In the last two issues we told you how to set up and shoot your vidcast. In part three, we’re looking at how to edit and get that vidcast to the masses
We talked about key production elements like set design, talent and crew, and equipment in part two in our April issue. This month, we’ll wrap up our three-part series with editing and preparing your vidcast for the web.
Having a short catchy open that visually summarizes what your vidcast is all about is important. Since it’s the first thing a new viewer will see, it has the awesome task of compelling them to continue watching. It can be as simple as cutting together a few clips from your first show or as complex as a high-energy array of shots highlighting unique aspects of your subject matter, complete with custom graphics and logo. In either case, keep it short, say five to 15 seconds, and be sure to include at least your show’s title and possibly the episode number.
Unless you have chosen to use special hardware to encode and upload your vidcast live to a streaming server, then you have one of two types of editing ahead of you. The first we could call “best takes” and the other, “live from tape.”
Best takes editing is probably very familiar to you; after transferring footage to your edit computer, you simply select the best takes from one or more camcorders and create a rough cut of your main or “coverage” camcorder. Next, insert second or third camera angles, tweak your in and out points, add your open, appropriate transitions, music, graphics and credits, and you have your final cut.
With two or more camcorders, you have the option of editing live from tape that resembles a live studio production. This requires a bit more preparation prior to shooting, along with software and a computer capable of handling multiple streams of video, but you get significant time savings in post. With this method, the whole vidcast, or contiguous segment, is shot as if it were live…except, if you make a mistake, you can start all over (of course, this greatly slows down the edit process and somewhat defeats the purpose of “live”).
After transferring all of your footage to your edit computer, you sync each of your video streams at the beginning and roll all simultaneously. Your computer is now effectively a live switcher and you are the technical director, “cutting” from wide-angle to close-up shots on the fly. In the end, you should have a finished product, less possibly some graphics and music.
While there are not many unique aspects of editing a vidcast, several workflow habits will make your job easier when editing episodic shows. First, be sure to establish a consistent filing system. Have video assets you will reuse on each show, like your open, graphics, music, credits and any other transitional elements, all in one directory. This will greatly speed up your edit session. Next, create and stick to a consistent project naming system. There’s no need to get creative here; clarity is far more important. The episode number and date work well if used like this: “2007_Ep_45_5-01” [signifying episode number 45 was shot or will upload on May 1, 2007]. This way, when you go to sort your project files in the same folder, they will be in order even across multiple years.
Preparing for the Internet
There are three general areas you’ll need to keep in mind when preparing your video for online distribution: the media player your audience will use; the file size and quality; and, if you choose to also provide your show by RSS, the requirements of specific video aggregators like the heavyweight iTunes and others like FireAnt.
There are many media players and related file types out there, and it is no small challenge to decide which one or several will be right for your audience. But determining this is the first step. If you have a large email list of people that are likely viewers, such as a club or social group, simply send an email asking which media player they might prefer. Another informal survey would be to post the same question on a user group site dealing with your vidcast’s subject matter.
Some of the currently popular media players include QuickTime/iTunes, Windows Media Player, Flash and RealPlayer. Others, such as DivX, Theora and Xvid have their followers as well. Some of these players use proprietary codecs that you will need to use to create file types that will play back correctly in a given player. Again, the most important question to answer is which media player you believe your audience will be using. Once you know the player, you will know the file type(s) you will need to prepare. If your vidcast has lots of good information that does not rely on just visuals, you may also consider adding an MP3 version to your list.
The next question you’ll want to address is how big should you make your frame size and what quality settings should you use to encode? As more people are now connected with high-speed connections, larger frame sizes are becoming possible. Don’t be afraid to try full-frame 720×480 at medium quality settings. This usually means video bitrates around 600-700kbps. But it is still common practice to offer multiple media player formats and in at least a high and low quality/size offering. So, pick the top two or three media players and encode with those file types. Once your show has been running for a while and you are getting some traffic, you can analyze which files types are the most popular and possibly drop the least accessed.
RSS requires doing an additional step of creating an XML file that allows aggregators to recognize and people to subscribe to your vidcast feed. An easy way to get going is to visit www.feedburner.com and follow their instructions on how to proceed.
You’ve now got your vidcast edited and encoded into popular file type(s), now where will your new show live? Do you already have a Web site or blog dedicated to your show’s topic? Perhaps you’ve opted to deliver your shows exclusively via RSS. And what about those free video sharing sites?
With the obvious exception of free hosting sites, be sure to check into a few details from your provider. The first is your monthly bandwidth allocation. If your show is lengthy, or if you’ve encoded using a high quality setting, you will likely have a large file that people will be downloading. And if your show becomes popular, you could easily exceed a modest monthly bandwidth limit. Early popular vidcasts like Diggnation found their initial bandwidth projections were way off…and excess bandwidth can cost a lot. The second detail is to confirm with your Web host that you’ll have enough server storage space for all of your future vidcasts. You may find you’ll need to increase this, but it is usually something you can do as it becomes needed.
What about uploading to popular free video sharing sites, like YouTube? While it won’t hurt to use these additional free sites, they probably should not form the core of your distribution plan for episodic shows like a vidcast. This may change, but they are currently most popular for one-time videos rather than reoccurring shows.
It’s Up. But Now What?
Congratulations! You’ve got your first vidcast up. But we’re not done quite yet. While the incredible popularity of online video may provide opportunities for us as video producers, it also provides challenges as we shift our role to distributor and marketer. Because so many people are readily consuming video online, there is a whole new level of access to potential audiences. But the widespread delivery of online video makes cutting through the clutter that much more difficult. We’ll conclude our series with five tips that will help get your new vidcast seen by as many people as possible.
1. Create an easily recognizable small icon (AKA, chicklet or avatar). This effectively becomes the logo for your show that aggregators use in their listings. Due to size, make it simple.
2. Add your RSS feed to popular aggregators and directories like iTunes and Feedburner.
3. Send an email with a link announcing your new show to everyone you know.
4. Link to other vidcasts, user groups and forums with complementary or similar interests.
5. If you’ve housed your vidcast on your Web site, include a link to your current show on your homepage.
Contributing editor Brian Peterson is a video production consultant, trainer, and lecturer.
If you shoot with more than one camcorder and find that you are spending more time than you’d like transferring your footage from tape, check out the latest generation of direct to disk recorders now on the market. Since ingesting footage from tape is a real-time process, you automatically gain one-to-one time savings by having your material already on disk. And, as most recorders allow you to edit directly from the portable disk, you don’t even have to transfer (at least immediately) to your edit computer. Depending on the size of your camcorder and options for external brackets, the only tricky part can be finding an appropriate mounting surface.