Introduction to web video

This is a long handout, so here’s a quick list of the topics:

  • What makes people watch web video?
  • Very simple videos can be very effective
  • How to make a basic video interview look more dynamic
  • A look at higher production values
  • Rough-and-ready live reporting
  • Live video streaming
  • Video formats
  • Video hosting
  • How to upload video to YouTube

What makes people watch web video?
Web video tends to divide up along the lines of the serious news stuff you see on the BBC, and the fun stuff you actually watch and send the links to your friends.
This video from the BBC, for example, is a very worthy and informative news report about the recent Tamil demonstration about Sri Lanka in London.
But unless you have a special interest in the subject, you probably won’t be sharing this with your friends.
What you might share are videos like this:
This is a Lego animation of an Eddie Izzard routine. Eddie’s own version is here:
If you click through to the YouTube page, you’ll notice that the Lego version has something like four million more viewers than Eddie Izzard – despite the fact that it’s his own material. The reason? It’s just funnier – whoever animated this has a talent for adding value to video.
It’s important to remember this. Boring video on the web is as boring as it is anywhere else. Even when you’re making a quick video for the web using a small DV video camera or digital camera, try to think about making it interesting. 
Very simple videos can be very effective
YouTube was quite important during last year’s US presidential election.
This simple video ad for Republican candidate John McCain was rated the top political ad of the campaign by the BBC.
It’s a political advertisement – not journalism as such. But it prompted some responses which are more like individual political comment. This one also has the political ad format – but it’s clearly been made by an individual. Each one is very simple in format – but is effective and pulls in an audience.
How to make a basic video interview look more dynamic
This is a really nice example of a low-tech video by Morgan Spurlock, who made the anti-junk food/McDonald’s documentary Supersize Me. Here, he’s made a related web video about the way burgers break down and decay to show how much preservative McDonald’s uses. 
It’s all the same kitchen setting, and the camera work is kind of jerky – but it really makes good use of the gross-out factor of the decay and is tied together with Morgan’s overdrive narration. You could easily make something like this using basic equipment and post it online. Choose something topical or controversial and it could reach quite a big audience. The keys to success would be your topic and your script.
This video from Broadcast magazine on the BroadcastNow web site (which you should all get familiar with, as it is the trade magazine for the TV broadcast industry), is a simple interview with Andy Duncan, chief executive of Channel 4. 
Broadcast sends its reporters out with a camcorder to record video interviews at the same time as they do an interview for the print edition. For this interview, there was a stills photographer to take the image for the print edition and a reporter to do the interview.
There might a third person doing the video shoot – I wasn’t there so I don’t know for sure. But equally, Robin Parker could have done all his video work himself – I know that Broadcast journalists do this, and the shots of him are static enough that he could have set the camera up on his tripod and just operated it remotely.
You’ll see that the interview has been put together in a certain way. There’s a short introduction by the journalist, who is seen on video, which also runs over some establishing shots of the Channel 4 headquarters. This functions a bit like the standfirst in a print interview. There are also a couple of shots of the photographer taking the still images of Andy Duncan – a sort of behind-the-scenes glimpse that links the two media versions together.
The bulk of the interview is Andy Duncan speaking straight to camera – but note the slightly random insert of his hands waving around at around 2:15 and a weird close-up of the top of his head at 4:55. The shots of Robin Parker asking the questions were filmed afterwards and inserted just as a normal TV clip would be done. The whole thing is bookended by the BroadcastNow ident.
It’s a nice job, and I chose it because Broadcast‘s web video is done in quite a low-tech way.
Higher production values
This short magazine-style film about council recycling looks like it had slightly higher production values – but you could still make something like it with quite simple equipment. It’s quite simple in structure – an interview with someone from the council which then becomes a voiceover as we see all the different stages the rubbish is put through. One key difference is that you have a lot more location filming. 
Rough-and-ready live reporting
But you can just set up a video camera to do a rough shoot at a live event – such as this journalism conference. The report is from Paul Bradshaw’s Online Journalism Blog – which is well worth reading and has loads of information on it. 
[vodpod id=Groupvideo.2082116&w=425&h=350&]
We may not be so bothered about how this looks, but we do need to be interested in the content. This video, while not exactly a YouTube smash, is full of useful information about journalism training.
Live video streaming
You can even broadcast live over the internet now (webcast). One site that allows you to do this is Just sign in to the site, hook up a webcam or DV video to your USB port and start broadcasting. 
This is an archive clip from a live webcast from a WordPress conference in the US. 
[vodpod id=Groupvideo.2399878&w=425&h=350&fv=autoplay%3Dfalse]
Another is This allows you to broadcast live over the web from certain brands of video-capable mobile phone.
Sites such as these allow you to create live video podcasts to run on your own site or blog. Beware though – the quality can be a bit ropey.
This is a pilot webcast from allotment blogger Soilman. He tried initially to do it through, but had technical problems. So he ended up doing it on his mobile phone via
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Remember  – just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should…
As with audio, formats can be a bit of a minefield. Some quick notes here:

  • AVI – Pretty standard for Windows software; very compressed but acceptable for TV. 
  • MP4 – Mac standard – compressed for web delivery, especially used by iTunes/iMovie. As I discovered on Monday, YouTube seems to have a problem with it at the moment.
  • .MOV – Quicktime native Apple Macintosh format with variable compression. iMovie will export to MP4 or Mov files. 
  • WMV – Another Windows standard – you won’t tend to save to this unless you’re using something like Windows Movie Maker. Can be converted to AVI, which is probably more useful.
  • SWF/FLV – Flash video formats, heavily compressed. This is what you’ll tend to see now on the web. YouTube and Vimeo use this, as well as the BBC. You won’t work in this, but YouTube and Vimeo convert your files to FLV.
  • MPEG-2 – DVD format and Blu-Ray (you won’t use this).
  • MPEG-1 – early compressed format for web download. You’ll mainly use MP4 now.


As with audio, you can upload your video files to your own web server if you have one, and then place it into your web page. Or you can upload it to a third-party hosting site, and then just get something call the embed code to put on your blog or site. This code will then tell a web browser to look for the video  file wherever it is kept, and also tells it what size to be on screen.

The obvious host is YouTube – but I prefer Vimeo, as it doesn’t have obvious branding when it is playing. Look again at the BroadcastNow video and you’ll it is hosted on YouTube – even big publishers see the advantage.

How to upload to YouTube

If you haven’t done it before, here’s a video guide on how to upload video to YouTube.


Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.