Looking At Video On The Web

I will sit online and watch twenty minutes of a Photoshop tutorial or other narrowcast that interests me. I won’t sit for twenty minutes of a compilation of stories – some of which, by definition, appeal to me less than others.

As I wrote yesterday, with a house full of Helaine’s friends visiting, I spent a lot of looking at online video. It quickly became obvious there’s a lot right and a lot wrong as far as video goes.

I’m not talking about content. There will always be good and bad content. This is about structure, access and indexing.

While mulling over what I would write in this entry, I had breakfast and browsed the Sunday Times.

THE NEWS Yahoo said it was backing off from a plan to bring television-style programming like situation comedies and talk shows to the Internet.

BEHIND THE NEWS As advertising grows on the Internet, there is a market for content as well. But the content that seems to be working best is created by individual users and takes the form of short videos, shared photos, blogs and other small-scale efforts. The Hollywood approach, epitomized by Yahoo’s hiring of Lloyd Braun, the former chairman of ABC Entertainment, in 2004, is no longer in favor. There had been speculation that the shift in strategy would result in Mr. Braun’s leaving the company, but he vowed last week that he would stay.

Yahoo!’s&#185 corporate wisdom seems to be right on. Internet video is not watched the same way as mainstream over-the-air video.

As far as I can tell, that point is lost on the news divisions of the major broadcast networks. NBC and ABC both present ‘conventional’ newscasts online. I’m glad they do, as opposed to posting nothing, but they have extremely limited utility.

Internet video done right is sharply focused – one subject. For news, that means offering stories one-by-one.

I will sit online and watch twenty minutes of a Photoshop tutorial or other narrowcast that interests me. I won’t sit for twenty minutes of a compilation of stories – some of which, by definition, appeal to me less than others.

Technology does exist to make a newscast random access, so I can pick and choose what I want to see. I don’t see that technology widely used.

In the pre-remote era there were ‘specials’ and ‘variety shows’ on TV. They’re gone, victims of cost and easy viewer choice. I think the same fate awaits conventional TV newcasts re-purposed for the Internet (or web only newscasts presented in virtually the same format as their on-the-air siblibgs) .

It’s a new age, and content must adapt.

What seems to be in its infancy is a way to find what you’re looking for and a standardization of format. Why must we fight between Windows Media, Real, Quicktime and Flash. Isn’t there already one or two that are actually superior to the others?

That was painfully obvious when I followed a link for a Simpsons video that went to youtube.com. After I watched, and was on the youtube.com site, I couldn’t do much but randomly traipse around.

Yes, there were categories to click, but it was non-intuitive and a hodge podge. I ended up going to pages that I hadn’t intended to visit.

The same goes for Itunes. It looks organized (and Itunes, after all, is an adjunct to the Ipod, with the world’s best designed user interface), but I had trouble finding what I wanted, or even knowing whether what I was clicking was audio or video! And why is it necessary for Itunes to run in its own application and not my browser?

There is not yet a ‘Google’ for video – and that includes Google’s video search though this ad implies they understand there’s a problem). We desperately need one. We’re early in the game. Someone will figure it out before long.

Addendum – As I finished writing this, I came across a link for the Natalie Portman video from last night’s Saturday Night Live. Though NBC will surely end up objecting to and stopping this improper use of their content by youtube.com, isn’t this the way SNL should be presented on the Internet – a piece at a time?

&#185 – Am I writing that correctly? The corporate name ends with an exclamation point. It just doesn’t look right set in type.

NBC Almost Gets It

As I type this, I am watching NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. It’s the Internet version, though I’m not sure what’s different between this and the newscast that aired earlier tonight over-the-air&#185.

As a Firefox browser user, MSNBC sites have given me problems in the past. Everything loaded perfectly tonight – painlessly. Maybe MSNBC has mended their ways.

Nightly News is streaming using the Windows Media protocol at 300 kbps. The video looks to be about 320×240 and is relatively sharp with a few glitches associated with motion. Brian Williams looks crisper on TV with more vivid colors… but not by much. I’m actually impressed with the quality.

Here’s where NBC has it wrong – and I’m afraid this shows they don’t totally understand how Internet streaming will be used. You can only watch this broadcast beginning to end, in real time. There is no ability to jump forward or back.

If you miss something, there’s no way to repeat without repeating everything you’ve already seen. Same if you want to skip ahead past a story you’re not interested in. Tough luck.

There is code on the webpage which turns off the Windows Media Player timeline and any of the standard ‘right click’ functions. There are probably ways to work around these shortcomings, but for most users, it is what it is.

This is the way I watched TV 20 years ago. I am used to more control. My DVR is more powerful. Certainly, the Internet and Windows Media Player allow more versatility, if that’s NBC’s desire.

I should be allowed to move forward and backward thought the timeline. In fact, the site should be set up with the ability to random access stories, probably at the click of a button.

At some point television networks and stations will have to come to grips with the difference between Internet viewing and over-the-air viewing. We will probably see shorter programs, but possibly longer individual stories. Once we can ‘request’ stories that interest us, more time and depth in reporting are a logical next step.

