The Top Ten tips for newsaper video from the UK broadsheets

Over the past few days I’ve been looking at the way that the broadsheet newspapers in the UK use video.  That meant The Times, The Telegraph, The FT and The Guardian all got a picking over.

Today, I wanted to look at what we can take away from what they do – good and bad. So based on what I’ve seen, here are my Top Eleven ( I know it said 10 in the headline but you can’t have an odd number Top list can you) observations and pointers:

  • Make video part or the article sell, not a related link.
  • Make sure the link from your video player to a related article is clear
  • Make sure any accompanying text in your player clearly cues your video
  • Embed your video in an article page
  • Make your video poster frames work as images
  • Make the embedded player as big as you can.
  • Keep pre-roll out of embedded video
  • Get some variety in your ads
  • Niche works
  • Formats kill variety
  • Feature formats kill long tail

Want to know why I think that?  Here’s my reasoning.

The FT and The Times cue video in the article thumbnail. The Telegraph and Guardian flag it as a link to the player.
The FT and The Times cue video in the article thumbnail. The Telegraph and Guardian flag it as a link to the player.

Make video part or the article sell, not a related link.
The way articles with video are presented on a page varies in the broadsheets. The Times and the FT add a little logo to the thumbnail for the article. The Guardian and the Telegraph add it as a related link with a little logo. I prefer the former.

We know that embedded video is and important tool and I may be more inclined to click on an article if it looks like there may be some juicy video. I’m not alone in that. The Telegraph obviously thought it was a good idea when they splashed the Anne Darwin story with video.

The problem I found with having a separate link is that it invariably takes you to the juke-box video player and that takes you out of the article context straight away.

Make sure the link from your video player to a related article is clear

Having a juke box style video section has some benefits for the casual video browser(and nosy lecturer reviewing video). But it isn’t the first stop for most people. They come via the story. So to present them with recommendations for other video rather than content related to the story they came for seems, well, dumb. It says ‘I know you’re interested in the whole Iraq thing and wanted to see our serious video but how about a video of a film with Thong in the title, or Lemony pudding?.’

If you are going to offer a player then you need to keep as much of the context as you can. That’s why you should…

Make sure any accompanying text in your player clearly cues your video
The idea that your video needs to work stand alone is one to consider when creating feature video. Script or a clear structure of actuality should set the story up.

But we know that short form video is best served as a clip; A snatch of interview or blurry CCTV taking its relevance and context from the content around it.

The problem is that without the article that content becomes just another talking head or blurry splodge. And that’s exactly what happens when the video is presented as part of player instead of the article. So if you remove the video from the context it fails.  That’s what the jukebox players do to your clip video. They strip out context. So you need to make sure that it’s put back in somehow.

Adding context: The way the Guardian add the headline in the player is a step in the right direction.
Adding context: The way the Guardian add the headline in the player is a step in the right direction.

A well written supporting caption is the easy pick-off. Better still take a leaf out of the Guardians book and build the page around the headline. Even if it is a subtitle over the video, that’s better than nothing.

That’s why it’s better to…

Embed your video in an article page
As new CMS’s and layouts come on board in the broadsheets its clear that they have ‘got it’ when it comes to embedding video on the page. This should be high on your list of things to get right. Getting mixed media on a page, when the story allows, is like adding nitrous to your news section.  Each element supports and builds the other.  But it also means that the content should work on a number of levels.

Make your video poster frames work as images

Make your embedded video work as an image.
Make your embedded video work as an image.

If you have an embedded video player on the page then it should display a meaningful poster frame (the image it shows until the user presses play). You should apply the same editorial consideration to selecting these images as you would a photograph. You should also avoid hiding them behind a mass of text and icons. That stops it working as an image and turns it in to a distracting, visually messy, page element (leave that to your ads).

And, of course, we all know that the bigger the picture the better, so…

Make the embedded player as big as you can.
Broadband and better delivery platforms mean that the days of postage stamp sized video is gone.  Most of the video that is being produced is high-quality stuff. Shot widescreen on hi-def kit. Some of it is even shot in studios. Show that off to best effect. Looking at the broadsheets, there is no reason why the video should be so restricted.

