Online Video… What is that?
Originally for this close reading of an online video example, I had chosen to study an episode of Benjamin Cook’s web series Becoming Youtube. However, trying to write about why and how an example of online video is online video when the video itself is about online video all got a bit meta, so I opted to switch to Jack Howard’s video January instead, ultimately moving on from content that was documentary style and littered with skits and witty dialogue, to something more akin to home video recordings laced together with vlog entries and narration.
I’m not trying to sound as though I have taken a step back, or as if Howard’s content is any less worthy of attention than Cook’s. I just wanted to make note of this, if only to illustrate the diversity that is online video and the types of content that could potentially be studied. It’s a rather irrelevant point to be making considering the requirements of this particular project, but I felt the need nonetheless, and now that I have I can move on.
Criteria one: content
Jack Howard’s video January is a part of his web series ‘Pretentious Monthly Scrapbook’ where he edits together footage that he’s filmed each month of friends and outings and events and links them together with a reflective style of narration. It’s low budget, essentially because it is somewhat akin to home video footage, the material consisting of video content from birthdays and special occasions and every day events. It’s casual, and where some of the content consists of him talking more formally to a camera, most consists of him talking casually to a quickly rigged up set up, or even to just his phone. The content itself is personal, like watching someone recount their life the way they would in a journal or diary, yet he presents as though to an audience and explains the details of his life with the sort of detachment that is required for a vlog. The majority of the content is dialogue with Jack talking to a camera, the rest shots of the topic or event he is discussing at the time.
Criteria two: format
The video is segmented into sections determined by the events or ideas Howard is focussing on at that point in the video. Every now and then a fan made, animated title screen is used to transition from one idea to another, and each event or occasion tends to be given its own introduction in the from of a vlog entry, edited together with footage from the event and background music. The video starts with an introduction to the series and a quick explanation as to the ideas behind the series and the reasons for it, and ends with a kind of nostalgic wrap-up of what it is to recount memories, even if it’s just for a month.
Criteria three: why is this suited to the internet?
Vlogging is something that is almost exclusive to online video. It’s not a traditional form of media practise, and is more self-reflective and self-orientated than it is purposefully entertaining or engaging. Purpose is a big factor. If something like this was to be aired on more traditional media, there would have to be definite purpose: to gain a viewership and earn revenue, and it’s not the kind of material that can cater for that purpose. The internet (and in this case, YouTube) provides a platform for material such as this to find a place. Material whose purpose is more to do with the self, with sharing something personal to a wider audience, on a platform that allows for it.
Criteria four: involvement of other personalities and fans
Another aspect of online video is the ability for known personalities to cross over and collaborate on other people’s works without the same ramifications of traditional media. A lot of well known British YouTubers appear in Howard’s video as a part of his close group of friends, and this effects the kind of content he is producing. There is also the involvement of fans, as he asked for people to send in title screens for ‘Jack’s Pretentious Monthly Scrapbook’ and these are used throughout the video. Collaboration is a lot easier on an online platform, and is a way of getting a wider viewership too as fans of these other content creators might watch Howard’s video because of their involvement.
Criteria five: length and emerging online video
January is roughly fifteen minutes long, a considerable length for a vlog style video, however it fits in with an emerging trend. Typically, online videos are thought to be at most five minutes long, the emergence of longer content rising recently as web-series are successfully bringing out episodes closer to half an hour long, short films are finding a place on websites such as YouTube and Vimeo and audiences are becoming more receptive to using the internet for entertainment on a more committed level. Many people will turn to their computers to watch movies and TV shows, and perhaps it was only a matter of time before online video found itself in competition with this. People are willing to spend long periods of time in front of a computer screen, and so because of its length, January is a good example of what online video is becoming.
Criteria six: part of a tag
The web series Pretentious Monthly Scrapbook is a part of a ‘tag’, or in other words, it’s a project that many online video creators are taking on. Although not designed to go viral, these videos are made to be searchable under the tag ‘PMS’, something exclusive to online video as it requires the interactivity of the web. January, as a part of this tag, is hence part of a viral movement, and a good example of online video can do that traditional media essentially cannot.
Criteria seven: editing and sound
The editing and sound used in January are more typical of an online video than of traditional media, as the video is made not by a company but by a single person, and hence the edits, whilst good, are not perfect. Perhaps even intentionally. The imperfect edits, title screens, etc. give the video a casual feel, one that is actually more suited to the style of video anyway. The music used is all royalty free too, a sign that the video is low budget and not made for something such as traditional media, where this capability is altered. It lends it a very personalised feel.
Criteria eight: fanbase
A key idea of online video appearing on websites such as YouTube is the ability to share content with a mass of people who can then subscribe and comment on material. Jack Howard is a known personality on YouTube, having gained a following through his work in the sketch comedy group Jack and Dean (which has its own channel), collaborations in short films and work with the BBC. January was quite a successful first episode as a result of his existing fanbase, and comments surrounding this video worked to shape the next episode February.
Criteria nine: appeal
Vlog style videos such as January have become quite popular online, and have really found a place on websites such as YouTube. However, where is the appeal in watching someone talk about themselves and their lives to a camera? In Ben Cook’s Becoming Youtube series, he suggests that there are many vloggers rising to success because young girls find an appeal in watching young boys ‘with fringes’ talk about their lives, but that in this case, material doesn’t really matter. It all comes down to looks. However, for videos such as January there is a higher production value, and if done right, its hard not to feel genuine interest for the person in front of the camera, no matter the audience. January is simply a well done vlog, and vlogs are well suited to being online.
Criteria ten: quality
As mentioned before, the video January is imperfect, because it is one person’s attempt to recount a whole month of their lives. The quality of the video tends to jump around as a result of this, at some points the dialogue is unscripted and the camera used will be from something as everyday as a mobile phone. At other times, the dialogue is very much scripted, and an anamorphic lens is used with a torch for lens flare and a microphone for better audio. I feel like online video has more leeway in this respect, audiences are less picky because ultimately it is the creator’s decision what they choose to include and exclude in their final works and how they decide to film their content, whereas such inconsistency on traditional media such as television might cause ripples. Parts of the video however are very high quality, especially considering its purpose, which perhaps only brings the appeal up even more.