categories such as education, technology, and living. On YouTube, you’ll find promotional clips in either the News and Politics category or in the Howto and DIY classification.

It was in the former that we found’s 20 video clips (left), with such titles as “An Easy Entryway into the Commodities Market” and “Buying and Selling Gift Cards.” The company, located just outside of Las Vegas, provides financial services nationwide. We spoke with’s Mike Dierson to learn about his company’s online video strategy and whether or not it has paid off.

Dierson produces the two-to-five minute clips himself in front of a green screen in his office. He uses Adobe’s Ultra chromakey software and records directly onto his computer’s hard drive. His lighting consists of table lamps and windows. Dierson said he learned video production techniques by reading, and he readily admits to being a novice. is one of several online posters that could benefit from partnering with a videographer interested in finance.

Dierson decided to post news stories on the internet as a way to get beyond the traditionally boring way of presenting financial information. He inserts ads before and after the news clips, placements called “pre-roll” and “post-roll,” respectively. Dierson anticipates that eventually the video sites will charge for these ads, and he looks forward to a time when the sites will allow embedded hyperlinks so viewers can click through to the producer’s website. In addition to YouTube, Dierson posts his news clips on Metacafe, Revver, Grouper, and Veoh.
Metacafe: The Third-Largest Video Broadcasting Site
Metacafe claims to be “the third-largest video broadcasting site in the world,” after YouTube and Google Video. The website employs reviewers who evaluate the content quality of submitted videos prior to posting. One reason for Metacafe’s popularity is its Producer Rewards program, which pays content creators based on the number of views their content receives. Many producers have earned upwards of $10,000 from Metacafe, and the top producer earned over $40,000.

Metacafe’s top earner, called Kipkay, has 72 videos posted to the site, including how-to clips on how to double your gas mileage and how to re-use a single-use video camera. Metacafe itself even made a video of Kipkay to help other users understand what approaches to production will be worthy of rewards. It is part of Metacafe’s News—clips that the site produces to highlight some of its top posters. Some of the videos originally posted on Metacafe have been noticed by national TV programmers, such as a clip entitled “Beer Launching Fridge” that was shown on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

The site has a section with tips for improving the quality of your videos, including instruction on continuity and screen direction, lighting, and audio. Metacafe offers suggestions on how to produce clips that will qualify for Producer Rewards. For example, the site’s review team recommends TRTs from 20 seconds to 6 minutes, and they suggest that you select an eye-catching thumbnail image. Metacafe Pro 1.2 is free downloadable software that lets you review videos, upload clips and thumbnails, and join the site’s blog.

VMIX: One of the Web’s Top 10 Visited Sites for Online Video
Combining user-generated content with commercial content, VMIX lets videographers upload promo videos for their clients as well as their own creative content. VMIX claims to be “one of the web’s top 10 visited sites for online video.” Independent filmmakers can share bandwidth with the likes of Warner Brothers, Bravo, and NBC. VMIX lets you link to DirecTV’s The Fizz, a video blogger channel on the satellite network, and get your clips on national television. VMIX really mixes it up with video genres that range from animations and blogs to tutorials and weddings.

Rob Bokros from Lobo Systems in Derby, England, uses VMIX to teach users how to erect his company’s portable scaffolding equipment. With offices in the United States, Lobo Systems seeks innovative avenues to market its products. Bokros said he prefers VMIX over YouTube because it “has a broad spectrum of users, a decent amount of people, is easy to read, and integrates well with web searches.” He adds that he likes the format and the fact that VMIX reaches what he calls a “more mature audience.”

Bokros also appreciates the viewable statistics that he checks twice a month. While he says it is too early to know if uploading to video sites increases his company’s sales, he refers to this effort as “evangelical marketing” rather than selling. Lobo Systems uses professional videographers to shoot and edit the company’s product videos, but Bokros says that he uploads the clips to UGC sites and adds the tags himself.

San Diego’s Jim Staylor of Staylor-Made Productions uses VMIX to market his $29.95 instructional DVD, How to Keep Your Do-It-Yourself-Video from Looking Like You Did It Yourself. He has ten clips ranging from 30 to 60 seconds in length that correspond to chapters on the DVD. He created a channel on VMIX that lets users view the clips sequentially or in any order they wish.

