How the Broadsheets use video : The Indepenedent

Over the last week I’ve been blogging about how the UK broadsheet newspapers use video. One broadsheet was (not so) conspicuous by its absence – The Independent. I promised I would explain why. So here, a little later than promised, is why I didn’t include the Indy. ( a day late, sorry)

The last time I did a round-up of newspaper video I had nothing to say as there was literally nothing to see. But if I gave the impression that was still the case then, dear reader, I have mislead you.

The Independent announced in January that video would play a bigger part of their site as part of their Sound&Vision section and I’ve been keeping a eye on the developments. The result? Well, progress has been slow to say the least but there are  signs of growth.

The Indy sound&vision section
The Indy sound&vision section

There is no jukebox or player set up on the Indy’s web site. Instead they use an embedded flash player to serve their video with the content with related video is grouped in a kind of drop down play list style. The main sections of the site will often have their own ‘sub’ pages for video but the navigation to these pages varies depending where you are. Go to Arts&Entertainment and you have to click on Multimedia to get the video. Go to Travel and its Sound&Vision, the papers umbrella brand for multimedia.  I think this needs to be more consistent. Perhaps using Multimedia as the link in the sections and keeping Sound&Vision as defined gathering point.

The fairly limited implementation means that is none of the fancy embedding of the player in articles you see in other papers. In fact there is little or no attempt to tie any of the video content back to the main site. Where there is some video in an article it’s done with embedded quicktime.

The Sound&Vision brand has its base in the  extras section, where the emphasis is on showcasing content from the papers new ‘documentary’ partner Joiningthedots.tv. joiningthedots is an online venture from Mercury Media international, an uber-production and distribution company, and it shows. The style and production values really show their background. Not that it’s bad, some of it is jolly good. The subject matter is often the kind of stuff that wouldn’t hit the mainstream.

Joiningthedots.TV - the indy does guardian films?
Joiningthedots.TV - the indy does guardian films?

The environment section is also populated with content from a third party – GreenTV, though the branding is more obvious. There are also the odd one or two videos that are branded as ‘in association’ videos which are essentially third-party. The Saab sponsored video is a good example of this.  But the content isn’t all produced out-house even if it does follow the focus on feature style content – don’t expect to find any breaking news stuff on the Indy.

It was encouraging that the majority of video I watched was branded as Independent video.  This seems to produced by a small in-house set-up with Indy Writer Cathy Packe in the producers chair. Packe and a small team seem to producing an awful lot of content. Man, she must be busy!

How to de-bone a goose in varying lighting conditions
How to de-bone a goose in varying lighting conditions

There are travel shows with the Indy’s very own travel personality Simon Calder. There is a cooking spot which features the hands and disembodied voice of Mark Hix. Watch the video on how to de-bone a goose (haven’t we all struggled with that some time) and you will also learn why you should avoid shooting in front of a window.

The production values are high which makes some of the more basic stuff stand out. The piece by Richard Prince from the Serpentine gallery starts well, the camera move from the blank wall after the title was nice, but then is a 30-40 second ramble round the gallery before we get a stilted interview. Get the story started fast.

Too much like TV

I know I get narky when people use the phrase, but the problem I have with the Indy is it’s too much like TV. But let me explain why.

The decision to stay away from breaking news and focus on feature based stuff certainly fits with the Indy brand. But maybe Packe’s TV roots show too much to truly add a unique stamp to the content. There was very little I saw on the site that was less than 10 minutes long and they all had little title sequences and end, credits. One Simon Calder film even had a bloopers reel. Nice touch, but no thanks. And  one video that featured interviews with Music Producer John Ronsen and Calder . It was a video ringer – two programmes stitched together with an ad to hide the gap. But just like TV it had an ad break. An ad break!

Whilst the Telegraph TV felt like a TV channel the Indy video felt like a showreel for a production company.  At times I often felt like the video I was watching was like a promo for a series they wanted to get commissioned. So it all fell in to ‘we have this idea for a series’ video. We had a strand called Poise – no I’m none the wiser either – and Work, Rest and play. I can see the supporting pitch to a commissioning editor even as I type.

Maybe these would feel less obvious if the presentation on the site supported the brands but it doesn’t. The lack of integration means that any effort to brand the video was lost and just cemented that impression of being pitched at.

The same lack of integration could be said to hamper the effort to pull documentary in the fold with its Jointhedots.tv collaboration.  The execution feels a little bit like the digital equivalent of taping a DVD to the front of your paper and I’m not sure if the Independent thinks it’s buying in to a bit of a Guardian Films vibe or looking at online video sales – a kind of Blockbusters for the liberati.  To be fair they obviously want to support Documentary – funding a doco festival sees to that. But this feels like an add-on

Summary

I left the Independent out of my recent round up because it’s something that’s growing. It has growing pains but it’s also got a lot of ground to catch up on. There is no comparison to the position the other players are in. Even with the worst mistakes of the other broadsheets at least they are all at around the same mark with implementation – embedded video, search etc.  The Indy is dabbling.

I was never a fan of former editor Simon Kelner’s wait and see approach and, when it comes to video, the Indy might have waited too long. This really is a standing start. That might sound pretty fatal and my critique picky, so saying that there is a lot of potential here might sound hollow, but there is. It just needs to get its act together.

The Indy has always wanted to do things differently, as their use of the print front page shows. Perhaps they could really break out of the mould with video in the same way. They may be late to the game but the raw material is good and it could work if someone pulled their finger out and integrate it in to the site more. Make it part of the Indy brand rather than hoping it will define itself from the content.

That way they can drop some of the TV pretense and make the good stuff work for them.

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