Monday, May 07, 2007

Cry in the (video) wilderness

Another one from the CSJ attic.

Last month, Matt Hinton posted a long, plaintive note on the Newspaper Video group on Yahoo. He has given me permission to repost it here. I asked for the permission because I think it nicely captures the frustration of online video as it is presented on news sites -- too many formats, too many players, too many times of frustration when it won't play and too many inscruitable or hidden links to get to it in the first place.

Hinton's missive aims at Mac-centric news shops that don't test for PCs -- I can make the same complaint about PC-centric shops that don't take into account anything other than Internet Explorer on a Wintel.

(Fortunately, I have a dual-bootable MacTel and a pure PC as well as two Macs, so I can usually get to something one way or the other. But what a pain. And please don't point me to Flip 4 Mac. I have it and it works -- sometimes.)

As an industry we have to get our acts together on this. Perhaps its time for the NPPA, the NNA and the NAA to promulgate some industry-wide cross-platform standards or guidelines. Then a site that follows them could carry the seal. Yes, I know that working together too often is an oxymoron in this business, but it's time.

Anyhow, Matt's post:
Mr. Grothe said:

"it's alway been a source of great frustration in our video department that our videos are not easily seen, especially on Macs It took our tech people almost a year to figure out how to view them easily."

These software incompatibilities are issues that have astounded me with the new "video revolution." How on earth are you supposed to have a web presence if no one can see the videos?

I know a lot of people in the Newspaper industry work with Macs and Final Cut Pro. So maybe you aren't aware of the rest of your audience. If you haven't already, you need to bring a PC into your workflow.

This site counts your audience. Your audience as of March 2007: 58% use Internet Explorer 6 another 25% use Internet Explorer 7. That's 83 percent of your total potential audience using Internet Explorer. Firefox is 12% and Safari is only 3%.

According to the same site 83% of your audience uses Windows XP, only 4% use a Mac OS, the rest use a different Windows Operating system.

I have a PC and have heard complainants from others photographers in different states with different ISPs who can't get the Dallas Morning News videos to load. So it's not a single computer issue. I can sometimes get the ads for local KIA dealers to play on the DMN website but the videos rarely play. All I see is a Windows Media Player window that keeps saying "Connecting to media. . ." I could get the Tornado video to load but only after several minutes and I'm using a cable modem. Other videos never seem to load and I wonder if the average web surfer is going to bother to wait several minutes for a video to load. If I can't do it then that means there are probably issues with 83 percent of your audience who can't see it either.

You're on a Mac and worried about Safari issues. It's a poor use of your time if you only fix Safari issues for 3% of your potential audience; you need to worry about the majority of computer users on Internet Explorer 7 and 6. I realize these issues are likely beyond your control, so please don't take anything I say personally. I'm commenting on sites as a whole.

At the very least you need a warning at the top of the page that tells people which browser and which settings to use to view your video. Also include which versions of Windows Media Player or which versions of Quicktime or Flash Player. If IE doesn't work put a big flashing banner on
the site that says "Download Firefox here."

This is also happens with other sites. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
doesn't work either with IE 7.
The videos never load. If I click on the video a few minutes later after it fails to load it says "Error 404, Sorry" But if you click on the tab on the same page the USA Today videos load instantly.

The same Rochester DNC video site works great with Firefox, but not for 83 percent of the audience using IE 6 or 7! And there is no warning or explanation for the rest of the audience!

It astounds me that one site in the same company can get their video to load instantly, USA Today, and the other papers can't get them to load.

So this whole video revolution seems like a ridiculous amount of time, money, and effort wasted when only a small percentage of people can actually view your videos.

Another issue is archiving videos. How do you find the video after it's been bumped off the front page for a breaking news alert (almost every site has these breaking news alerts now)? Do the videos disappear or get lost in links?

Where is your video home page or does every department have to go through a similar story like Mr. Hernandez? "After two months of 'company' time finishing the site we needed to post it on a server to see if it would actually work.-- another road block.-- the online department couldn't/wouldn't host the site. don't ask me why. so the photo department paid for an outside ISP for 10 bucks a month and it went live. now, on it's own, we get 50,000 unique visitors and another 50,000 from the hard-to-find link on the homepage, which we fought tooth and nail for. so 100,000 uniques. nice pay off."

As Mr. Hernandez pointed out they now have a new site which they have control over and "gone are the days of visitors to our site saying they can't find the 'multimedia' cuz it will be on the home page, nice and big!"

But not every department gets their own site and many are hidden in odd terminology and links like "Online extra, Multimedia, Interactive, Slideshow, Web Cam, Online Special" On some sites all of these terms can be found on the homepage. Which one is for video?

How do you get your work seen if you are sharing your site with a TV station?

The San Antonio Express News' videos are available through a link called "Interactive." What the $%$ does interactive mean? It's also on a shared site with KENS 5, a TV station, . Kens 5 gets the video link, San Antonio Express News staffers get the "Interactive" link. It's hard to find, it's below a link for "web cams" on the site.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a photographer spends a week on a long-term project, then no one can find the link, then it what's the point? Who is served when there is no audience?

Edward R Murrow once said to a bunch of television executives in a speech about television: "This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box."

Are your computer departments, your website departments, and the top executives at your papers determined as you are? Or do we all have to get our own site like Hernandez and the San Jose Mercury News?

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At 5/8/07, 2:02 PM, Blogger Brian B said...

Those are valid concerns. But as with any other story we have to be careful about throwing huge numbers around. I went to the Dallas Morning News site and had no trouble getting the videos to play (Win XP, Firefox and IE7). So it may well be that Matt Hinton's problems are not representative.

He's certainly right about improving the design of our Web sites and making features easy to find.

At 5/8/07, 3:05 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Yes, the specifics can vary. But I think the overall problem he sketches is very valid.

The Web, and especially Web video, should be as easy to use as a refrigerator.

Perhaps we won't get Web-wide standardization -- indeed, some would argue this might stifle innovation. But as an industry, I think we need to look at it.


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