How the broadsheets use video : The Times

You may have noticed an intense flurry of posting around here lately. I’m trying to break out of a dry spell of posting with shock tactics. Sorry if it’s you that’s shocked.

I mentioned yesterday that I would be focusing on video a bit more, and I am good to my word.

Here’s the first part of multi-parter on newspaper video. Think of it as a bit of a follow-up/re-boot to previous posts on how newspaper use video.

I’m starting with a look at The Times online. Monday is the Telegraph, Tuesday the FT, Wednesday is The Guardian.

So, brace yourself. Here is my view of The Times

The platform
Like most providers The Times are waking up to the value of embedding their video on the article page. But the main gathering point for video is their TimesOnlineTV player.  It’s now on the Kit player which is Roo by another name. As a result you still have the problems associated with channeling video out.

You still can’t link back to the article page from the stand alone player though. GRRR. And some of the video really suffers because of it. A story about a cat coming back (I’m guessing that’s what it’s about) makes very little sense.  The compression quality on the player was also uniformly awful. It’s worse than you tube.

Presentation

I’m also not keen on the aesthetics of the player. The black box weights the page and makes the video feel squashed, dominating the rest of the light and airy ‘El Pais’ style of the page layout. Why all the padding?

The video tends to be Sky video (as you would expect) and some of it feels like it’s package video with the voice over removed. So it’s often a slew of general views and then some sync sound. The story about Marching Bishops, for example, is lots of shots of Bishops then Gordon Brown addressing the masses.

And all that padding and on screen information tends to kill the still image value of the area. Take an older story about video of Mohammad Sidique Khan, one of the 7/7 bombers, with his daughter. Powerful video alongside the text but until the video plays (and after the bloody annoying pre-roll) you get a mash of text and gray. A nice clean image that functions as a still would be better. It’s a powerful image lost.

You have to go to the feature based stuff rather than the rolling and breaking news to get Times online content.  The results are patchy but there is a nice variety.

Some of the news feature packages could be tighter. The package about the Welcome collection exhibition Skeletons: London’s Buried Bones could have run some of the sound of the curator under shot of Skeletons.  Not enough bones people.

The food section has a nice range of videos but, again, the production values are varied, The video of TV chef Ching-He Huang seasoning a wok was nice – she’s a natural on camera – but it needed more direction. It looked like a two camera set-up (otherwise kudos for some neat editing here and there) and the second camera ranges around like it’s been on the rice wine. A few minutes planning the shoot would have helped.

Over in motoring a video review of the Fiat500 is in the now required top-gear style but the shooting doesn’t make the best of the medium.  The opening piece to camera is done as a longs shot to get the car in view. But that makes the presenters face almost invisible. Start with a wide then give me a close-up of the presenter. Show me the subject of the shot. The Goodwood  2008 highlights video makes the same mistake. It is nicely cut though. The sequence with motorcycle stunts was well put together.

I also missed a personal voice in the video. Tom Whipple’s article on Tombstoning – the trendy name for jumping off a cliff – is accompanied by a video voiced by Ariadne Zanella.  We don’t hear from Tom in the piece and its only because he is identified in the VO that we know who he is. Where is the reaction? His nerves before the build up and the feeling afterward?  The piece on 2CV touring by Jennifer Howze was better but it could have been a smidgen shorter. Less arty GV from the CV.

Oh and they are still peddling that Cool in your code stuff. Arse! But over on the blogs it’s a slightly different kettle of fish.

Charles Bremner’s video blog from Paris offers a slightly different treatment with You tube embedding and less than stellar production values. But there’s a spark of personality there and lot’s of interesting information especially later in the video where he talks about his comment policy and ‘not answering to anyone’. Shot on “an extraordinarily simple thing called a Flip. That explains the grainy image.” it’s a nice insight, if a little long.

I also liked the effort that was made with Simon Kernick’s Harrogate festival diary. The little vignettes in the video reading worked quite well and the variety of shots was something lacking in most of the other content.

Other sections aren’t backward when it comes to including video that spices up a post. The across the pond section has loads of embedded video from campaign ads to Jib-jab video.

Oh, and if I have to watch that 21 second pre-roll ad for Mastercard again. I will kill someone. Oh yes I will.

Slideshows


Although this is ostensibly about video I think that slideshows are worth a mention. There are a lot of manual click galleries on the Times with some audio slideshows. I did like the embedded gallery that appeared in one or two stories although the lack of consistency when it comes to seeing captions was a shame. But it’s ticking that multimedia article more than the pop up gallery windows.

Overall.
I find it hard to warm to the AV offering on the Times. The news video is better quality on Sky and the continuing lack of linkage back from the TimesOnlineTV player to articles is frustrating.  The high-value video in the food and motoring sections suffers from being under-produced or over egged. I’m struggling to find a way of not saying ‘too much like TV’ but can’t.

I don’t think that the player quality helps and I think the way the player is integrated needs some thought. Integration of click-through galleries is better – perhaps there is a middle ground between these and the video design – and the quality of images really works well here.

Perhaps I would have felt better about it all if I didn’t have to sit through that bloody pre-roll ad.  It’s not just a distraction it’s literally a turn-off.

Next is The Telegraph.

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