Lessons Learned in the Custom Video Industry

Recently Cisco released a study that predicted that by 2013, 90% of all consumer IP (Internet) traffic will be video.  90% two years from now. Wow.

I imagine a good portion of this will come from mass media; news, TV shows, Netflix, etc. I’m also quite sure that a growing number of these videos will be short videos that are made for the specific purpose of promoting and explaining an organization’s products and services. Indeed, I think nearly every organization with a website could benefit from the right custom video.

For about 4 years, since we were hired to make Google Docs in Plain English in 2007, we’ve been making custom videos and been on the front lines of talking to people about making online videos for their products or services.  It’s been an incredible experience to work with companies like LEGO, Visa, Ford and Intel among others. Every day we are contacted by individuals and organizations who often have the same questions and concerns.

Here are some things we’ve learned:

Overall, it seems that the industry is just getting started.  Suddenly the production of a video has become more democratized and as with any young industry, there is a lot of variation and mismatched expectations. Producers and organizations are both working to figure out the best, most productive ways to work together.

Cost: Few people know how much a short animated video should cost. For the first time, organizations can work directly with a single individual, a small team, or a large studio to make an animated video. Many of the budgets we’ve seen are below what most producers require and pricing expectations vary from a few thousand to near six figures for animated videos. 

Experience:  The majority of organizations we’ve worked with had little experience working on video projects.  Many are marketing managers at large companies. founders of smaller companies or agencies who have a lot of valuable experience, but are just getting started with video. Producers often need to act as guides in the production process and manage expectations regarding deadlines, scripts, review processes, etc. 

Promotion:  Customers not only need video production, but advice on sharing and promoting online videos. Often, it’s assumed that video producers are also experts in video promotion in the social media world. Many are, but it’s best for both parties to set expectations about the role of the producers in the process. Not every building contractor is, or should be, a great realtor.

Length: Some rules of thumb are emerging in the market.  Almost everyone we talk to wants a short online video, usually under 3 minutes, which we encourage.  Because our market is interested in explanation and education, 2 - 3 minutes is often a sweet spot, where pure advertisements and brand messages can be shorter.

Intent to Explain:  We’ve seen consistent and heavy demand for videos that are intended to explain something complex.  These organizations are not interested in marketing or brand messaging as much as education and relating big-picture ideas.  This is where I see the market for short videos heading in the future. Almost any product could benefit from a short video designed to explain and educate, and producers who can do it well will see a lot of demand.

Mobile: The majority of people haven't made mobile a big priority, but we expect this to change.

Format: Many customers are considering what format will work best for them.  Of course we’re fans of animation, but format decisions depend on the purpose of the video.  Here’s how we look at format:

Live Action - Actual video footage of people or scenes. Great for well-known people with fans who want to see them in the real world like CEOs or pop-stars. Also useful for using or manipulating physical products or showing artistic or design detail. Talking heads can get boring really fast. Production costs can range from very expensive, with high production values to cheap, in-house productions.

Screencast - Recordings of a computer screen with a voice-over, often describing a process or sequence of events on a computer.  Great for tactical, click-this-open-this, instruction.  Uses the actual software or website. Can get out-of-date quickly as interfaces change. Can be produced in-house or inexpensively. 

Animation - Visual representations of products or services (among many other things).  Great for conceptual learning and explaining big picture ideas.  Endless options and styles (both a strength and a potential weakness).  Good shelf-life.  Costs vary significantly. 

What is now a young industry is surely to mature quickly, especially as demand rises over time.  We’re likely to see more transparency in pricing and more consistent expectations about the process and roles.  It’s an exciting time to be a video producer and I think it’s just getting started.

Thanks to the demand for custom videos, we created a network of talented producers who specialize in animated video explanations called the Common Craft Explainer Network.  If you’re looking for a video, the Network is a good place to browse portfolios. 

As for Common Craft, we’re refocusing our future on making videos and services that help teachers and trainers shine.  If you’re interested in what we’re up to, sign up to be notified when it launches this summer.