Will Video Kill the Print Media Star?

Recently, there have been a lot of announcements about video content. They’ve given us a glimpse of content delivery’s future. CNN announced its dissolution of paid video content, making its video feeds free to users and, therefore, making its Web site more attractive to advertisers. And Yahoo recently added CNN and ABC feeds to augment its AP and Reuters video content.

It’s easy to explain these kinds of business decisions. After all, there’s a considerable amount of ad dollars to be made at CNN. I believe there’s something more subtle going on with the ways in which we demand video online. This isn’t about news being better with video; it’s about a change in the way news is communicated and experienced.

Today, video complements the news story. Could it replace the written word altogether? In the online world, where user control remains king, it’s doubtful the kind of video feeds currently released by major networks will replace the vast amount of information provided by newspapers, blogs, Web sites, and other written forms. Yet what would happen if users could search for raw video feeds on demand, without waiting for a reporter’s narrative on the day’s events? Isn’t it possible, given their savvy and honesty, users could craft their own news stories with such readily available online video?

When considering the power of online advertising and video, there are a few things to consider.

Does adding video make a news story more powerful? Consider this point in Jerry Mander’s treatise “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television“: “Television watching is not active, it’s passive…. it’s a form of sleep teaching.” The human body has no time to react to the images and words that are being thrown at it during a TV news broadcast.

After reading this book, I conducted my own information study. In a 30-minute network news slot, there were 22 stories delivered about various subjects around the world. Even Walter Cronkite couldn’t deliver more than one or two truly memorable stories in that timeframe, much less 22. My own attention span lapses after five minutes’ dinner conversation (granted, that’s generally over dinner with my in-laws), never mind during six times that timeframe.

Then again, Mander says the images we experience on TV are the most powerful and resilient in our memories. If that’s the case, there’s a real opportunity to craft some real memorable experiences with online video.

That’s an important lesson in using video in online advertising. We have a powerful tool at our disposal. A well-crafted, concise edit can make more of an impact than long-form video content. Users nibble information, not consume it in volumes. Nor do they put much time into waiting for your video content if it’s file-heavy.

How else can online enhance the video news experience? We’re still at the foothills of a complete solution, but some approaches, specifically the Matthew Mahon site, give a dimension to still images that when someday incorporated with video-driven advertising could get really interesting. Wouldn’t it be great to toggle commentary on and off during any video feed in real time? What about the ability to participate in an ad rather than just view it?

Another experience that may benefit are humanitarian causes that can’t truly be conveyed via TV, print, or even a Web site. It’s sad to see starving or suffering people, but as TV viewers we’ve become numb to image repetition. Interactive, edited video could really be used to immerse online users right into the experience. Take this not so satirical site for Mail Order Chickens. Imagine what a better-utilized celebrity sponsor and a little better video/Flash editing could do. You could get a real story with real dimension and an element of interesting entertainment value.

As online technologies progress, we’ll see video content open up to the masses. Anyone who has the time can view raw video feeds. From news providers, they’ll start making their own conclusions about what the real story is. Then we could be faced with online composers taking uncut video and making their own news stories and, dare I say it, ads — if they aren’t already. Remember George Masters’ Apple iPod Mini spot?

When these novice newsmakers reach the mainstream, imagine the kinds of lasting images their stories will communicate in an online context will have on our psyches. Suddenly, getting that black ink on my fingers from the “Sunday Times” ad section doesn’t seem so bad after all.

Meet Dorian at Search Engine Strategies August 8-11 in San Jose, CA.

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