Top 5 strategies to create better mobile video

There is plenty being said and written about the explosion in video consumption on mobile devices, but very few local news organizations seem to be producing content specifically for mobile viewing.  Resources are definitely an issue, but the time is coming when reporters may no longer be doing a “Web version” of their stories, rather they will produce a “mobile version” — or maybe both.  So, here are my Top 5 findings from lots of reading about this topic.

  1. Shooting Techniques. Focus on tight and medium shots to ensure that the viewers see the intended subject of the frame. Wide shots make the subject too small for most mobile devices. According to research done at the Reese News Lab at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, visual diversity also becomes a challenge when you can’t incorporate a lot of the environment in a shot.  For example, let’s say you switch from a sound bite that obeys the Rule of Thirds to a shot of a different person that also obeys the rule, the similarity can make the transition jarring. Be conscious of the script so as to make sure similar video portraits won’t be edited back-to-back. Be obvious! On a mobile screen, subtle motion ends up looking a lot like a freeze frame.
  2. Audio Challenges. There are two big issues here: 1) Content produced for mobile needs to “work” without sound and 2) Mobile is more sensitive to sound quality than the desktop or TV. It may sound perfect on a desktop, but if a crossfade is missing or levels are all over the place, the problems are more noticeable on mobile. Consider stacking several of the same audio clips on top of one another to create a richer sound without distorting the levels to the point where you can hear white noise.
  3. Graphics Redo. When it comes to thinking about whether a video works with the sound off, strong visuals really do matter, and that includes graphics. Using images sized for phones is essential to making your content useful to the mobile audience, as outlined by Steve Schwaid at CJ&N. You should consider these questions:
  • Do you have to subtitle the video in order to keep the audience retention high?
  • Do you need to use big fonts?
  • Do you need to use color blocking in order to make words pop and make things stand out?
  • Is there too much information for such a small screen?
Steve Schwaid of CJ&N points out that many weather graphics create an experience like trying to read "an eye chart:" when you look at them on a mobile device.

Steve Schwaid of CJ&N points out that many weather graphics create an experience for viewers that’s like trying to read “an eye chart:” when they look at the content on a mobile device.

  1. Timing. The first :05 are critical. That’s about how long you have to convince someone to stop and watch. (Branded pre-rolls may not be a good idea for this reason.) In general, mobile video producers suggest that shorter is better when it comes to mobile video, but viewing patterns can vary significantly among platforms (YouTube vs. Facebook) and devices (phone vs. tablet), according to some of the things Jigar Mehta, has learned working for the app-based news organization AJ+.
  2. Vertical Viewing. According to analyst Mary Meeker, users use vertically oriented devices nearly 30 percent of the time, up from just 5 percent in 2010. And more than 7 billion videos are viewed each day on Snapchat, which is specifically designed for vertical consumption. In a piece published at Nieman Lab, Mashable’s creative director suggests that, “In terms of quality, and for the content to live on in as many forms as possible, shooting it on at least a 4K camera horizontal has proven to be the most efficient.”  Two more pieces of advice:
  • When shooting interviews, frame the subject in the center of the frame so the video can be easily readjusted to a vertical orientation. (Some video producers are marking their view screens with white tape outlining the various orientations for Instagram, Snapchat or YouTube, so they know what part of the image is in or out of frame for each platform.)
  • Using center-focused shots allows you to adapt graphics to the orientation of multiple video versions.

Of course, this may sound obvious, but checking the video you produce to make sure it looks good on mobile is a must.  And if you shoot a lot of video and you think we’re missing a key point here, please share your ideas.  I’m working on some research with millenials to determine what they want from mobile video providers and will be sure to post the findings here at Advancing the Story.