content + context = compelling: in defense of raw video.

At the risk of stirring up a hornet’s nest, I’d like to advance the theory that not all web video need be extravagantly produced, meticulously edited and mini-Hollywood productions. Raw video, with the right content in the correct context, can be every bit as compelling.

Last week, for instance, a colleague used a Flip to take raw video of a new experimental wind turbine’s mounting on the roof of SUNY Oswego’s Lee Hall. In the abstract, 47 seconds of video, occasionally shaky, showing a couple of people affixing a turbine and starting its first revolutions doesn’t seem the most marketable footage. But when reviewing it, I saw a neat little narrative (content) on the ever-hot topic of alternative energy (context) and (not having to edit) quickly posted it to our YouTube account, then linked it from a homepage story which I fed through Twitter and Facebook.

And a funny thing happened: People started watching, retweeting, liking and commenting. Then our regional paper, The Syracuse Post-Standard, decided to add the raw video to its event coverage (several P-Sers follow us on Twitter) and the number of plays continued to climb. (Which also caused more hits on our related college videos.) All for a 47-second video that, to the Spielberg wannabes in the world, would appear unremarkable.

But this isn’t our first success with raw video. This spring when our men’s hockey team beat our fierce rivals Plattsburgh to win our first conference tournament in many years, and clinch an NCAA bid, among the celebration, I saw something cool. The team took the trophy around the ice in front of the student section and the remaining fans cheered loudly, pounded the glass and shared the joy. I caught some quick raw video, posted it on our Facebook page, and it quickly scored hundreds of hits and a couple dozen Likes. It’s shaky and hardly slick. But it had content (deliriously happy fans) plus context (a long-awaited conference tourney championship) and thus proved compelling.

Longform video is a tough match for the web and busy people. Some highered folks fell all over themselves praising the 16+ minute Yale admissions video, but I was beyond bored within 30 seconds and shut it off. Yet I repeatedly watched UQAM’s one-take lipdub video — which scored 10 times the YouTube hits of the Ivy League piece and, unlike the Yale yawner, the lipdub generated actual student buzz. Sure, it involved a lot of planning, but the UQAM students knew the right pace, made it fun and were more concerned with content than something slick. (Or consider the authentic awesomeness of the Guy Starts Dance Party raw video that preceded the flash mob craze.)

So don’t underestimate the power of raw video, and the opportunities available if you carry a camera or smartphone with at least some video capability (or ask students to do the same). The ability to capture short compelling raw video that needs no edits and almost instantly disseminating it via the many possible web/social media channels can offer nearly limitless potential.

9 Comments

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9 responses to “content + context = compelling: in defense of raw video.

  1. Jim Pangborn

    I call this “the newsreel effect”: varying production values, as by inserting relatively grainy, hand-held, or b&w clips, enhances the overall “reality effect” (borrowing the term from Roland Barthes). I’m pretty sure broadcast news used the technique long after it became unnecessary.

  2. Thanks, Tim. Great thoughts as usual. I’d only add that in the last month or so I’ve run across a couple of instances where folks have tried to equate “shaky cam” with “authenticity.” One presenter in a flipcam webinar I attended last week actually said, “And using the FlipCam makes it authentic.” Um, seriously? ‘Cuz I don’t think so. You can shoot just as soul-less and stultifying a video with a flipcam as you can with a prosumer high-end outfit. Raw video isn’t a PR technique or tactic. It’s just a tool: a tool that helps you tell and share certain stories better and faster than other available tools.

  3. Great post Tim. I can’t agree with you more.

    Sometimes you have to go with what you got. When unexpected moments happen, it’s better to catch them (even if a little shaky) than miss out on the content entirely. And as you point out, there is something compelling about the raw that gets lost in a slick vid that clearly was put together from a high-cost operation. (Although you can’t belittle the value of a well-done, professional video either…)

    I try to get the highest quality possibility with the resources and time-contraints I am given. Living by that I am able to produce some great stuff.

  4. Patric Lane

    Great points Tim. We’ve garnered 8,000-plus views of this really simple video of a lab experiment (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Cp6fHINQ94). The researchers brought it to our attention b/c they realized it helped show and explain (content) the phenomenon of underwater oil plumes from the Gulf oil spill (context). If I was doing this all over again, I would have recorded an audio interview with the scientists, getting them to describe what viewers were looking at, then added that in too. In its current form, viewers have to read the explanation in the video’s information box. Either way, I’m pretty happy with the result.

  5. Tim Nekritz

    JIM: I always think simple is good. Isn’t adding more work to make something look simple complicated?

    LORI: I’m pretty sure you, like me, lived through the apogee of the “shaky camera” genre after “NYPD Blue” when ads, music videos, other TV shows decided the shaky camera treatment made everything more “gritty” or “authentic.” It mainly made me feel more “motion-sick.” I come by my shaky camera skills naturally!

    MALLORY: And I enjoy the simple one-shot videos you posted during your admissions days, like the mail/applications one or the vlog from the road. Authentic, informative, engaging. I suspect students liked them too.

    PATRIC: Exactly! Simple, yes, but also very visually interesting and informative. Actually, you could have added commentary by annotation to keep it simple as well, but clearly it found a good audience!

  6. Thad

    Tim,
    I think you’ve really connected to one component of the zeitgeist with your commentary on certain elements of raw video…and the UQAM video knocked my socks off. That’s student engagement (sans the ubiquitous booze) in my book!

  7. Pingback: the virality myth: why ‘going viral’ isn’t a strategy. « InsideTimsHead

  8. Tim,
    Great blog, couldn’t agree more. This is a discussion I find myself in constantly with other stakeholders. The fact is raw-video definitely has its place. Our audiences (and especially potential students) aren’t dumb. They know the difference between marketing mumbo jumbo and the real world. Raw, unedited video can help peel back the curtain and give people an actual glimpse at life within your institution.

  9. Pingback: With Video, Don’t Let Perfection Be the Enemy of Progress - Crosstown Digital Communications

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