What Makes Video “Professional”?

professional380What is “professional video”? What is “premium content”? What is worthy of attention and advertising dollars?

It used to be easy — if you were paid to create it for either a movie theater or a TV network, it was professional and premium. And everything else was crap. Then along came the Internet and YouTube and upended the apple cart. Just as with music and magazines, suddenly anyone with a camera could upload whatever they wanted and (potentially) reach an audience.

In the early days of YouTube, very little could even charitably be called professional content. Cats riding skateboards, babbling babies and ladies sharing odd comestibles drove millions of views, but could hardly be called premium. In fact, the industry (and YouTube) called this stuff “User Generated Content” or UGC. But it didn’t take long for “professional video creators” — folks who’d actually received checks from media companies — to try their hand at original Web video. And it wasn’t just a hobby, either. Individuals and networks — including my own company, Revision3 — tried to turn a user-generated miasma into a professional, premium and profitable kingdom.

Unlike cats and babies, early efforts from some of the pioneering creators — including Shay Carl, iJustine and Phil DeFranco — developed new ways to talk to audiences and grow viewers. Over time, they layered traditional TV principles, including scheduling, repeating segments and good-looking video and audio, on top of the new media they were creating.

Then a little more than a year ago, YouTube upped the ante with its “channels” project, where it invested more than $100 million dollars in an effort to bring a variety of successful creators from traditional film and TV to their platform. At the same time, it began encouraging traditional rights-holders to upload their existing shows and movies for sale or rent.

So, today we have a variety of content on YouTube: Pre-existing material from traditional, linear TV and film production companies and networks. New properties, some narrative, some non-fiction, but produced by those with a background, or training, in traditional media. New episodic content that has little in common with traditional models. Music videos from established stars and everyone else with an instrument and a camera. And, of course, a steady stream of one-off videos of cats, babies and more.

So, what’s professional? What’s premium? Before I answer that, let’s agree on what makes someone a professional video creator. Fundamentally, a professional video creator is someone who is looking to make money from their endeavors, rather than simply doing it for fun. If you’re in it for profit, and someone’s written you a check for it, then you’re a pro. It works for the NCAA, and it works for me.

What about professional video? First, I think it’s created by a “professional” as defined above, but it’s more than that. I think professional video is defined by the following characteristics:

  • Your video product is more than just a one-off (unless you’re making music videos, but that’s a different ball of corn)
  • You’re releasing related, or episodic, videos on a set schedule — i. e. daily, weekly, monthly — not just tossing something out when you feel like it
  • You’ve built up an audience of subscribers who want to watch what you do
  • You’re actually making money from your efforts

That’s it. Note that I’ve made no distinctions about quality of production, quality of content, format or background and training of the creators. The key elements to me are whether you can create something repeatedly on a schedule, and whether you can build a community, or audience, of people who will come back and watch regularly. This definition excludes things like “David at the Dentist” and “Charlie Bit My Finger” — although even these can be turned into repeatable shows. But it includes Hank and John Green talking to each other in the Vlog Brothers, all the “Let’s Play” practitioners who have audience and repeatability, vloggers, makeup tips and more.

So that’s professional video. What’s premium? From where I sit, it’s the same thing. If you’re making something people want to watch, you’re getting paid for it, you’re releasing on a schedule, and your audio and video are reasonably high-quality, then it’s premium, too. The fact that you’re getting paid means that you’re getting a premium for your video efforts (as long as that premium is greater than zero).

Web video is a new medium. There are hundreds of thousands of creators getting checks from YouTube every month. Those who have built passionate audiences and can create on a schedule are professionals, making premium content. And advertisers who ignore this unique connection to their fans are missing out on a powerful — and professional — place to introduce brands to a passionate audience.

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