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Feeding the Beast, Part 2: Production Workflow

The next key element of feeding the beast and maintaining high-volume video output is workflow; the choices that you make for your workflow are important for everything that you do, from studio space to production, post, syndication, and archiving.

Longform and Live Content

There are lots of different schools of thought when it comes to the preferred (or maximum) duration for online video. We’ve experimented with durations of 30 seconds, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, all the way up to hour-long sessions. We track our completion rates, and the interesting thing is, our average completion rate hovers around 50 percent, no matter what the length is.

To a large extent, that’s a testament to our audience and how well we know what they want to see.

Overall, I like longform content and live content because they offer several advantages. The first is that it’s more efficient for the experts, the folks that you’re interviewing. Let’s use the presentation that this article is based on as an example. If I’m doing a five-minute presentation, I still have to come to the venue and the room; I still have to plug in my laptop; I still have to prepare something. If I’m going to travel to the venue and do an hour-long presentation, we’re going to get a lot more content out of it. Given the volume of video I need to deliver to my audience, I like acquiring longform content because as soon as I get somebody in the studio, I want to keep them there as long as possible and get as much out of them as I can before they have to go back and work on something else. Plus I’ve got my cameras and lights already set up; I might as well keep them running until I’ve got all the content I can pull from a given session.

Let’s say you’ve recorded an hour-long panel discussion. You can then publish that in its entirety, or you can create kind of bite-sized segments from that. You might publish an hour-long segment but that’s the entire session, but then you also might edit 15 or 20 videos to deliver on-demand.

One of the big annual events that we do in March is our individual investor conference, which is an online live streaming-only conference. We experimented with a live audience, but it just didn’t make sense, considering our audience is primarily online, and March is not necessarily a time when people want to travel to Chicago.

We presented about 7 1/2 hours of content on a Saturday during March Madness. For the 5,000 viewers who watched it live, the average viewing length was over 4 hours and all the replays from the sessions totaled well over 100,000 views. This was a great experience not only for our team but for our viewers. They loved the experience and loved hearing directly from a well-curated list of experts that we brought in, so there was lots of interactivity to the session. There was a live chat going on; you could ask questions. And the event was sponsored, which is always important.

But I thought the most interesting thing was the average viewing length and the fact that in the live chat at the end of it, we got tons of thank-yous--not only to Morningstar and to our speakers but to our sponsor, whom we’d never mentioned by name; they just happened to have a little content module and a little banner on the screen.

Figure 8 (below) shows what our studio looked like during that event. Our space is usually just half this size; for the conference we moved out a dividing wall that usually partitions off the other half of the room, allowing us to take over the whole thing. We brought in a jib; I had a couple of freelancers help out, but we still did it with a relatively small, four-person production team.

Figure 8. A panel discussion in-progress during our in-studio conference. Click the image to see it at full size.

Figure 9 (below) shows how our control room was set up during the conference.

Figure 9. Our in-studio conference control room. Click the image to see it at full size.

Keeping to the Feeding Schedule

So, to recap, to feed the beast, we rely on experts. They’re already generating content, and they already know everything about their vertical, so it’s just a matter of extracting what they have to tell us as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

Conferences and events are great sources of content like we discussed, and designing a workflow that you can easily adapt to these events is essential to making the most of the content you can generate there. One of the reasons why we’ve developed an on-location workflow that’s so similar to our in-studio workflow is that it means we never have to worry about things like what format we shot in and what’s that going to do to our graphics or our export profiles when we bring in the footage. All of that takes time, and if you spend half a day figuring out how to ingest the footage that was shot in the field, you’re half a day behind, and there’s going to be more content to produce tomorrow.

To keep everything consistent, come up with a workflow and stick to it. That maxim applies to every stage of production, all the way down to archiving, because if you shot something in one particular format and it got archived a little bit differently, when you go back to it two years later, you’ll find yourself wondering, “Why was this file interlaced and the other one wasn’t and nothing else is?”

Listening to feedback from your audience is important as well. All of our videos have a comment field. We’re constantly asking for feedback and taking it, then seeing how it measures into our entire audience. If one person complains about something, but you’re doing 500,000 views a month, take it for what it is. But it’s still important, whenever possible, to get a consensus of what’s working and what’s not working.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that live events and long-form content really do have a place online. It’s all about knowing your audience, their viewing habits, and the kind of content that appeals to them. If your audience is only on You Tube, then you might want to keep it shorter, but if your audience is coming to you because they want information, the important thing is to give it to them. If it’s an hour long, if it’s seven-and-a-half hours on a Saturday during March Madness, feed it to them; if it’s what they want, and what they come to your site to get, they’ll consume it.


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