The rebar of video

Howard Weaver points to a Washpost piece on newspapers and video, and suggests a "good enough" approach:

"... we don't need to be creating 60 Minutes quality television to get in the game. In fact, you might well argue that the opposite is true. I'd love to see us using cinéma vérité video to add value to all kinds of reporting. In Fresno, they've had good success using little digital video cameras that sell for less than $200."

For the last couple of months I've been carrying around a cheap Aiptek video camera and showing it off, describing it as "the rebar of video." That's a reference to one of the Innosight/Clayton Christensen stories about disruptive innovation. The big steel mills were brought down by mini-mills that initially could only produce low-quality rebar (reinforcement rods, typically embedded in concrete). Well, here's the rebar. Here's the entry level.


the notion of disruptive innovation relates to the market price of an object not it's cost of production. Big steel mills couldn't compete with the mini-mills because their real (marginal) costs were too high. What is the marginal cost of serving video? A fraction of a fraction of a penny.

Is your video really more attractive to viewers because it cost you less to produce?

I would say online video, at least in the context of news media, is a communications form, and communications is a service, not a product.

Therefore, it isn't the cost to produce a unit of video that matters, it's the cost of a "unit" of communications service. And in Steve's example, by reducing the labor and overhead to generate each unit -- not just cost but time spent per unit adhering to higher than necessary production values -- a news organization can produce more video with the same resources.

How about an example that doesn't relate to the equipment? Because online video can be placed in context with background information communicated in other forms -- for example, text narrative that more quickly and cheaply communicates what TV news would run in "intro" and "outro" voiceovers -- the video itself can focus on communicating what video does best:

-- People speaking in their own voices, not paraphrased by anchors.
-- Action with ambient sound. Fires burning. Touchdowns scored.


-- Anchors interviewing reporters in front of a building where something happened earlier.
-- Voiceovers on weak B-roll footage to fill 1:30 or 2:00 because that's what's in the lineup.

It's possible, in fact, that lower-quality equipment and less production time spent can yield a higher quality unit of communications, in the form of video that contributes to telling a story online in the ways most suited to moving pictures with synchronized sound.

And it's disruptive because the tools and methods of effective video communications no longer belong exclusively to the incumbents.