Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Corporate Web TV Stations

The first blog I ever started reading regularly was "Brown Knowns" by Richard Brown - VIA Technologies' Vice President of Marketing. I've always enjoyed his postings which range from travel reports (often from India) and book reviews to thoughts on current developments in ICT. Yesterday he started posting the first piece of a series dealing with his thoughts on what can roughly be called "Corporate Web TV Stations". Basically he asks the question:

"How long will it be before corporations and media change their current websites into Web TV stations?"

In today's posting he gave three reasons why Corporate Web TV Stations are set to take off:
  • News & Information are Becoming Entertainment
  • Consumers want to see the Real Face (or Faces) Behind the Company
  • Video Production, Editing, and Broadcasting Costs are rapidly Decreasing
Having read that piece I spent most of my afternoon lecture pondering this issue because something was telling me that this transition might not be happening to the degree that Richard Brown is envisioning. His core assumption seems to be that that "video content will become the centerpiece of the website" with "the text and images supporting it".

Don't get me wrong, I also believe that video content and IPTV will become an increasingly important part of the corporate and media landscape. However I personally see videos being an extension of the current text and image based content, not a replacement. Three years down the road when companies have mastered the art of utilizing video content to its fullest extent we might see Intel integrating their "audio / video center" more prominently on their frontpage. Time's partnership with CNN will also lead to more videos added to the articles on the website. Instead of looking at a fancy flash-animation on the Levi's website we'll probably also be looking at web tv commercials.

But while that 25fps content might play a significantly larger role than today I don't see it being the heart of a corporate website. I wouldn't even go as far as saying that it will be equally important to text and images. Additionally I would argue that two of the three reasons mentioned above why Corporate Web TV Stations are set to take off won't hold true in the long run:

News & Information are Becoming Entertainment: I think we can all agree that infotainment is definitely on the rise, just look at your average newspaper or tv-station out there and you'll notice that in a heartbeat. Now I'll be the first person to say that I'm very skeptical of that trend and it's certainly one of the main reasons why I basically stopped watching television 6 years ago. Of course it doesn't really matter what I think. However I do believe that one of the reasons why blogging, citizen journalism and YouTube have become so popular is that many people are feed up with all the infotainment bullshit that the big media outlets have been producing. There's certainly a trend towards raw impressions, thoughts and emotions captured by average Joes instead of listening to what Rupert Murdoch thought was good news. So why I may exaggerate a bit and be overly optimistic I do generally tend to believe that these days more people are interested in either (a) quality journalism or (b) unfiltered impressions from other non-professional reporters when it comes to news and information.

Consumers want to see the Real Face (or Faces) Behind the Company: Again I don't think that's really true. For an example of what I'm talking about I'd suggest you watch the following YouTube video from Intel called "Inspiring Innovations by Intel's Kevin Bross". Tell me: Now that you've seen Kevin Bross fly-fishing while repeating Intel's marketing message, would you say that you've seen the real Kevin Bross? Do you feel more positive towards Intel's products because you've seen one of their employees talk about it? Are you more willing to open your wallet and send its content Intel's way than before watching the video? Or did you just watch the video, forget about its message and still feel about Intel just like you did 2min 17sec ago? I thought so...

The point here is that as a mature consumer you shouldn't be influenced by those touchy-feely ads anyway. And as consumer-zombie you don't need that personal touch either because you're already sold on those fancy ads with lots of bling-bling, gorgeous women and expensive cars, telling you that buying product X will immediatly make you that much of a better person. Of course we're all victims of advertising, marketing and PR in one way or another but I don't think that seeing a company's employee rave about its products will make any difference. On the other hand if it had been Angelina Jolie who spoke about Intel's innovations then I would have certainly been inspired...

What I'm trying to say here is that companies will always regard their video-content as a vehicle for transporting their marketing message to consumers. So while videos might make a claim for being more honest or more realistic most consumers will be aware of the fact that they're still watching videos produced to a company's advantage. Therefore they'll regard videos with the same skepticism like any other material such as text and photos that was approved by the PR department of a company. Per defintion advertising and marketing will never be entirely honest. Different medium, same story.

More reasons why I think that Corporate Web TV Stations and video content in general has its limitations:

Video isn't searchable: This is of course a technology limitation that will go away at some point in the future but for now video content isn't searchable. The closest thing that we have at this point are tags but they're nothing more than a very crude approximation to the real thing. So if I'm for example looking for information on Intel's Penryn processors I enter intel and penryn and immediately I'm presented with 1.8 million results in Google. The first 5 results basically provide me with all the information I'm ever going to need thanks to the Intel website, Reg Hardware, Wikipedia and AnandTech. Now let's see what happens when I add video to the search box: The first result is a story on that contains a video about Penryn. However it mostly deals with many details that few people are probably interested in and there's little actual information on the Penryn processor. The second result is indeed a YouTube video but that one is mostly about the upcoming Crysis video game and again Penryn is only mentioned without too much relevant information. The third result doesn't even contain any video content. Looking for intel penryn videos on YouTube resulted in videos of random people talking about Penryn but again very litte real information. So basically plain-old text documents were the more relevant results of my search with video content badly trailing behind... And unless someone comes up with a very smart way of actually looking at the contents of the videos that's not going to change anytime soon. (Trust me, if it could easily be done Google would offer it now.)

Video forces me to follow a narrative: While doing the search mentioned above I was forced to actually spend 2 to 3 minutes on each video before being able to decide whether it was a relevant result for me. With a text-document it normally only takes me a second or two before being able to decide just whether it's something I might be interested in or not. Attention spans have certainly decreased thanks to the ever-increasing speed of life so asking someone to watch something that's potentially useless doesn't seem to make much sense. Plus everyone has a different speed at which he/she is able to capture new information so again video seems like a bad medium for conveying information. Viewers are forced to follow a narrative whether they like it or not. For example if I had found a comprehensive video-introduction to Intel's
Penryn I would have been forced to potentially listen to things I already know. With a text-based article it's easy to skip a sentence, paragraph or page when you feel it doesn't contain anything interesting. (On a personal note I tend to read many hardware and software reviews by looking at the first and last page of the article before deciding whether I'm willing to spend more time to read the rest.) With linear videos on the other hand you can't do that. Of course we can imagine future innovations such as embedded markers which allow you to jump between different scenes or chapters within a video. But right now it's certainly not a very flexible way of gathering new information.

So in the end what I'm really trying to say is that I believe video content will be increasingly important both on corporate and media websites. However I believe that text and images will still be the prime types of content in the forseeable future. There's certainly a shift towards video content going on at the moment but I don't think it's going to replace text and images. I rather see video as adding another dimension to the
hypermedium that is the internet. And just like radio, television, newspaper and the internet manage to co-exist as each one has a certain set of strengths different content types will also co-exist on the web.

No comments: