March 7, 2009

Creating compelling online video

JD LasicaEarlier this week, in the teeth of a wicked storm, I trekked to a studio loft in San Francisco for the first taping of 5 Across, a new video program undertaken by Mark Glaser of PBS’s MediaShift blog.

The gathering was interesting on several levels. First, because it was instructive to see how Mark would structure a new Internet video “show.” (It turned out, with a professional camera and sound crew, Lowell Rifa ex light to illuminate the subjects, quality editing and hosting on Second, because the discussion did raise some points of disagreement. The five guests were myself, Veronica Belmont of Revision3, YouTube comedy content manager Mark Day, Eric Elia of Brightcove and Irina Slutsky of Geek Entertainment TV.

Some of the themes I returned to were:

Be authentic. Let people hear, see and sample the genuine stories you want to tell. Draw from your own life and your community.

Just do it. If you’re thinking of diving into online video, just do it and don’t get hung up on the technology. Too many people are paralyzed by worry about how their production will look instead of focusing on just telling a story.

Forget shows. Don’t get hung up on producing a “show” with “episodes.” Start out by posting a few video snippets you like. If you can edit them in iMovie and add titles, all the better. And if it eventually develops into a show, that’s great.

Forget viral. Don’t get hung up on distribution or audience size, at least not at the beginning. You’re not going to become an overnight sensation on YouTube. In fact, forget YouTube. Host your video wherever you’d like — YouTube, Vimeo,,,, Viddler, Facebook, Flickr (and TubeMogul will let you blast out to a dozen or more sites all at once) — but don’t worry if your first videos only get a couple of dozen views. That’s par for the course. Only a very tiny percentage of producers make income from their videos, at least today. Mark Day offered a counterargument that most of us do care about the size of our audience. True, but a smaller and targeted group of viewers is more valuable than an undifferentiated mass viewership in many cases.

Don’t walk away. If you published a video you think is worth other people’s attention, make sure you don’t just upload it and forget about it. Provide context by describing its contents in words. Embed it on your blog. Engage people in the community about it. Be active by posting comments or adding other people’s videos as “likes” or “favorites.” The reciprocity of blogging applies in the video world, too.

Some of these tips don’t apply to higher-end productions like 5 Across. But most of us don’t have PBS’s production budget.

In the case of 5 Across, the time from taping to publishing was four days, not bad for a 75-minute taping that was pared down to more bite-size nuggets. Mark says he plans to host the show once a month focusing on a broad topic like citizen journalism and the future of newspapers.

JD Lasica, founder of, is now co-founder of the cruise discovery engine Cruiseable. See his About page, contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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4 thoughts on “Creating compelling online video

  1. JD –
    Nice post. I agree with your 'just do it' theme. I would add to the point by simply saying 1) try it, 2) measure it, 3) interate the specifics, 4) re-deploy. There is nothing in this world better than getting out and jsut doing it.

    Scott; Co-Founder of Veeple

  2. Absolutely. I think in years to come, youtube will just be a repository of badly shot clips of people's pets. the real producers are the pioneers of where online video will wind up!