YouTube Generation: Creating Viral Videos Via User-Generated Content Sites

By Stuart Sweetow of Audio Visual Consultants © 2007

Originally published in Event DV Magazine

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User-generated content (UGC) sites such as YouTube and MySpace can provide distribution channels for videographers and help videographers market their services. Most of the sites let you post videos at no charge, and they allow you to include your company name and contact information on the video clips and in text on the site. A free Director account with YouTube lets you set up playlists of video samples that you can send to specific clients, such as bar mitzvah families or corporate prospects.

The user-generated content sites usually limit file sizes to 100MB and 10 minutes total run time (TRT). Videographers can capitalize on this time limit by encouraging clients to purchase short highlight versions of their events in order for them to be posted on YouTube or MySpace. Then the client can send the video link to their friends and family. You can put the link to the clip on your website and even include a thumbnail image to click from. Nearly all the UGC sites feature the same basic features as YouTube with uploading, commenting, sharing, and video responses.

User-generated content sites, as well as search engines that host videos such as Google and Yahoo!, are able to accommodate simultaneous viewing by multiple users. In the event that you generate a large amount of interest in your online videos, you won’t be burdened by the extra bandwidth costs resulting from increased download traffic from your website.

The downside of UGC sites is that, because of space limitations (and the impact of the 100MB limit on the bit rates you can use for a given video’s duration), the video quality they allow is usually lower than from video clips that you would stream from your website. But the clips from UGC sites start faster than with most videos hosted by an ISP, and they are free.

Using YouTube to the Max
Some videographers don’t even have their own websites. They use YouTube to post all their clips, and they have found ways to add blocks of text to further advertise their services.

Such is the case with Southern California’s Clint Loveness (left), who has 37 clips on YouTube. Rather than maintaining his own website, he posts his wedding demos, highlight versions, and his own documentaries and short films to his Director’s page on YouTube. He offers brides and grooms free YouTube postings if they upgrade to his video- graphy packages that include highlight versions.

I spoke with the 22-year- old Loveness two days before his graduation from Southern California’s Pepperdine University. While a full-time student at Pepperdine, he shot weddings during the summers, averaging about 13 weddings per season. He posts his rates — which vary from $1,000 to $3,000 per wedding”in the description field of his demo videos on YouTube.

During the school year, he videotaped school events, especially when visiting film producers and actors spoke at the university. He printed business cards with his YouTube URL and handed them to the guest speakers. One speaker, Jeff Bridges, visited Loveness YouTube site and offered comments and suggestions to improve his craft.

Loveness figured out how to use his YouTube profile to the max. He put more than 400 words there — his entire filmography, his background, and his interests.

With each video clip posted to YouTube, Loveness learned that he could include in the description page all of his video production package descriptions and prices, and links to more videos — another 200 words. There appears to be no limit to the amount of text one may post in the profile and description fields.

All this promotion cost him nothing –no need for a website, no need for a printed brochure, no need to make DVD samples to send to prospects. “YouTube is much faster and easier to update than a website,” says Loveness. He has Director status with YouTube, and he posts his documentary and narrative film trailers. One trailer for a Superman movie he made had been viewed nearly 14,000 times at press time. Loveness encourages his brides and grooms to send the links of their highlight videos via email to their friends and family. The resulting buzz has generated upwards of 1,000 views for each of Loveness’ wedding highlight clips.

He has two different demo videos on YouTube –one for his “Memories” highlights (1,800 views) and another for his photo montage option (1,100 views). Some users who comment on his videos also seem to follow Loveness’ career. One posted that he won the Sony/Videomaker video contest in the action film category.

UGC Sites to Promote Destinations and Travel
Some large companies are using YouTube to find video talent. Go to the Community page and you can see that Heinz promotes a contest on YouTube (left) to make its next ketchup commercial, with the top 15 spots voted on by YouTube viewers. offers a prize to the filmmaker who produces the best film to the company’s music. TurnHere Films, a firm that promotes hotels and restaurants online, offers a prize to the filmmaker whose one- to three-minute video gets the most YouTube views. This video production company is part of the worldwide hospitality industry, and they promote hotels and restaurants with short online videos. The firm has company information in their YouTube profile. They use the video description field to post the rules to their contest, and they use this field to post links to their sample video clips.According to TurnHere, “Each video lets the viewer experience what it’s like to walk the streets of Beijing, sip coffee in New York’s Greenwich Village, tuck in under the covers of that popular new hotel, or swim off the coast of Honduras. And now we’re on the hunt for talented new filmmakers.” The company boasts a client list that includes Discovery, Orbitz, and InterContinental hotels.

