How the UK Tabloids use video: The Sun

Last week I looked at how the UK broadsheets where using video. It was partly an effort to see whether there were any broad guidelines that I could take away and also as a shock tactic to get me back in to more regular blogging.

Keeping the theme (and the shock tactic) going I’m looking at the UK tabloids. Starting with The Sun.

The Sun's video player
The Sun's video player

The Platform.
The Sun flags its video as the first menu item on its front page. Actually, the design of the navigation squashes it up at the top.  And the homepage has a very visible player on right-hand-side. When you click the link you are taken to a dedicated page with the ubiquitous jukebox style player.

In common with The Times, another Murdoch title, the video on the Sun is served via the Kit (Roo) player. Each section is also extended below the player in the Sun’s chunky design. (the Thumbnail images are too small) and the shear size of the design causes problems. To see the ‘pick of the video’ you need to scroll down a fair way so the player is not in view.  Clicking one of these links opens it in the player but the page doesn’t scroll back. It’s a bit of click and then scroll as fast as you can to get back and watch the video.

The player does offer a brief description of what’s playing, but not enough of one. There is no link through to an article. If your watching the video channel then you not going to be reading anything!

Video embedding in article pages is common and stories with video are highlighted with an icon. The player is usually embedded after the first couple of paragraphs and suffers from too much overlay information on too small a player. Although the Sun doesn’t rely on the video thumbnail as an image I still think this is an opportunity missed.

The embedded player suffers from too much overlay information
The embedded player suffers from too much overlay information

One feature that is worth a mention is The Vault. This is The Sun’s ‘interactive’ timeline of archive multimedia content. You can scroll through the years and see the “sensational” audio and video that “stunned” readers.  The content aside, this is a nice feature. But the links open a new window and some need checking as they don’t always work. The lack of proper captions and context is also a problem here.

The Vault - The Sun's visual archive.
The Vault - The Sun's visual archive.

The presentation

The video content, like the website, is a real mix. The news content is almost all Sky news content with world news covered through the Reuters feed.  But there is also a sizable amount of Sun ‘exclusive’ video. The Sun exclusive section of the video player gives a good flavour of this. There is CCTV, re-distributed third part video, like the Red Bull air race and the Tomb Raider Trailer and stuff that wouldn’t be out of place on youtube. in fact your tube stuff features heavily here.

But there is also large and some self produced packaged stuff mixed in.

The packaged stuff varies from straight talking head interviews to more structured stuff. The UK’s fattest teen piece is essentially a face-to-face video interview with some b-roll over the top is a pretty standard example of the Sun approach where the interviewer has a presence. Sometimes this is more obvious that others. The Alex Zanardi piece was interesting but the intro was too long and really missed the opportunity to add context that an embedded video can offer. Perhaps this is there attempt to encourage you that ‘your sun’ is really there. It often makes you wish they weren’t.

It isn’t all sport and voyeur TV though. Exclusive video from North Korea has the Sun bravely does a piece to camera without a tripod  and a sizable amount of undercover Sun stuff like getting past airport security.

Never let the contributer hold the mic!
Never let the contributor hold the mic!

Production values are good when the subject matter allows although the audio is obviously something that they struggle with. The Uk’s biggest teen interview sound was very poor considering it was a set up. Compare that to the sound on Martin Phillips interview with Diver Tom Daley, which is shot in a swimming pool, a difficult shoot, which is okay. It’s a bit of a lottery.  In fact the sports section offers a lot of the exclusive interview stuff and highlights a lot of the areas where production could be tightened up. The interview with Basketball player Luol Deng shows why you should never let the contributor hold the mic – buy a clip-on mic you tightwads. Credit where credit is due though, it is a nice example of how overlapping audio can help sell a reverse.

Visual quality is universally poor although I’m more inclined to blame the player compression than the production itself. Although some poor white balance and over-exposure on the shots doesn’t help.

Away from the news – the dynamic daily content- you also get a large amount of themed stuff. The most obvious of this is, at the moment, Big Brother coverage. But the recognisable Sun stalwarts are there. Page three has its own Page Three TV and Deidre’s video Case Book is a comic book style video retelling of the papers Agony Aunt section. It’s like watching a cut-price Hollyoaks (if such a thing were possible) but you can see where they are aiming this stuff.

Overall

It’s great to see that hidden in the mix is a lot of self produced stuff. When they do make the content it’s lacking in a coherent approach to presentation. A lot of the exclusive video seems to be grabbed at the same time a ‘celeb’ comes to visit the newsroom – a lot of b-roll was of people being photographed at the Sun. They could do worse than set up a corner of the newsroom with some static cams be ready to roll. At the moment they seem to be on a grab a camera and grab what you can approach. This just highlights the mixed style.  Out of the office they need to go straight for interview content backed with good b-roll. Drop the reporter in vis. But if they are going to keep them in they need to be pacey, close-ups (the size of their video player will kill anything else) that show the Sun talking to me not at me.

If the broadsheets approach to video represented a high quality department store, nicely divided products in a posh building, the Sun is an outdoor market. The ‘in-your-face’ design is matched by a baudy range of babes, you-tube, voyeurism and saucy knock-offs.  If you are a Sun reader then this mix of content is exactly the kind of stuff that will appeal.

The site is a poster child for the idea of being a filter for your reader rather than the sole provider of content.

Tomorrow The Daily Star.

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