May 25, 2006
Copyright © 2006 PRSA. All rights reserved.
The following article will also appear in the June issue of PR Tactics.
By Larry Thomas
Once the exclusive domain of television, video has become as pervasive and mobile as was only imagined in the fictional worlds of cartoon detective Dick Tracy, with his two-way TV wristwatch, and “Star Trek,” whose Starship Enterprise crew was equipped with videophones and handheld flip-top communicator devices upon disembarkation.
Real-life technological advancements have made it possible for video news and information to traverse across a multitude of media-playing screens, including those on computer desktops, laptops, portable digital media players and PDAs, as well as screens mounted in out-of-home venues such as elevators, hotels and airports. Not ready for the media-saturated environment evoked by the futuristic film “Blade Runner,” consumers have adapted their use of technology by becoming more selective, carefully deciding when and from which source they want to stay informed.
Yet TV is still the major news source for most Americans. According to the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of those surveyed opted for local TV as their favorite way of staying informed. Add the millions of worldwide TV viewers, and the audience figure grows exponentially.
One thing is clear: People are watching. The challenge for PR professionals is in reaching this new global, fragmented, multiscreen audience with meaningful messages. The audience is no longer in one place, and each place has a separate protocol. While challenging, there is an opportunity to produce and distribute targeted messages that resonate across all the platforms.
Video continues to deliver news and information with unmatched impact and speed via television, which dominates in its enduring ability to attract audiences. Video that is relevant, timely and instructive will capture the attention of both newsrooms and consumers.
Take, for example, a video news release (VNR) made available to TV stations following the devastating 2005 hurricane season. News reports revealed that water-damaged cars were being resold by unscrupulous vehicle dealers and wholesalers. The video, produced for an insurance company, identified the problem and provided tips for consumers on what to look for in used cars, the signs of a flooded car and how to conduct a proper title search. The video received national attention, aired by stations that wanted to warn audiences about a consumer safety issue stemming from one of the biggest news events of the year.
Sometimes video can tell a story through pictures, without narration, and is distributed as raw footage — typically known as b-roll. Although extra footage should accompany all scripted video packages that are often provided as references for how the content may be used by a local station in a report, sometimes b-roll can stand on its own. Vivid images and the natural sound of a celebrity-driven movie promotion or the wind tunnel testing of a new car can often stand alone and may show video that would otherwise be difficult to obtain.
When Royal Philips Electronics announced an upgrade of the iconic Times Square New Year’s Eve Ball from traditional lighting to advanced, environmentally responsible light emitting diodes (LEDs), b-roll was produced and distributed to newsrooms as part of the promotion. The images showed historical shots of Times Square and the celebrated symbol, combined with footage of the 2006 equipment being prepared. Television audiences across the United States as well as in Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Greece, India and Israel saw the video.
And those TV screens have company. When the Pew study participants were asked where they received their news the previous day, results showed that almost one in four turned to the Internet. Overall, 70 percent of Americans who have gone online reported that they have used the Internet for news.
The Internet has become the great equalizer for video, providing greater access to a growing legion of sophisticated consumers with preferences for content on demand and on the move. An indication of the times is that this year the National Academy of Television, Arts and Sciences created an Emmy category for “outstanding original programming for computers, cell phones and other hand-held devices.”
Of particular note is the “need for speed” among broadband home users, increasing from 20 million in March 2002 to 74 million in December 2005. Broadband users watch more video and go online more frequently for news. In a study of more than 1,200 Internet users, the Online Publishers Association reported that 74 percent watched video online, with news clips being the most commonly watched type of video. Incorporating both broadcast and broadband media is essential in formulating strategies to reach consumers.
VNRs are ideal for broadband because they are already shot with compelling images in a brief, narrative format. The video offers relevant and engaging content — a good format for Internet use. Additionally, while a VNR on a news segment will usually be aired once, new multimedia platforms provide organizations with the opportunity to assert more control over where and when the video appears.
With the power of broadband, that same video educating the public about the perils of flooded cars can easily be distributed to online journalists and appear on news sites of local television, cable and national and local newspapers. Because of the insurance focus of the news, financial Web sites would also be likely to feature images.
Peer-to-peer communications through portable media players represent one of the fastest growing categories for video consumption. Video podcasts and RSS feeds can fill strong consumer demand for video on demand and on the go.
Search engine and portal marketing drives qualified viewers to your video. Web users that employ search engines are actively researching a topic, an initial step in the audience engagement process. Outreach can include specific content integration deals and press releases that are delivered to hundreds of leading sites that reach millions of consumers, investors, employees and other special interest groups.
PR video and corresponding screenshots should be used as dynamic content that will liven up your organization’s Web site while supporting marketing initiatives and general awareness programs.
Whether the video appears within a television news segment, on an informational Web site or on a mobile media-playing device, the story must connect emotionally and provide memorable and compelling images and content. The myriad niche markets populating today’s media landscape means that a convergent and holistic approach is needed to clearly present a message and penetrate multiple media platforms.
As broadband speeds become faster, consumer demand for video news and information certainly will grow. The exciting opportunity for PR professionals is how to effectively harness video for its unique properties: its ability to connect with and engage audiences, wherever they’re watching and whatever the screen.
Larry Thomas is the COO of Medialink. He has more than a decade of experience in media services management, revenue generation and product development.
Can I use the VNR in its entirety for online purposes; does it need editing?
VNRs can be used in their entirety as they already have voice-overs and are packaged ready for a news segment. Depending on the particular platform and use, however, a VNR can be edited down or enhanced.
How does the video get online?
To get your video online, your best bet is to team up with a company that already has a working relationship with several online distribution sites. These companies have the tools and means to distribute large video files that may take an hour for an individual to post or download. These companies also distribute to thousands of Web sites, not just one or two, which would be too time-consuming and practically impossible for a smaller shop. Multimedia services provide organizations with distribution to journalists and place video on such sites as Google, Yahoo! and iTunes.
How do I make sure my video is in compliance with VNR disclosure rules?
It’s easy to adhere to broadcast industry guidelines in providing proper disclosure of the source of the video. Always include editorial contact information such as name, organization, telephone number, e-mail address or Web site in textual material such as advisories or scripts and on the identifying slates preceding the video. — L.T.
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