The New Talkies

Posted By Bee Ottinger on August 02, 2012 10:53 am | Permalink
Six years after Time magazine named "You"(Tube) Person of the Year, communicating using compelling video content is simpler than ever. With little more than a smart phone, anyone can become a video content creator - or a critic. Viral video stars can become famous overnight. And almost anyone can become one. As The New York Times noted last year, venerable film houses such as United Artists have given way to maverick video production companies like Maker Studios that distribute online. More video footage is uploaded to YouTube in just one month than the three major US broadcast networks produced in 60 years.  


Now what? 

Yes, rabid consumption and the rapid production needed to feed it create online sensations providing instant, diverting video entertainment. These novelties rub elbows with material from established brands and legacy sources. But the big business picture extends far beyond these small screens: video now infuses every aspect of personal communication. We use video to talk about video, and share video to communicate opinions or express emotions. Video works as a communication shortcut because its subtext usually contains a common cultural and/or personal resonance.

Against this backdrop, with endless hours of produced material already easily available, the real power lies in how we package all this content. Its maximum cultural, emotional and financial impact - for marketers and those who rely on monetizing content - will come from the platforms that offer the most personalized filter to help us give this material real context and meaning.   

Social media tools applied to content are already driving this trend. Think about all the memes that get shared and re-shared across social networks. A Facebook commenter linking to Taxi Driver's famous "You talking to me?" scene. A spurned lover tweeting a link to Adele's "Someone Like You." The myriad connections made through "The tribe has spoken," "You've been chopped!!" or "Make it work." We the consumers are repurposing existing content and making it new every day, using today's hit song, hot reality show or yesterday's classic film to act as the Greek chorus for the emotional currency of our lives. My own company, SnapCuts, gives users greater access to such content to more fully express themselves. In making a snapcut, you use clips to tell someone you're sorry or thank them for their help. You can let a friend know that you're mad or that you forgive them.

A creative medium that early on embraced the "remix culture" is pop music, which often snaps together pre-existing content snippets. (We know them as "samples"). Look at the democratic and mainstream success of an artist like Girl Talk, former Pittsburgh-based biomedical engineer (!) Greg Gillis. The popularity of an artist like Girl Talk is based not so much on what we think of as traditional musicianship. Rather, Gillis' ear is so attuned to the current pop music landscape, as well as its historical landscape, i.e. its legacy content, that through the interconnection of fair use snippets, he is creating a sound the likes of which we've never heard before. 

One place where it's easy to find short bits of legacy content is from the advertisements and commercials of yesteryear. Like the MTV music videos I edited in my former career, this is primarily promotional content, but it's also content focused on packing in the most entertainment minute-for-minute.  The popularity of television in the last century has made this content more strangely powerful by spawning many shared cultural references. Those who believe in an art with no commercial component may take issue with this point, but think of how evocative a great commercial can be, often the main attraction of that undeniably American event, the Super Bowl. "A Diamond Is Forever." "Where's The Beef?" "Just Do It." "Think Different." 

Not only does the best of this content evoke emotional reactions, as it was intended to do, but using it also offers an easy way to enhance communication, and to create new forms of self expression. Video communi-makers win with nearly unlimited access to popular content and the rights holders of these works win by creating a new avenue of promotion. It's a mutually beneficial relationship that not only maximizes creativity, but new profit potential for archival content that would otherwise be forgotten.

Literally, technology has enabled us to re-form our language through video.  The evolution of this new communication medium has its own grammatical rules and syntax well understood by anyone who has grown up watching TV, going to the movies or surfing the Internet.   It is precisely because of this emerging relationship between video as art and video as 'alphabet' that I believe it's not content itself that will be king in the next decade. Instead, the most creative, attractive and engaging methods of packaging and mixing content ultimately will be crowned.