NAB, IBC and Broadcast Video Expo share one thing - they play to a global audience for TV and film production, post-production and distribution. It’s not practical to get along to all the shows so there is an increasing trend to report for that global audience. BV Expo is currently the only show without a dedicated multimedia channel.
With something like a TV budget you can make something like TV reports. But given the niche nature of the audience, the programmes won’t make it to traditional broadcast TV - too little shelf space. And a clear message from televisionland indicates that budgets are smaller and probably won’t get big again - ever.
With a budget that was a bit like one for TV, only smaller, we thought it would be possible to report the show with something a bit like TV, only smaller - an iPhone. The Internet is having a fundamental effect on just about everything, with the consequence that everything is there. So it’s logical to make content easy to find and readily available in order to satisfy the market demand.
Social Media are clearly a powerful way to connect content to community. Even the dead have Facebook pages. #BVEXPO is the Twitter hashtag for following the show and it was that which gave us the core of an experiment. If we could produce and publish short but pertinent reports in close to real time using simple equipment that would be good. If anyone interested can easily find the reports then that would be better. And this was what we explored at BVE 2011.
If you look at CNN’s iReport site you’ll see all manner of media uploaded (http://ireport.cnn.com/). CNN point out that the content is unmediated but in amongst the fodder is some very good stuff. Citizen journalism is a reality - the news from North Africa and the Middle East is full of footage shot with mobile phones. If it exists then the broadcaster will broadcast it.
We chose the iPhone because the mix of hardware and software accessories made it the perfect choice. In no time at all, Android and others will doubtless be able to do the same, but for now it’s only the iPhone.
Clearly, any footage has to compete with the reasonably shot pictures and good audio which we are used to seeing on TV. On its own, the iPhone is very light and you can’t get the on-board mic in close enough to get good signal with low noise. So the first accessory we chose was the Owle Bubo, something that looks like it came from the Bat Cave. It is a block of aluminium milled out to take the iPhone and an accessory lens. The aluminium makes the phone heavier and so reduces camera shake. The lens increases the light captured by the sensor making for better, brighter pictures. The Owle Bubo also has four standard tripod points which can be used for accessories as well as a shoe for lights etc. Part of the package from AppleWorld Distribution is a VeriCorder mic which improves the sound dramatically.
We chose the Rotolight LED as we’d be shooting fairly close most of the time. This is a 50Watt lamp powered by three AA batteries which gives you light for around three hours. The lamps store a variety of gels and filters which allow use in a variety of environments.
The objective was to produce the films with a minimum of operations, so the more we could do in the phone the better. We chose VeriCorder’s 1stVideo app as it effectively turns the iPhone into an OB truck in your hand. There are two versions of this software. Both have pretty much the same functionality up to the point of distributing the films you make. They allow capture of sound, stills and video with three post-production project types: radio, sound with stills and video. The Consumer version will upload via WiFi to YouTube and SoundCloud while the Network version can also upload via FTP to servers in media organisations. This version assumes that someone will be happy to pay the data communications charges via the cellphone network. Both versions contain a web server from which you can download the rushes. Freedom from iTunes is a real bonus but you are dependent upon a wireless network.
Quick turnaround stories on the iPhone are necessarily simpler than those made traditionally for TV. The device is effective rather than efficient which requires you hold more in your head, so you really need to simplify. All of this really brings you close to the storytelling metal. Lack of visual effects means that all you have is the story, with no eye candy to cover the gaps.
So we devised a story format to capture a marketing message into a 60-90 second video. This meant we could ask pretty much the same four questions about all products or services. We used a file naming convention to reduce the edit complexity and chose to allow jump cuts. A great lesson is that good enough is good enough. It is certain that we can improve on this base.
We had intended to use WiFi at the event to upload to a laptop for editorial checks and final upload to YouTube. But this turned out to be impossible, despite protestations that WiFi was available at all coffee stalls at the show. So we had to miss the drink and upload later in the day.
Integrating YouTube with other social media was important. The hashtag #BVEXPO was used in the title of every video. Hashtags are typically used as a filter and so anybody looking for #BVEXPO would see our videos in the stream. When the YouTube upload was complete then the automatic Tweet would ensure delivery.
We also used Paper.li to create a daily paper from the hashtag (http://paper.li/tag/BVEXPO). It updates every day with Twitter content from the previous 24 hours presented quite cleverly. The hashtag ensures that the videos find their audience automatically. The same mechanism can be applied to publicise the Paper.li electronic newspaper.
Web video of the kind we were considering requires that you be concise, so we felt graphic titles would be more of a hindrance than a help to the brand. The cycle, from agreeing to film the story to having it available on the web, was designed to be about twenty minutes or so. This would enable a steady stream of content to build as the show progressed. Sadly, a lack of usable WiFi at Earls Court scuppered this part of the plan.
Doing the reports ourselves would demonstrate that the job could be done - but, if we could train others to do the reports, then we’d have proven a usefully deployable service. We approached several sources for media students and finally chose two students attending Ravensbourne’s Digital Film Production course. Rojin and Mike turned up on the Tuesday morning and we gave them a little training. Ideally we would have had a practise day, but resources for that were scarce.
Now we had the device and the crew; now we could acquire, edit and publish simple videos to showcase the products and services of some of the exhibitors at the show. And, beyond the original investment in the kit, we had spent no money at all on getting there. The relationships we had built with TV Bay, with Appleworld and with VeriCorder, bore fruit, since these folk provided extra kit for the experiment.
The lack of WiFi was a real issue that precluded us from testing the live aspects of the experiment. It also meant we obtained only a fraction of the reports we had intended. Limited training time for the students meant that the edit and upload workflow placed too great a load on them. So, we concluded that editing the stories would be more efficiently accomplished on a desktop edit system as a separate process.
However, I am really pleased with the results that we did achieve. They clearly show all of the pitfalls and, now knowing them, we are able to accommodate them in the future. Operation of the equipment needs care and an attention to detail, which needs to be emphasised during the training. We had initially hoped to use journalism students but were unable to find any interested enough to take part. That was a shame, since their world is undergoing massive change that may well see newspaper journalists go the way of the knife sharpener.
Next time we will create a blog feed around each of the films which will have an RSS feed and appear on a Facebook page too. This will be tweeted separately to ensure a greater depth of content.
Clearly, as stories get smaller they can still be complete, but there is no way to fudge them with visual effects. The technology of mobile journalism makes the story itself more important than ever.
Owle Bubo :: http://www.wantowle.com
Rotolight :: http://www.rotolight.co.uk
VeriCorder :: http://www.vericorder.com
CNN iReport :: http://ireport.cnn.com
#BVEXPO Daily Paper :: http://paper.li/tag/BVEXPO
Digital Media Daily Paper :: http://paper.li/simon_morice/digital-media-list
UK Owle & Rotolight supplier :: http://www.appleworld-distribution.com