Eric May – Media Consultant




Somewhere in the world, working right now, are a few people who are passionate about telling stories visually online and understand the unique demands of the “lean-in” online audience. 

Eventually these people will be recognized as the pioneers of the web as a visual medium, just as DW Griffith and Charlie Chaplin are for film. But for now, visual language for the web is still in diapers.

web video is not television

The traditional rules of broadcast news don’t necessarily work on the web. Just consider the physical experience to start with: watching streaming running video in a small window on a computer or an iPod or mobile device is, for the viewer, physically very different than seeing the same images on a large screen. 

It’s smaller, it might be held in the hand, often the resolution isn't great, and the online viewer is often impatient, ready to click away if the video gets boring or irrelevant. The different physical experience suggests the most effective visual storytelling methods for the web will be different, as well.

For example, while television news generally avoids talking heads, they can be effective on small screens; the same goes for close-ups, especially human details such as faces, hands, clothing, and “iconic” (instantly recognizable) objects such as signs and symbols. Quick-cut editing is not always essential; powerful, iconic images and iconic sound and music probably are.

web video is (for now) short

Right now the majority of web news stories are short form, not more than about 2 and a half minutes. Longer form stories can be found on the web, but they are often broken down into elements or a series, and each individual element remains short.

web video looks “authentic” – not “professional”

Counter to the perfectionist storytelling methods of good broadcast journalism, an unpolished, “human” approach to storytelling is a common pattern in successful web videos. 

Consistent with the community-based nature of the online medium, web viewers are more interested in what is being produced by other people, just like them. Web storytellers succeed when they focus on real people - “authenticity” over perfection.

web video has fewer limits

As the online medium takes hold, traditional standards of image and technical quality and beliefs in what audiences will accept are being challenged as never before. When the barriers to entry fall to virtually nothing, it will be up to web storytellers to find new ways to keep ever-distracted audiences engaged.