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Producing engaging content in a multi-channel world


YouTube is the world's second most popular search engine. Tablet sales are still going strong. 'Multimedia' is a passe term because of its ubiquity. James Lyon wonders whether you're up to speed...
We live in a world dominated by mass media. The average person has access to more media than they could possibly consume. In recent years, besides the thousands of channels competing for our attention, user-generated content has become massive, mainly thanks to sites like YouTube.
We have all experienced the viral phenomenon, but there is a huge gap between what becomes viral because it's fun, versus what is considered useful to others. Regardless, every programme maker (amateur or professional) strives for their video to achieve one or all of the following:
  • to make an impact
  • to be entertaining or informative
  • to resonate with the audience
  • for people to 'get' it/like it/tweet it
  • for it to be talked about, discussed, shared.

Digital film and animation producers – in corporate communications, marketing and training industries – essentially strive for exactly the same goals. Clients employ production companies and agencies to make films that engage with their audience, entertain and tell them something they didn't already know - perhaps even to engender empathy or maybe change the audience's perception of the chosen subject. But how are these objectives met? Most exponents within the industry tend to stay away from using it the phrase 'corporate video' – it seems to conjure up the idea of a dull health and safety film or similar (I'm sure you have all seen that episode of The Office featuring the staff training video 'Who Cares, Wins' with Peter Purves). Of course a corporate video doesn't have to be like that, there are some amazing examples out there of what can be done with a little inspiration but not necessarily a large budget.  
So when presented with content largely featuring PowerPoint-style 'dry' facts and statistics, the challenge is always how to maximise the impact, to hold the attention and gain maximum effect. Audiences are becoming more and more sophisticated, and communicators must embrace that and certainly take inspiration from the influence of multiple channels and media to reach out to them.
"Tablets, smartphones and internet-enabled televisions mean that the opportunity to view/stream or download content at any time whenever and wherever is just going to keep on growing. "
Essentially, the process is about trying to make the content as interesting and as televisual as possible - to make films that feel more like 'broadcast' and less like 'corporate'. Television is a mature medium and has a tight grip over style and what is expected from a 'video'. With that in mind, it is important to entertain and crucially give your audience something they haven't seen before. There are a million ways to do this, from camera techniques and lighting setups to stylistic treatments in the edit. Not everyone wants to be on camera and so it is essential to encourage interviewees to relax and spend a lot of effort to try to get them to be themselves, to get a more natural delivery. Finding the appropriate music track is also crucial and also the way in which animation and graphics are employed...the list is almost endless. These are more than tricks of the trade, they are precisely what can make the difference between a dull and a memorable film.
A key change in recent years is the endless possibilities offered by animation. As hardware and software becomes more cost effective, animated treatments have become increasingly popular in below the line and above the line communications. It is used to amuse and clarify, to help audiences visualise concepts and theories that can often be a little tricky to explain. However more importantly it distances the end product from looking and feeling like a traditional corporate film. An animation can't always actually say more than a PowerPoint slide or a page of text – but I'd put money on the audience being more engaged and retaining more of your message.
Another technique that can be utilised is to embed key triggers as part of the film to break the message down into manageable sections and encourage discussion. Also with any luck this will enable your audience to pass on what they have learned. Summing up key points and even cementing key takeaways via the use of graphics makes content much more accessible and enjoyable. The bottom line is the more you concentrate on these key areas, the more likely your audience is going to want to share what they have watched and retain what they have learned.
In terms of film and video content across the L&D communities, there are some interesting parallels. It could be argued that as elearning continues its full graduation to online, video-streaming will become crucially important - allowing identical content to be viewed by multiple users regardless of their geographical location.
Almost all content can be delivered online, DVDs are becoming increasingly unpopular as the notion that all video is available as a mere click away online is dominating. Also as users dip in and out of their elearning modules, their learning experience becomes more adaptable and the role that films, video and animation provide will likely increase.
As technology advances, bandwidth is going to keep growing, enabling a faster and altogether more seamless experience. Tablets, smartphones and internet-enabled televisions mean that the opportunity to view/stream or download content at any time whenever and wherever is just going to keep on growing. The notion of accessing TV in the palm of your hand, as anyone watching iPlayer on the iPad can testify, is actually a pretty satisfying experience. This too will tie in with online learning and be dramatically enhanced by the use of touch-screen technology. The market is huge for interactive content and video and animation will be absolutely core to that learning experience.
James Lyon is managing director of Episode Three, an award-winning digital film and animation company

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