Before the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards aired on cable television, the show’s producers announced that the network would broadcast the ceremony only once in its traditional linear form. Any future TV broadcasts of the VMAs would be ‘remixed’ versions of the show, producers said, as created by viewers and/or MTV.
The change in how MTV produced and distributed its annual awards spectacle this year serves as a key example of how traditional broadcast video is being influenced by the popularity and ‘personalization’ aspects of Internet distributed video.
On MTV’s website, viewers aren’t forced to watch the awards show in its original 2-hour broadcast TV format. MTV repurposed the content for online, dividing up the show into separate, 2- to 4-minute video segments. The short video clips can be accessed by viewers in any order and at any time, as well as multiple times.
Now, the Internet-distributed video segments don’t look nearly as good as they did originally on the TV broadcast, especially if you saw it on a big screen plasma high definition television. Online, the videos display in a relatively small window (400 x 300 pixels) embedded on a HTML page, accessed by an Internet browser.
But by putting all of the scenes from the Video Music Awards online, including clips that can only be seen on the website, MTV significantly expanded its potential viewing audience and handed users some control over how and when they can view the content.
TV versus Internet: Production Values
Audiences consume Internet-distributed streaming video differently than traditional broadcast TV. Watching online video tends to be a private viewing experience, while TV viewing can be communal.
“My relationship with television is different from my relationship with the Internet. While I’ll catch an occasional news clip online, I don’t cozy up for extended viewing in front of my laptop,” wrote Jennifer Woodard Maderazo, a media blogger at PBS.org, in August 2007. “Lazing on the couch with a remote control is much more enjoyable than hunching over a desk and maneuvering a mouse to make things happen. Video clips stop, connections time out, sound turns choppy and I end up turning off the computer and turning back to my trusty television, which lets me lean back comfortably and effortlessly rather than forward.”
Traditional TV has its advantages, especially with high definition televisions (HDTV) becoming standard. Watching HDTV can be an amazing experience – lifelike, detailed pictures with stereo surround sound. Production values are high in this medium, since HDTV viewers expect perfect quality video, incorporating more types of shots and quicker edits, finely polished. They also expect it to be seamless – not 2 to 4 minute clips that stop and start – and viewable on a huge screen, ideal for collective viewing.
But traditional broadcast video as a communication form is limited. It is one-sided and passive. It doesn’t give the audience any choices. Internet-distributed video can be digitized to take advantage of the strengths of computing, such as searching and linking, to enhance understanding and usability of the material. Online video can also be wrapped with user-controlled applications so the audience can be active, communicate and share content with each other. This participation and personalization may make for a better overall experience, despite less-than-perfect video quality.
Video that will be accessed in a tiny window on a computer monitor or mobile device needs to be produced with those parameters in mind, so the picture quality, sound quality and file size are optimized. Lynch & Horton’s Web Style Guide suggests the following guidelines to tailor video for Internet distribution:
• Shoot close-ups. Wide shots have too much detail to make sense at low resolution.
• Shoot against a simple monochromatic background whenever possible. This will make small video images easier to understand and will increase the efficiency of compression
• Avoid zooming and panning. These can make low frame-rate movies confusing to view and interpret and can cause them to compress poorly
• Use a tripod to minimize camera movement. A camera locked in one position will minimize the differences between frames and greatly improve video compression.
• When editing your video, don’t use elaborate transitional effects offered by video editing software, such as dissolves or elaborate wipes, because they will not compress efficiently and will not play as smoothly on the Web.
• If you are digitizing material that was originally recorded for video or film, look for clips that contain minimal motion and lack essential but small details. Motion and detail are the most obvious shortcomings of low-resolution video.
There are also factors of compression (codecs) and formats for consider, so Internet streaming video looks good, sounds good and be accessed by the widest possible audience.
There’s also the issue of cost.
With traditional broadcast TV, new viewers tuning in don’t cost the broadcaster anything. But webcasting has a price attached. Digital media files are very large, requiring huge amounts of server space. According to Lynch & Horton’s Web Style Guide, one second of uncompressed NTSC (National Television Standards Committee) video, the international standard for television and video, requires approximately 27 megabytes of disk storage space. Producing and distributing large amounts of popular video over the Internet may require a big investment in server infrastructure.
The landscape of consumers watching video really big on a HDTV screen and really small on a iPod means that video producers have to be willing to follow MTV’s example and ‘remix’ how they work to provide the best product to audiences no matter how or when they choose to watch.
Creating & Delivering Podcasts & Other Downloadable Media. 2006, June 27. Akamai. Retrieved 9/12/2007 –http://www.akamai.com/cfcgi/forms/podcasting_whitepaper.html
. Lynch & Horton. 2004, March 2. Web Style Guide: 2nd Edition. Retrieved 9/12/2007 – http://www.webstyleguide.com/multimedia/strategies.html
Maderazo, Jennifer Woodard. 2007, August 10. “Is the Future of Television Online? Not Yet.” Mediashift blog | PBS.org. Retrieved on 9/12/2007- http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2007/08/tvshiftis_the_future_of_televi.html
“MTV shakes up Video Music Awards.” 2007, September 7. Associated Press. Retrieved 9/12/2007 – http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20644178/
Siklos, Richard and Carter, Bill. 2006, December 18. “Old Model Versus a Speedster.” New York Times. Retrieved 9/12/2007. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/18/technology/18youtube.html?ex=1324098000&en=c4674e65ba242ce4&ei=5090&