Seattle-based Pet Holdings, Inc., CEO Ben Huh (purveyor of beloved LOLcats and many other hilarious image macros) contracted with me to produce his Cheezburger Network’s 3rd Anniversary Video, an effort to celebrate the 3-year anniversary of icanhascheezburger.com and the 1 billionth collective view of the entire network’s user-generated video content.
As a new media producer and recent graduate of the UW MCDM program, I had been looking for Web video work and a means of applying the skills I had been developing as a graduate student. About a month ago, Kathy Gill, one of the MCDM’s most popular professors (and exceptionally well established in the Seattle social media sphere, I might add) connected me with Huh via Twitter. Huh has been in the process of hiring for various positions within his expanding Network and had been advertising such through his tweets. However, at the time, the need for a video to celebrate Cheezburger’s birthday and billion video views had not completely arisen. Only recently had the Cheezburger Network noted that they were approaching 1 billion video views, as the majority of their blogs’ entries have focused mainly on funny still images and memes. Huh came up with the idea to produce the anniversary video (as well as to expand their video presence) in part based on conversations with me, and, I am certain, simply by looking at his sites’ video numbers. As a fan of LOLcats, FAILs, and all things meme culture, I seemed like a really good fit for the project, and late one evening just before Christmas, we commenced work.
Now, in case you hadn’t heard, on-line video is becoming sort of important nowadays.
The on-going, inevitable convergence of TV and the Web is blurring traditional terminology (words like “film”, “television,” or even “video game”) as well as redefining how audiences access, share, and consume moving image content. Disruptive technologies like streaming video, smartphone-enabled mobile TV, digital video recorders (DVRs), and place- and format-shifting media devices and software like the SlingBox or Boxee have empowered users with a veritable smörgåsbord of entry points to the on-line video phenomenon.
Web video outlets powered by user-generated content, services like YouTube and Vimeo, have helped even the playing field between Hollywood and John Q. Public, while mass media ventures like Hulu and Joost have also gotten in on the game (mainly as a response to piracy). IPTV (aka, TV delivered via the Internet’s architecture) is on the rise. You can even download and stream movies directly to video game consoles like the Playstation 3 and XBox 360 through the popular video rental service Netflix – all of which is carried over the Internet.
Everyone from your grandmother to notable journalists to the President of the United States has discovered the power and importance of Web video and its impact on social media and modern communication.
And why not? When faced with the choice of conveying stories and messages through 1 minute of video or 3-4 paragraphs of text, which seems more effective? That question answers itself. However, the barrier to entry for so many institutions, businesses, and individuals has often been the price of video production technology and the educational know-how to get it all done. Thankfully, some of these constraints are lessening as pocketmedia devices like the Flip Camcorder or higher-end production quality video DSLRs take root and the price of high-definition video capture decreases. Coupled with the proliferation of high-speed broadband connections, new video compression standards, and growing communities of tech-minded individuals ready to offer post-production insight and expertise, it’s almost inexcusable to NOT have a video presence on-line. Moreover, the so-called “amateur aesthetic” currently casts standards for Web video production quality in to an interesting limbo place, akin to the days of Vaudeville or the nickelodeon, when it comes to content –> in other words, right now, people will pretty much watch anything at least once… assuming you have an effective social media strategy that gets them to watch it (but that’s a different post for another time).
Of course, for Cheezburger’s video I wanted to make something worth watching more than once, while still capturing some of that aesthetic. Huh had three key messages he wanted to convey through their birthday announcement: to celebrate the anniversary and the community that made it possible, to announce their 1 billionth view, and to invite people to contribute and to investigate the entire Cheezburger Network of 35 sites, including their most recent launch, failbooking.com (which highlights some of the more comical and embarrassing Facebook status updates and responses out there).
My approach to producing the video would invoke my three pillars of Web video production: strategy, content, and scalability. In terms of strategy, I mean what is the strategy to producing the video from initial concept to delivery and social execution. By content, I refer to effective storytelling technique. And, by scalability, I refer to the range of production value available for the proposed expenditure – what can you get for the budget available?
