Friday, July 25, 2008

Taxonomy of online video - web intended content

In a previous post I created three distinct categories of online content. Here I want to flesh out the 2nd category: Web intended content. Here's what I had to say about that:

Web intended: This type of video is more difficult and most definitely varies the most in terms of style elements and production values. Web intended content includes the following types of video which are produced both by amateurs and professionals: First, I want to support my rationale for not breaking down the barrier between amateurs and professionals. There tends to be an over emphasis of the term user-generated. I even use it once above. However, in our current state of web video we cannot clearly define who the user is. Previously the user might have been a web savvy Jane Doe who wanted to make a cute music video of her niece dancing to Beyonce. But then, let's take that a step further when Joe Schmo submits a video to ABC's America's Funniest Home Videos and then a viewer likes what she sees and she subsequently records that video and places it up on YouTube like the the one below:

Here we have a user-generated home video that before the dawn of the Internet might have only made its way to our homes via America's Funniest Videos (which incidentally was formerly called America's Funniest HOME Videos back in the day), but now we can watch this little tot shake her booty time and time again. However, it has this added element of the voice-over commentary from the AFV host and the canned audience laughter. It adds a different element and we no longer can call it simply user-generated. Here's another twist to add to this dilemma - on AFV's website they have a video of two cats and one falls off. It is dumb! There is no added production values, just us watching a video of cats. So, here we have a website of a TV show that features "user-generated" videos with us watching one of said videos and it isn't one that is part of the show (I can only assume that because of the lack of laugh track, etc. from the other clip). Anyway, if it seems like I am talking in circles it is mostly because I am. The distinction here between TV show, web clip and home video is blurry and tough to muddle through.

Returning to my original thought of teasing out the concept of UGC (user-generated content) the term implies that the user is part of the general public and not a professional. Yet with advertising firms and production companies using the UGC aesthetic to make their promotional materials seem like part of the mainstream (see my previous post on viral video ads) it becomes difficult to separate the general public from the content producers attempting to sway or influence that general public.

So, here I'm claiming that the line between an amateur and a professional are blurred. Not only are professionals adapting and implementing elements of the amateur, the amateur is more informed and has more technology at their finger tips than ever before. This trend is only going to keep the once parallel paths of content creation merging ever closer until we have a product that is ambiguous at best and essentially a hybridization.

One of the first of these hybrids was under the guise of lonelygirl15. A young girl named Bree came onto the YouTube scene back in 2006 with her vlog about her life in a boring small town.

She became very popular and had hundreds of thousands of subscribers when other users were onto her. "Bree" was nothing more than an actress hired by three aspiring screenwriters to tell a fictional story about a young girl. Even the NY Times and NBC's Nightly News covered the story. Here we have what looks to be a vlog and in reality is a carefully orchestrated and produced web series. This show was popular because it played with the Vlog genre of web videos and turned it into a serialized story telling device by a set of producers and writers. But, how far from reality is this example? Many people that Vlog could be embellishing or creating worlds of their own to share on YouTube. Either way, this video was successful at bringing the two arms of web-intended content together - the amateur and the professional.

Here is another great (and hilarious!) example of what I mean.
Will Farrel's "The Landlord"
See more Will Ferrell videos at Funny or Die

Clearly this is professionally made but it tries to look amateur-ish with the use of camera angles and grittiness of the picture. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay then take this to the next level by offering a "DVD extras" style commentary on their little video. The commentary seems to poke fun at both the look of it - "some people thought it took us 45 minutes to shoot this, it actually took 45 days" - and the contrived production element of the video.

See more Will Ferrell videos at Funny or Die