Building a sustainable video business

1.     Make video commercially sustainable

Obviously this is rule number one. You just can’t continue to make ongoing video output if you’ve blown all your money on an endorsement from The Rock in the first outing. So an econometric approach to video planning is required. Remember the size of the screen you’re shooting for: is it mobile? Is it laptop? Is it the IMAX screen? If it’s not the latter you can probably get away with spending around $100,000,000 less on production values, as a polished product will look out of place on a social timeline anyway.

Resist the temptation to ‘Go Viral’. This is an objective even Beyonce can’t ensure and an attempt to do so requires a gamble. You’re putting all your eggs into one basket and hoping something sticks. It’s an old skool approach to gaining mass attention akin to using a press release to launch a new product but with much higher monetary stakes. Instead, focus on a fixed budget and a known distribution audience and build up brand affinity through the publication of multiple videos over time.   

2.     Make content sustainable

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This is the part that often gets overlooked. In a culture moving towards the 24hr shelf-life of a Snapchat story and away from the 1,000yr lifespan of an oak tree publishers would do well to remember that a single clip is not capable of building a retained audience, but a sustainable strategy is. Again, even if a video does ‘Go Viral’, what hook does it have to keep people coming back for more? Or is it something that will be thrown away once consumed and forgotten after a few weeks? Recognise the disposable nature of modern content, and don’t spend too long refining a single clip. Allow yourself to reach a more realistic Quality vs. Quantity equilibrium, and remember that the true quality of a video is determined by the content itself, not the banners and graphics that you place around it.

3.     Make the story sustainable 

As a follow on from this sustainable storytelling is also key, because you need to create a product that keeps consumers coming back a week, a month, a year from now. The same cat falling off the same bench will not achieve this, but the development of story ideas and content themes will. Hold onto fixed variables that can run through all of your videos as a central theme, while you develop the specific content of individual videos around them. Is it an engaging presenter? Is it using social media to analyse public opinion about weekly stories? Is it a series of science experiments designed to promote the virtues of STEM subjects? Weave a strong central theme – or brand if you will – through variable video content, and you’ll create the dual alchemy of brand affinity and new concepts that keeps people coming back for more.   

4.     Make the process sustainable


And finally, process is important too. Whatever volume of output you’re working at, it’s important to have a fixed editorial calendar for video publication. And it goes without saying that this must be realistic. When Leonardo DiCaprio shoots the production team might spend 6 months out on set, followed by 6 months in the editing suite to finish off the film. You don’t have this luxury. Create a concept and a logistical plan that is easily and regularly executable against. For example are you shooting on a Friday? Are you editing over the weekend? Reviewing Monday? Publishing Tuesday? Going into the studio to produce the next film… The technology is out there to produce short, sharp, visual content that people want to consume online, and in a pragmatic way, it’s being prepared to embrace that technology and those techniques and often leave the television legacy behind. 

That’s a wrap

In today’s online ecosystem sustainability has almost become a dirty word. ‘Build to sell’ has long-since been the celebrated mantra of many a Silicon Valley start-up. And as the shift towards Snapchat mentioned above takes full effect it’s notable that we see people in the press taking on Google for their ‘right to be forgotten’. In this age of increasingly disposable content stuff still needs to get made, but the task must be approached indicatively of the media environment around it. Like print, a video content strategy can be sustainable too (and in a much more environmentally sustainable way to boot), but first publishers need to resist the temptation to make a five minute version of The Revenant that will ultimately be getting used as tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper.

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