My thoughts on strategy were compound, as this was a video that would need to achieve three things: it would need to address the community that made 1 billion views possible; it would need to, conversely, stand-out by possessing a higher technical production value than the content it was celebrating; and, lastly, while celebrating the content and the community, it would need to intrigue unfamiliar outsiders and invite them to contribute to and explore the range of Cheezburger content.
Why the final point? Because three years is ANCIENT in the Web world, and sustainability paramount. In other words, how would we go about congratulating the LOL crowd while still growing such a community? A combination of live-action “talking head” material (for example, Huh discussing the Network, interview-style) interspersed with montage material from the sites seemed like a good approach, but eventually we crafted a video slideshow music montage, sans actual interview material.
What we wound up with was inter-cutting both Network images and video clips to music, while also appropriating some of the Network’s (really, the entire Internet’s) most popular memes (but, for our purposes, let’s call them our “characters”, such as the Failboat, Happycat, Ceiling Cat, Hovercat, and others). In the video, these characters personify the Cheezburger community, a community that was thereafter addressed by the Network via text (titles) instead of generic audio/interview dialog. This textual approach would allow us to effectively reach out to the community of Cheezburger fans by tipping the hat to their contributions, and yet introduce a broad enough spectrum of mimetic content to pique the interest of outsiders while still delivering the message to both groups. The text/image motif is part of the general appeal of image macro culture.
Finally, in terms of delivery execution, the Cheezburger community would see the video at either of two on-line distribution points, as well as in a post to the icanhascheezburger blog. From there, the crowd would take over the distribution like they do already with so much of Cheezburger’s content, via sharing through social media.
Beyond strategy, the content worked itself out rather simply – digest as much of the network’s material as possible (guess who watched 260 Web videos on Christmas Eve?) and then craft Huh’s message in to a story told with text and image macro as a conversation between user and network. This conversation illustrates the sensibilities and tastes of the crowd while attempting to use impact-ful (literally Impact font) text to speak as a voice of authority and deliver the message through traditional Aristotelian means. Part one establishes what’s going on (3 year anniversary message), part two builds momentum (leading in to the video montage) towards the larger message point (culminating with the ‘1 billion’ news and an invitation to contribute future videos), and part three quickly reverses us back towards the established image macro territory, and then finally invites the viewer to check out failbooking.com.
Now, in terms of scalability, Huh proposed a modest budget, one that would eventually be divested towards off-camera expenditures, as all assets on-camera were essentially ready in advance of production. The technical acumen poured in to this one video through post-production (namely, the work needed to perfect timing, pacing, titling, animation, and technical through-put to achieve maximum visual quality) was where the real work lay. Huh wisely recognized that opting for the lower pricepoint available from a new media producer like myself, who can scale and handle an entire production of this nature vertically, means that he could save thousands of dollars by not going to an outside agency or post-house to otherwise achieve what he needed. This kind of Web video production is perhaps the most scalable and reasonable form of content generation for dealing with niche audiences, plus the gloss desired can still be achieved. As for the Cheezburger community’s response, the video has done overwhelmingly well thus far, amassing roughly 62,000 views between Viddler and YouTube in just five days.
Upon reflection, the success of the project circles me back to my earlier point: there is no excuse for not having a video strategy these days. Everyone should have one.
As fellow MCDMer Brook Ellingwood recently pointed out right here at Flip the Media, every company is now a media company. If institutions, individuals, and everyone else working to communicate in today’s social media landscape and do real business wishes to engage their intended audiences effectively, they need to embrace new media production. But this doesn’t just mean having a social media strategy, it also means having a powerful video strategy to go along with it. Those desiring to effectively share their messages and tell their stories who do not adopt the affordable new media production tools widely available today will ultimately lose out to those that do make the effort to adopt and develop real video strategy.
Ben Huh recognizes this, as do my counterparts in the MCDM. Are you ready to be a part of the video boom? If so, it must be time to invest in that new video camera… and to hire a new media producer.
See also “5 Tips for Using Video to Grow Your Business in 2010” by Patrick Moran for Mashable, 12 Dec 2009.Matthew Stringer is a New Media Producer, graduate of the University of Washington’s Master of Communication in Digital Media program, and blogger at Nerd Acumen.