About two weeks after Staylor posted these promo clips to VMIX, he sold 14 copies of his DVD to one customer. In addition to the income he gets from selling his instructional DVDs, the expert cachet he’s accrued has encouraged clients to hire him for video productions. Staylor also reports that his page rank on Google has risen dramatically since he posted his promo clips on VMIX and YouTube. However, we discovered that VMIX’s search engine could use a little tune-up. In our own attempt to use VMIX’s search function, when we searched for either Lobo Systems or do-it-yourself video, clips we had just viewed on the site, we got a “no results found” message. YouTube and MySpace have better search engines.
Veoh: Peer-to-Peer Network with No File-Size Limit
Shortly after leaving his post as CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner set up a venture capital firm to fund Veoh, a UGC site that includes programming from ABC and Fox. Unlike other UGC sites that have file-size limits, Veoh has no limits because it uses a peer-to-peer network, similar to that of BitTorrent or the original Napster. Videographers may upload small files directly through the web, as with other UGC sites, but for files larger than 100MB, Veoh provides its own video software for uploading and playback.

Veoh lets videographers charge viewers to watch their videos, and the company claims “DVD, full-screen quality.” Veoh also automatically syndicates your videos to YouTube, MySpace, and Google Video, and it provides the transcoding required for viewing on portable devices. Veoh recommends that you encode your video at a minimum of 540×405 (for 4:3) using variable bit rate encoding with a target of 500Kbps. Viewing in the Veoh Player will be optimized at 640×480 (for 4:3) at up to 1.5Mbps.

Users may embed the Veoh Flash player in their own sites or blogs. You can embed a single video, your list of favorite videos, an entire channel, or a video series. The company also lets you download a widget that allows you to view videos from Veoh, search for videos, and watch the video, all from within the widget.

One company that promotes itself on Veoh is Software Projects, an internet marketing agency that uses Veoh to provide training to its customers. The company has posted three-to-five minute video clips to demonstrate how to set up email accounts, how to issue a Google or PayPal refund, and how to resolve a Better Business Bureau complaint.

Veoh user Cato22 uses the site to sell his videos online. We downloaded “Police Weaponless Defense,” a video that includes pistol and knife defenses and takedowns. The 27-minute video cost $1.99 to download. The process worked smoothly, and it included prompts for us to install the free Veoh player.

ExpoTV: Video Reviews of Household Products
ExpoTV is made up of user-generated videos describing and reviewing household products. The site’s Videopinion program pays posters $5 per video accepted, one cent each time it is viewed, and $5 per referral to prospective posters. Here you’ll see a middle-aged woman holding a bottle of Clorox and explaining why she likes it over the bargain brands, a young woman reviewing Quaker Chocolate Granola Bites, and a young man describing why the Sony HDR-SR1 camcorder is “probably the best camera on the market.”

A scrapbook enthusiast with the username Antho, who reviews scrapbook products as well as a host of household products, has posted nearly 600 video reviews. Her videos have been viewed more than 12,000 times. That has earned her more than $3,000.

The site includes how-to guides that expand on the product reports. ExpoTV also produces a video-on-demand show called Crave, where the top video clips are syndicated on a cable television show that goes to 25,000 homes. ExpoTV president Bill Hildebolt sees these video product reviews as the “second wave of ecommerce.” He says that television is the next best thing to touching and feeling a product in the store. Hildebold adds that the company has what is known as a carriage contract with Time Warner to connect programming with advertising sales. He mentions that ExpoTV would like to partner with videographers that are producing how-to videos about products whose creators want to license their content or split revenues.

ExpoTV partners with some of their posters to help them improve their production values. They even bought one of their reviewers, Adam Barrera, a new Canon ZR800 camcorder. Barrera, known as HighMileage, is a senior journalism student at the University of Houston who reviews cars for ExpoTV. After being chosen as a Member of the Week, Hildebolt offered him the camcorder in exchange for covering the Dallas Auto Show. Barrera admits that he had a difficult time at that show trying both to run the camera and act as the on-camera host. But Hildebolt wanted him to cover the New York Auto Show and hired professional videographer Jarek Zabczynski to shoot video of Barerra at the show. “They paid my airfare and a generous per diem,” Barrera says, “and I stayed with a friend.”

