The Web Moves

Web video isn't perfect. But it's good enough that now is the time for businesses to give it a close look.

Larry Greenemeier, Contributor

August 12, 2005

4 Min Read

LiveVault sent E-mail messages to 50,000 customers, prospective customers, and personal contacts with a link to its home page, where the video could be played. Cramer says the video has been seen more than 300,000 times so far, citing statistics from WebTrends Inc. And he plans to do more rich-media content this year: "There's a 100% chance that video will part of that."

Companies also are sure to apply Web video to customer service. Some results will no doubt be disastrous. Anyone who has been shuttled from automated-voice phone service to a worthless customer-service Web site trying to find answers will shudder at the thought of a time-sucking Web video awaiting them as well.

Applied properly, though, it can work. DPS Telecom Inc., a maker of hardware and software for network monitoring, remote telemetry, and network-alarm management, hired a video producer to do a VideoFAQs lineup for its site. "DPS Telecom's equipment is rather sophisticated, and they spend a lot of time answering questions over and over again," says Robert Chesney, a video producer and founder of Chesney Communications. "Many people just freak out when they get into elaborate written description."

There's also potential to build community. Microsoft has its Channel 9 Web site, which features nearly 500 video clips, dating back to April 2004, that serve as impromptu tutorials, discussion forums, and promotional vehicles for a range of topics, from Windows Vista to MSN services, and includes executive clips, including one by CEO Steve Ballmer. Each clip has a link to get a summary of the material contained in the video segment.

BIGresearch LLC, a subsidiary of Prosper International Co., is using links to video in its E-mail newsletter, which it sends to retail and manufacturing executives and public-policy decision makers. BIGresearch's main vehicle for communication has been its Consumer Intentions and Actions survey, Simultaneous Media Usage Study, and Retail Ratings Report. Now when the research firm sends E-mail alerts, it includes the BIGresearch Video Briefing, a link to a video complete with an anchorwoman who runs down the top stories of each month.

There's another layer of Web video on the horizon that's far less formal than these efforts. Low-cost technology lets a human-resources manager, a salesperson, even a CEO shoot video that can be posted on a Web site or even E-mailed.

The promise of video-on-PCs has been dangled for years. Today's ability to shoot, edit, and view video footage from just about any PC can be attributed to three technology breakthroughs, says Mark Randall, president of Serious Magic Inc., which makes Visual Communicator video production software. First, Web cameras can be easily connected to PCs by USB ports. Second, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices processors and Nvidia and ATI Technologies graphics cards let computers deliver images smoothly. Third is widespread broadband, particularly within businesses.

Visual Communicator does for video what Harvard Graphics and Microsoft PowerPoint did to slide presentations: It puts their creation in the hands of regular users, Randall says. That's a terrifying thought, given the number of bad, way-too-long PowerPoint presentations any businessperson has endured.

Yet Randall, who founded Serious Magic in early 2001 after nearly two decades as an IT guy in Hollywood, says businesses are finding valuable ways to put the tool to work. One school uses the software to help English-as-a-second-language students by giving them the opportunity to see themselves read and speak their new language. The Defense Department uses Visual Communicator to circulate internally spy-plane footage complete with expert commentary, Randall says. Other customers include 3M, Chevron Texaco, and Pepsico. "The imagination of our users exceeds what we thought people would do with the tool," Randall says.

Terry Brock, a marketing coach and professional speaker based in Orlando, Fla., has been using Visual Communicator since March as a way to promote himself to prospective clients and to punch up his onstage presentations. "Blogs let people create their own newspapers, and podcasts let them create their own radio stations," he says. "Visual Communicator lets you create your own TV studio." Before Visual Communicator, Brock relied on JPG files and Camtasia software from TechSmith Corp. to record screen captures during technical presentations. Serious Magic's software adds a new dimension to Brock's presentations because it lets him incorporate real video that doesn't "look schlock," he says.

One area in which Web-based video is expected to grow is blogging. Although video blogs are available today, they generally consist of text with embedded links to video files. Serious Magic this fall will offer a product called VLog It, which lets bloggers more easily weave links to into the text of their online rants.

Whether it's NASA pouring resources into slickly produced Web portals beaming images from thousands of miles away or a benefits administrator wanting to highlight the latest changes to the 401(k) plan, Web-based video is proving to be both a powerful and accessible tool for promoting ideas and services. The technology is there. Are you ready for your closeup?

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