Maybe the idea of a program (at least for news) will disappear as you cherry pick what you want to see.

It’s funny, in this age when HDTV and huge sets seem to be the big thing, the tiny on-screen viewing window works just fine.

&#185 – Now that it’s over, I can report the commercials have been replaced by promos and the 30 minute newscast ran around 22 minutes.

Advice To Newcomers (Looking For My Job)

A weather newbie posted a request on a bulletin board I frequent. He wanted advice on putting together a tape for a first job.

Historically, applicants for on-the-air broadcasting jobs have sent audition tapes, usally containing some short snippets of ‘outstanding’ performance followed by full length reports (whether that be reporting, weathercasting or anchoring).

Though I think the concept of audition tape is outmoded, and random access digital media should rule the day, I thought I’d answer anyway.

Your weathercast should be a meaningful story with beginning, middle and end. Tell them what you are going to tell them. Tell it to them. Tell it to them again.


Be confident. Be composed. You are on-the-air because you are an expert. I don’t want to learn anything from you but how to be prepared for the weather.

Don’t use jargon. I’m not impressed. If you use any term you had to identify on a meteo test or quiz, I will get a gun and shoot you.

Don’t let your appearance or actions distract the viewer from your presentation. You don’t have to be pretty, handsome, slim or have all your hair. If that’s what counted, we’d have the CBS Evening News with Daisy Fuentes. Just be neat and business-like.

Among the tidbits Don Fitzpatrick&#185 had in his classic audition tape advice was, do not confuse a good situation with a good presentation. His example had to do with reporters showing the President coming to town. It’s a big deal and might show the pecking order at your shop, but local reporters never get anything meaningful in these brief controlled events. Seen one, seen them all.

For weather the analogy is: does your tornado coverage showcase you as well as airchecks from more normal days might?

There is an apocryphal story… though I believe it is true. Three decades ago, Mark Howard, trying to leave Hartford and go to Philadelphia, sent a tape of the show from hell! Everything went wrong. He told the potential news director, anyone can send a perfect tape, here’s what I do when skills are really needed!&#178

After you make your third, fourth, fifth dub of the tape, you will see every imperfection. You will anticipate that millisecond pause or glitch. Your tape hasn’t gotten worse. Trust me, no one else will watch it five times, even your folks.

In fact, the sad truth is, your tape is made or lost in the first few seconds. Put your best stuff first – right at the top. No one is getting to minute eight.

Finally, when you send your tape, don’t go after my job. The world is lousy with meteorologists who are younger, smarter, better looking and will work for less. I hate you all.

Of course I haven’t gotten a new fulltime job in over 20 years. What do I know?

I expect most of you aren’t in the ‘biz’ and will never put together a tape. For you, the sobering point to bring home is how little of a tape is watched before an initial go/no go decision is made.

Obviously, the final hiring decision takes a lot of time (because everyone is scared to make a wrong decision). Most people don’t get that far. I’ve seen tapes watched less than ten seconds before they were ejected.

Actually, I think solid negative decisions can often be made that quickly. Tough business.

&#185 – There was an earlier reference on the bulletin board to Don Fitzpatrick, who ran an amazing talent search business in San Fransisco. Don was a trailblazer. He published advice for TV news applicants seeking a job, from the perspective of someone who truly had seen everything.

&#178 – If someone knows Mark, will you ask him if this story is real? I’ve been telling it forever, but I just don’t know.

Daily Nightly

I hate to say something good about a competitor, but I enjoy reading The Daily Nightly, NBC News’ blog which serves to promote NBC Nightly News (and is seen on a competing channel).

I especially enjoy reading Brian Williams entries. They are written in a very conversational tone. You can hear Williams’ voice as you read.

It is interesting to watch the direction of TV news and the Internet. We have a large Internet presence at my station and I think it serves us well. I’m sure what we’re doing now isn’t what we’ll doing a year from now.

I don’t think anyone knows where this is leading, but there’s no doubt the Internet can earn money for content providers. TV station or broadcast networks can provide lots of content. And, altruism aside, that’s why business is done – to make a profit.

Right now the people leading the way are classicly trained in the art of television. That seems to be a good jumping off point. I suspect this medium will become even more powerful, and a preferred choice, as soon as we learn to harness random access and customization.

I have some ideas of my own, but I’m not sure how to implement them or whether they can be implemented at all. I do know a TV station can not discern who is watching and from where. An Internet broadcaster can!&#185 That is the key.

Broadband speed is available in enough places that we’ve reached a sweet spot for video. What you can see on the Internet looks pretty good (Will I eat those words in 5 years? Probably.) But, by and large, we are feeding it as a serial medium. A follows B follows C… and everyone gets the same content in the same order. Or, individual elements can be requested, but only one at a time and with all the choice at the user’s end and not built into the serving software.

We really need to transition into individual channels presenting customized feeds. The more we know about you and where you live, the more customized and germane we can make the content.

Even when all this technology comes on line, good writing, like Brian Williams’, will still have an important place.

&#185 – Here’s a sample of how Internet hits can be physically located. This is based on my IP address and was produced just by reaching a specific website.