If your design limits that then change your design.

Keep pre-roll out of embedded video
For me a pre-roll ad in embedded video is like those banner ads that break up an article page after the first couple of pars. It’s the equivalent of sticking Starbucks iced coffee in the middle of your reporting. Don’t do it.

The industry is working hard at making ‘time spent’ on a page key metric in measuring user engagement and the quality of the use experience. So why risk putting people off with pre-roll ads. Leave them to your players.

But if you are going to include it in your player…

Get some variety in your ads
This is more a complaint than a tip. <rant> How crappy is it to play the same ad, from the same company, again and again and again? Here is what it says to me. We don’t care about the advertiser. For us it’s the equivalent of taking your advertising leaflets, promising we can deliver them and then dumping all of them in the local sewer.  It also says that we care even less about the about the number of people watching, who have to sit through it and may never come back. We got the money so what? </rant>

That’s better.

Niche works
For all the production flaws the Financial Times video worked fantastically well because they have a clear remit and understand the audience.  The Guardian is the same. Even though they are serving the broader news market, compared to the FT, they have defined the remit and looked to the audience. Their focus on liberal, world affairs coverage is a clear niche.

When that remit is not clearly defined, as with the Telegraph, or missing completely, as with the Times,  the results are messy. Even the Guardian starts to lose its shape when it moves away from its remit.  The result is a over reliance on formats to add definition and that’s a problem.

Formats kill variety

Instead of ignoring video when it doesn’t fit the remit most publications fall back on episodic , format based content; I know, they say, let’s have a weekly show about ‘x’. But formats create a number of problems.

Keeping a flow of content in to a format is hard enough. Keeping it within the format is even harder.  So we get format creep.  We get football corespondents filling half a video diary from a football tournament with motorized scooters.  Have a look at the definition of Jumping the Shark. Get it? That can happen in a very short space of time on the web.

Feature formats kill long tail
The other problem with formats is that they require a large amount of padding to maintain a conceit – presenters, title sequences, set-ups. All of which trap useful content.  To take advantage of search, tagging and the long tail the content needs to be accessible, stand-alone.  If I want video of an estate agent in Chelsea to illustrate the impact of the credit crunch I don’t want to have to sit through Cool in your code for 10 minutes to get it.

The episodic nature can also kill effective search and chunking as the archiving is driven by something other than the actual content. The push is for the latest episode. That takes some time and effort to manage.

Summing up.
So there you have it, wisdom from the Broadsheets. But what advice would I give them?

Based on those points here are my suggestions with an indicator of who is doing better than others.

  • Big-up their embedded video. (Good: Times, FT Bad: Guardian Telegraph)
  • Make video work harder as a page element.(Good:Guardian Bad: FT, Times, Telegraph)
  • Ensure their video player works as an image (Good: Guardian)
  • Put more context in their stand alone players. (Good(ish):Guardian Bad: FT, Times, Telegraph)
  • Know their audience and look for the niche in that audience. (Good: FT, Guardian. Getting better: Telegraph Bad: Times)
  • Avoid formats like the plague. (Good: FT Goodish:Guardian Bad:Telegraph, Times.)

When I started the round-up it was as much about kicking myself out of a bit of a blogging slump. But it’s clarified a number of things up for me and I hope you found it useful. In that vein I’m going to keep the pressure up on myself (sorry). So…

Starting Monday: The Tabloids.

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17 thoughts on “The Top Ten tips for newsaper video from the UK broadsheets”

  1. Hey Andy –

    I way out in the USA and find the Andy Dickinson net great. It seems like UK and EU are ahead of the USA where video and print coincide.

    I am just completing a book on “The Future of TV on the Internet” after attending all the forums, seminars and Advertising folks discussing the future. It seems to have already take off in a big way at your end of the world.

    As a digital/HD filmmaker I am always using my camera during sessions of interviews and discussions and have a great many stories to offer the public …

    Thanks for your The Top Ten tips for newsaper video from the UK broadsheets – it was great reading …

    Viva Castellarin, New York City

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