Barerra edits the five-to-eight minute reviews on his Final Cut Pro system. Hoping to become ExpoTV’s automotive editor, he says he plans to integrate some of his own reviews with those of other ExpoTV reviewers to create a kind of social journalism through community consensus. Zabczynski, a videographer with Jester Pictures in Upstate New York, says ExpoTV also hired him as a freelancer to document the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in May 2006. During the three-day shoot of this game-industry conference, he interviewed the show producers and manufacturer representatives and turned his footage over to ExpoTV. Zabczynski says he got his first call from ExpoTV when a colleague of his was not available for the show. Hildebolt says that ExpoTV uses freelance videographers to support their top reviewers by helping them to improve their production values.
Grapeflix: Online Distribution with DRM
Grapeflix offers what they call “virtual online theaters” where videographers can determine which videos they want to be available to the public and which ones they want for private distribution, such as for individual clients. The end users may view the videos as streams, or they may download them with permission. The site uses Microsoft’s digital rights management (DRM) encryption technology to prevent unauthorized duplication.

Grapeflix charges for streams or downloads, taking 15-20% of the sales price. Content creators may choose to have advertisements attached to their videos, and they receive 50% of the ad revenue. The site helps producers market their videos and films by including still shots, embedded trailers, and links to their own websites or MySpace pages. Grapeflix provides sales data, and videographers can even control the geographical distribution of their films.

Grouper: Post to Multiple UGC Sites
When videographers post their clips to Grouper, they can easily post them to MySpace, Friendster, and other sites. Grouper lets you choose if a particular video will be available to all visitors to the site, to a select few, or to only one viewer.

Some unique tools on Grouper are GSaver, a video screen saver for Windows XP computers only, that lets you view videos on your desktop when the computer is idle. GLite is a lightweight Flash-based interface, and Grouper offers its own search engine with a search box that you can place on your browser. It works with Internet Explorer 7 and Mozilla Firefox.

A company called Sneaux Shoes promotes its skate shoes with a viral video entitled “Human Skateboard” that has garnered over five million views on Grouper. It is a stop-action animation of a skater riding a human, who acts like a skateboard.

Grouper has been busy signing deals with the likes of Sony Pictures and the FX Network. The site ties in with Rescue Me, a TV program about firefighters. Viewers are encouraged to send their own videos to Grouper to be in a section on firefighters. Seinfield fans can go to Grouper to see “Seinimation”—animated vignettes of Seinfeld sketches. Fans can also see what actor Larry Thomas (who guest-starred as the Soup Nazi) is up to now.

Revver: Pairing Your Videos with Advertising
Revver helps videographers earn revenue from their videos by attaching advertising to the clips and sharing ad revenue with the videographer. Producers who upload their clips to Revver add a tracking tag that the company calls a RevTag. It lets the viewer choose to view an advertisement at the end of the clip or not. When the viewer clicks on the ad, the revenue is split between the content creator and Revver.

The video producer’s share is 50% of the ad revenue generated from her clips. Revver also lets users set up their own video-sharing site, using the Revver model. Each video gets paired with an advertisement and you earn 20% for each click on ads from these videos. The Revver Widget lets you post multiple videos on your page and automatically update your page when you add video clips. You can download Revver’s Widget Builder that lets you customize the Widget to match your site.

Revver also lets you podcast your videos to iTunes and to the Democracy Player, an open-source internet video platform. Revver lets you submit your videos to news sites such as and With you can encourage users to bookmark your video clips and then share them with others. This helps stimulate viral marketing. is a social bookmarking site where users store their bookmarks online and can retrieve them from any computer.

Digg describes itself as a social content website where users get to review your video clips. If they like them, they could be promoted to Digg’s front page. If users don’t care for your clips, they get buried in lower ranking pages.

The Democracy Player
The open source Democracy Player includes a variety of tools for publishing video online, such as a one-click subscribe button so viewers can easily subscribe to your channel. The Video Bomb lets you create RSS feeds. The Broadcast Machine—free, open source software—lets you publish videos on your own website. The goal of Get Democracy is to democratize online television viewing by making it easy for viewers to find and view videos on the web in high-def.

The Democracy Player is affiliated with Make Internet TV Wiki, a library of information about publishing video on the internet. It includes brief instructional chapters on such topics as importing YouTube to Mac, alternative publishing options, and copyright in the digital age. Subsidized by a grant from Mozilla, the Democracy Player is offered as a free download for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Stu Sweetow runs video production company Audio Visual Consultants in Oakland, California.

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