Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

What’s the video buzz about?

originally published in Microsoft Home Magazine

Remember The Blair Witch Project? To make the 1999 low-budget hit horror movie, three amateur actors ran scared through “haunted” woods. The actors also did their own filming and editing — all with their personal video equipment.

Add today’s inexpensive moviemaking equipment and widespread broadband access to the grassroots success of Blair Witch, and you may have the seeds of today’s web video wave, explains Derrick de Kerckhove, director of the University of Toronto’s McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology. Today anybody can make and upload a movie — de Kerckhove has even done it himself.
Not only that, he says, it was predicted years ago that the webcam would become a sort of electronic pen, allowing users to express themselves in a world just waiting to watch.

A built-in audience

Indeed, while homemade videos might be relatively new, the audience has always been there, says Ryerson University’s Jennifer Brayton. “Our society is very visually oriented,” explains the assistant professor of sociology.

“We grow up in a world where we are constantly being watched and [are constantly] watching other people.” Spectatorship and the idea of looking into somebody else’s world provide us with an appealing real-world commentary — something especially suited to our right now, real-time lifestyle.

Brayton compares web videos to home movies. Anybody can become a director and post content online, and people do it quickly.

Ease of use

Thom Rockliff, president and creative director of the St. John Group Inc., a digital communications agency, says kids are the biggest group of web video enthusiasts. “Young people use technology fluidly. It’s just part of their lifestyle,” he says.

Most cell phones have video cameras built in, so if you happen to see something funny while walking down the street, you can capture and post it within minutes. “So many people are capturing on the fly,” Rockliff says. In the past, people would phone news desks with breaking events they had witnessed; now people send video. In fact, Rockliff knows some news editors who depend on getting footage from people with cell phones.

Viral velocity

Not only is it easy to shoot and share video as you see it. Personal videos — whether specially created or accidentally captured — can be catapulted into the mainstream and can build community, he says.

Take the three Canadian protesters arrested in China for dropping a 42-square-metre banner reading “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008” in English and Chinese from the Great Wall. The incident — and the cause — drew international attention after videos of the protest were posted on YouTube.

“Activists can use online video for a variety of activities and causes,” Brayton says. Geographical location is not an issue, and political opinions and commentary, which might be blocked by traditional media outlets, can be easily posted online.

Rick Turner provides another example. The Toronto resident figured something worthwhile, or at least amusing, would occur on a trip to the Toronto Festival of Beer, so he kept his digital camera on hand. After he got home, Turner put together a montage of the funniest moments and posted the short video, complete with music and scene changes, online. All his friends received a link to the video, which sparked lots of discussion, online buzz and laughter. The following weekend, Turner decided to take the camera to the zoo. His three-minute montage has already been posted online.

Video and social networking

Web video is also riding the social networking wave — and vice versa. “You’re not just posting a video for your own entertainment; you’re also seeking feedback and comments,” Brayton says.

While video enthusiasts find an outlet on sites that let people share text, pictures and video — such as MSN Soapbox and Windows Live Spaces — these sites also inspire participants to create videos. Both phenomena are changing the way people share information — much like e-mail and digital cameras have done, she explains.

Instead of simply communicating in text, we’re sending links to online video, or, like Turner, a link to a video that he himself created.

Personal expression though video — a growing trend

The online video trend is strong and growing. According to a recent Pew Internet and American Life Project survey, 57 per cent of online adults have used the web to download video, and 19 per cent do so regularly. Almost 60 per cent of survey respondents indicated they share links to videos with others, and 75 per cent said they receive them.

Advertisers are beginning to get a sense of the viral nature of online video. The Microsoft advertisement for popular adventure game, Gears of War, struck a chord with many television viewers who created “mash-ups” of the video, putting it to their own music. These mash-ups, or alternative versions of the ad, made their way onto the web and received more eyeballs than the original could ever have hoped for.

Hollywood, which supplements box office revenues with video and DVD sales, is adapting to youth technology preferences by looking at the Internet as a movie distribution channel. Some popular services such as Xbox Live already sell television shows, which can be watched on computers and portable devices.

Meanwhile, the reach of web video continues to grow. If it weren’t for online video and the speed at which one can post, the protesters’ plight in China, and their cause, may never have made it onto the front page and into the forefront of minds the world over.

This article originally published here.