They encourage videographers, whom they refer to as “filmmakers,” to contact them and consider joining the worldwide team that produces short videos to document the hotels, restaurants, and other venues in their areas. TurnHere director of content Marc Prager says that they are looking for filmmakers who know how to shoot, edit, and tell a story. They develop a basic treatment, but they encourage the filmmakers to use their own creativity to make the story come alive. Prager used the term “preditor” to refer to a videographer who is both a producer and an editor. Among the deliverables the company wants are QuickTime files and signed releases.

TurnHere Films has developed a large library of videos, mostly short clips that might arouse enough curiosity about a destination that the viewer will want to watch more clips. They encourage viewers to send links to their friends and family. They charge hotels and other travel destinations to post videos online on Google, MSN, Yahoo!, YouTube, and other sites. In less than two years of operation, the company has developed more than 1,500 subscribers just in YouTube, with more than 12,000 views. In one week, their YouTube video on a condominium in Ocean City, Maryland received more than 3,000 views. Prager said that Google now overlays some of TurnHere Films’ video clips within Google Maps.

UGC Sites for Corporate Clients
At my own Oakland, California studio, Audio Visual Consultants, we started posting to YouTube about six months ago. In one case it was a bride-to-be wanting her mom to see the video invitation we had just finished. Then it was the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, frustrated because of delays when trying to get their in-house staff to post videos to their own website. Later, a client’s boss, out of town, needed to see a draft of a video, and overnight delivery was not fast enough. In all these cases we used either YouTube or Google Video to host the videos. We sent an email to the clients with the YouTube or Google link, and within seconds of clicking the link they were viewing the video.

We hadn’t seriously considered YouTube as an option for corporate clients wanting online videos. Traditionally, we have encoded the clip and sent it to the client’s FTP site or to a public FTP site such as, or we burned the data onto a disc and popped it in the mail. With these delivery methods, the client still needed to post it to his website.

On several occasions — with smaller companies, with nonprofits, and even with a political candidate for whom we made a TV commercial” the clips never made it to the clients’ sites. In one case, the client’s web manager lacked the skills to post the video. More than once, the client just never got around to it.

When a mid-sized company, Wooden Window, hired our studio to edit and encode a segment that had appeared on TV, the client’s IT person and Sam, our student intern at the time, did not agree on a file format. The IT person wanted us to encode in Real, but Sam expressed concern about Real’s frequently changing file formats and its tendency to install itself as the default player. The company CEO wanted his prospects to see the clip as quickly and as easily as possible, so Sam suggested, as an interim solution, that he would post the clip on YouTube that day.

He emailed the link to the client and explained that he should include the link in emails to their prospects. A few days later Google bought YouTube, and the client was delighted. Suddenly, he felt that his prospects had a great incentive to view the video, now that YouTube had become a household word.

Wedding Invitation to YouTube
When we produced a wedding invitation DVD for a couple, the bride-to-be was so excited with our first cut that she wanted her mother to see it — right away! Our offer to mail her a DVD copy was not fast enough. She wanted us to post it to YouTube. Within hours, the mother would see the video invitation that her daughter had been so excited about.

When we produced the final draft, we posted the revised version to YouTube. It’s been our most popular YouTube post, with 147 views after two months. Our first post, for Wooden Window, had 121 views after six months, and our Family History clip had only nine views in two months.

Faster than an Internal A/V Department
Originally, we thought YouTube would be appropriate only as a distribution channel for family videos rather than for corporate work. Then, one evening, at the close of a lecture I videotaped for Berkeley’s Haas School, the department director asked if I could post the lecture to YouTube. My company had been videotaping these monthly lectures for over 10 years, and two years ago the school asked us to encode some of them for their website. But sometimes even Berkeley moves slowly, and those lectures never made it online.

The lectures we videotape there run about 60 minutes in length. We had to divide this one into seven chapters to fit them into YouTube’s 100MB file limits. We signed up with YouTube as a Director to override the 10-minute TRT max per video. However, they still enforced the 100MB limit, so it doesn’t make sense to upload clips much longer than 10 minutes each.

We grouped the seven clips into a playlist and, once YouTube posted the playlist (left), we sent that link as an email to the client. We could have hosted the link via our website, but they declined that offer. So we explained how they could embed that link on their site, or they could send the link via emails to their clients and students.

