[this was originally posted at Brian's personal blog, From Baghdad to Baga] I've been spending a lot of time thinking about content recently. In my latest project I'm working with Video Volunteers to establish a network of community producers (or community journalists) all over India. These Community Producers will be generating at least 1-2 videos per month, as well as a variety of other social content, ranging from SMS updates via Twitter or a local gateway running something like FrontlineSMS, to blogging and recording audio via phone.
My current goal is to start the network with 40 Community Producers, this is a number based on everything I've discussed with colleague here, regarding available candidates, capable candidates, and our own limitations, for example to qualify a candidate must speak Hindi and/or English. If we are successful at launching the project with such a broad and diverse network, we very quickly start dealing with some really large numbers. In the first month we will produce between 40 and 80 *different* videos per month.
The first question anyone might ask at this point is, will anyone watch that many videos online from one network or news agency? Although the answer may be no, I'm hoping its a clarified no, I'm hoping there is a body of viewers who will be interested to watch at least half or two-thirds of the content being produced each month. Unfortunately, the number of viewers who will be ultimately interested in the content if they can see it is something somewhat outside of our control.
My attempt to determine what elements I can control has led me to conceive of the term "watchability."
The greater the "watchability" of the content, the more likely the video will be watched. Of course this risks being a self-fulfilling paradigm, where we might say that if a video is watched, of course it has watchability and if it isn't then it doesn't.
I'm endeavoring toward a theory of watchability that is not so irrelevant to the rest of us as such a frivolous take might be.
So let's start from the most basic element, in order to be watchable a video must have a certain quality level to the content. That means the image should not be too shaky, and the audio must hit at least a modicum of tolerability regarding the ratio of signal to noise.
In order to be watchable a video must be compelling, which is to say it should show us something new and interesting, it should provide us a new take on an old story. This new and intriguing perspective should be shown, not told. It doesn't have to be funny, but being funny, or entertaining, or exciting are all elements that can greatly increase a videos watchability. It can be easier to succeed at thrilling or entertaining an audience than to be compelling in another more dramatic fashion.
Keep in mind we are looking toward a definition of extreme or complete watchability, what elements should a video contain for the greatest watchability.
To make a video that is compelling is easiest if it also reflects a dominant paradigm in the audience's worldview. This is why we are so willing to accept images or stories as fact that later prove to be false. Videos have perhaps the greatest viral watchability, and can even become exponentially more compelling when they contain content that directly reflects the expectations of the audience they reach in a new and shocking way. It can also be compelling by virtue of being extremely personal or communicating something intimate about the individuals pictured or the individual producing the content.
For example the video of Neda during the Iran election protests was extremely watchable. So too was LonelyGirl15 and even before YouTube was likely a spark in Chad Hurley's imagination, a young Kuwaiti named Nayirah convinced the world that Iraqi soldiers had taken Kuwaiti children from incubators and "left the babies on the cold floor to die." Her story was "watchable" because Americans wanted to believe it, and the press did little to question the elements, exactly because they reflected the dominant paradigm.
So watchability isn't always necessarily a good thing. However reflecting one's worldview can also be a matter of tenor, ie negative or anti-government videos for some, positive uplifting images of heroic justice for others. This may also be why humor is such a connecting element across boundaries of culture and differing perspective.
Keeping that in mind, is there anything else that provides a video watchability? I would suggest that perhaps the single most important element of watchability, even after reflecting the audience's dominant perception of an event, is audience accessibility.
Videos must reach the audience where the audience is willing to consume the videos. Thus YouTube videos might have a higher base-level watchability than other video-sharing sites, purely as an element of market share. Another interesting element is that videos from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have greater watchability if they are published at Liveleak.com purely by virtue of the fact that consumers of such videos tend to spend much of their time looking at Liveleak to find the latest and "greatest" gore from the War on Terror.
The onus is now on the producer/publisher to push videos out as far and wide as possible. The very watchability of a video depends on it. Accessibility and paradigm reflection can improve the watchability of a video that might otherwise be consigned to the dustbin of internet video waste. The most beautiful and telling story of corruption or suffering or pain of an oppressed people might also lack watchability if it is not made accessible to a willing audience.
In order to have watchability videos now must be accessible via RSS, iTunes, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a host of others, the level of importance of any one networking tool being directly related to the audience a producer/publisher is targeting.
I hope you'll comment with your own ideas and theories of "watchability." Even with 10 years experience producing and consuming online video, one individual cannot hope to come to a solid and complete definition of such an elusive topic.
But at the risk of extreme hubris, I'll postulate this; to succeed at creating a video with the greatest watchability, a video must:
* contain content with a marginal level of quality, a steady image and not too much noise in the audio * be compelling, showing us something new, or something personal * despite showing us something new, it should reflect the existing worldview of the audience * it must be accessible. all television content possesses watchability purely by being on television, our audience is more dispersed, so our content must be as well.
What else makes a video watchable?
How many of these elements will we have to achieve to succeed at building a vast audience and keeping them? As I said at the beginning, to some degree that is really unknowable, but pursuing a theory of watchability may be the best chance at creating a benchmark for measuring success and how to alter our planning and execution to potentially increase our watchability.
Some thoughts so far from Twitter:
@BaghdadBrian compelling, human angle, educate viewer (culture, people, lifestyle), entertain, quality* visuals (*often lacking)
@BaghdadBrian "watchability" grabbing hook for initial attention. personalize it so that ppl not normally interested in the topic relate
@BaghdadBrian Re what makes a video watchable? : Brevity. Under 90 secs is best and state running time up front
Post your own response here or on Twitter!