We received a gushing thank-you letter from our client. I told him that we would post the next video onto Google, since Google did not impose limits on file sizes or TRTs.

The next Haas School lecture that we videotaped was 71 minutes long, and we posted it to Google. In addition to the long TRT allowed by Google, the videos come up without distracting banner ads that sometimes appear on YouTube. Also, on YouTube, viewers may become further distracted by thumbnails from other videos, but this is not the case with Google.

One reason we started using Google was because of our part-time technician who manages his band’s website. He uses Google to host his band’s video clips on their homepage, and it looks great. So I asked him to use Google for our clients’ video clips.

Sending Edit Drafts to Clients Online
Recently, our studio contracted with a local training materials company to produce three video clips for their website. This would be part of an interactive training program, and our on-camera host would be explaining how the graphs and charts work.

When we had a draft edit ready, their parent company 3,000 miles away needed to approve it. Rather than burning the clips to a DVD, we posted it to Google. This enabled the big boss to view it within hours rather than days.

Posting Commercials
My studio provides a small amount of video services to Clorox. After we posted Wooden Window’s promo video to YouTube, I sent my contact there an email with the video’s link. I learned from him that Clorox already had posted their TV commercials on YouTube.

After a little searching, I found another UGC website,, that had real people talking about Clorox products. ExpoTV focuses on household products, and they have a section they call Videopinions where users demonstrate various household products. The site offers users $5 for each video posted and one cent for each view of their video clips. From there I found, a site that has channels to promote businesses and post commercials. Daily Motion is a similar UGC site that also has a beta version of Motionmaker that, according to the site, lets your clips run an unlimited length and file size. You can sign up to be a Filmmaker, a Reporter, a Musician, or an Entertainer.

At our studio, to keep our videos looking as good as possible, we aim to limit each clip to six minutes; this way, we don’t have to compress the video as much as we would with a 10-minute clip to stay within the capacity limit.In Windows Media Encoder we first choose “File Download.” Although the videos are not technically for download, this setting produces good quality videos, comparable to the “Hardware Devices” option. We have not addressed the minutiae of all of the other options, as they seem more geared to specific uses. The bottom line is that YouTube converts the files to the Flash Video format on their end, so all we are trying to do is maximize the quality on our end before uploading.

Next, we choose the best possible relevant quality. Since we are not editing HD video, we don’t choose “high-definition quality.” Rather, we select “DVD quality 2Mbps VBR,” and “CD-quality audio.” These settings will yield a file under 100MB as long as the video is shorter than about 6 1/2 minutes. If the video is longer (between 6 1/2 and about 12 minutes) we use “DVD quality video 1Mbps VBR” in order to keep the file under 100MB. The following video/audio codecs have worked well for AVC: Windows Media Video 9 — Resolution and frame rate “same as input” and Windows Media Audio 9.2.

Using Google for Long-Form Videos
As far as we can ascertain, Google Video imposes no limit on file sizes. If you upload files that are bigger than 100MB, you have to install Google Video Uploader, a free download from Google. It is an application that you run from your desktop that connects with your Google video account and uploads videos to it.

After the video is uploaded, you have to go into Google and enter all the information for the video before it gets posted. Once it’s posted, you’re all done — you can email links of the video to your clients and they’ll be thrilled!

The Embed Tag
After you upload the video and the UGC site has processed it, they create a page for your specific video. You can copy the URL of this page and send it to your client for them to load into their web browser or include as a link in emails.

Alternatively, and a bit more seamlessly, you can embed that video into any web page or blog. On the video’s page, a piece of HTML code is provided that can be inserted into a web page or blog entry. This is called the “embed tag.” YouTube calls this an “embeddable player.” (left) Google Video uses the term “embed HTML,” while MySpace calls it “video code.”

After copying this code, you need to paste it into the body of an HTML webpage, or into a new blog entry on one of the many blogging sites. You can set up your own website with a free blog from WordPress (left). They offer two types of blogs. One you can install in your own website — it requires some webmastering skills and certain server requirements. The other is hosted on the WordPress server, and you log onto their site to update it. Some other free blog hosts are,, and

You can easily insert the embed code for a YouTube video and then email the client a link to that news entry. This way, the client never needs to actually go to YouTube’s site. Instead, they come to your site, branded by you, and hopefully they stick around to view some of your other content.

Stu Sweetow runs video production company Audio Visual Consultants in Oakland, CA. He taught video production at UC Berkeley Extension, was associate editor of Wedding and Event Videography, and is a contributing editor to Camcorder & Computer Video magazine.

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