Short Format videos can exhibit all kinds of characteristics, styles and functions, so it is worthwhile considering how these group together and relate to one another. We are considering all video that is created for commercial reasons that is not (A) a feature film, (B) a short film or (C) a television episode. These three follow different market processes and have burdens of character and act structure that don’t apply in the same way to the shorter format material with which we’re dealing. This doesn’t confine us to “online video”, as there are various ways to watch or encounter a video, whether it’s a stand–alone kiosk in a train station or an augmented reality overlay on your phone camera. (Recent use of augmented reality, like the whatever-the-heck–those-are creatures in Pokémon GO, while technically employing video, remains part of a larger piece (a game) and therefore outside of our discussion.) So with our criteria set, let’s begin our look at some essential terms.
What sets a distribution method apart from a medium? How is a form not a genre? Let’s look at these key terms — distribution method, medium, form and genre — to define them and identify examples of each.
A distribution method is how and where something will be seen. It can dictate certain experiential parameters — like duration, frame size or whether there is audio — but otherwise makes no impact on the genre or form of what is presented. Each method has multiple channels that can have their own further implications. Key methods of distribution are:
- Online Hosted [eg. a website, YouTube, Vimeo, Instagram, Facebook]
- Online Live–Streaming [eg. Periscope, Livestream, Snapchat, Facebook Live]
- Location—Based Offline [eg. In–Store Displays, public transit screens, digital billboards]
A genre is the the big–picture style of the film, with implications of purpose and creative treatment but no implication on how the delivery is manifest or delivered — an advertisement has the same contents regardless of whether it’s a Super Bowl broadcast spot or if it’s a silent, square video on Instagram. If you are writing a campaign of multiple videos, you could employ different genres to accomplish different aspects of the strategy, but if you are creating concepts for an individual video, you will likely stick to one genre and then play with different forms (see below) for each concept. Many have sub–categories that we’ll examine later, and sometimes you can have one masquerading as another, like a Product/Service Advertisement (a commercial) that looks like a training video, but this would still belong in one genre with the characteristics of the secondary one used as part of its style rather than function.
Here are the key types of genre and a common generic objective for each:
- Commercial — to sell
- Promo— to raise awareness
- Public Service Announcement — to educate for public good
- Event — to document
- Training — to educate
- Branded Content — to sell or to affect perception in the marketplace
- Brand Film — to establish perception in the marketplace
- Internal Communications — to inform or inspire staff
- Review — to educate or to entertain
- Factual — to inform
- Music Videos — to sell or to entertain
The form is the overall presentation of the video. Is the objective of the genre achieved by a narrative script or an interview? Is the training video done by someone speaking to camera (direct address) or by animation? This is the second–level creative direction of the video, and as you come up with multiple ideas to fit your objective you may choose different forms that are applied to your genre to explore different ways of engaging your audience. Think of form as the general style of communication of the piece, typified by:
- Live–Action Narrative
- Direct address
The medium is the package in which the content is conveyed to the viewer. This is usually a regular video, but it can take other forms as well, such as a looping video or a GIF, both of which have important implications that can affect your writing. A looping video may be a seamless loop, which requires some careful consideration of how it is accomplished. It can be very difficult to loop a scenario with a lot of elements in motion, so you may be better off writing something intimate and controlled — less a wide shot of the city with a moving camera, more an actor against a brick wall. Similarly, Animated GIFs which loop by definition, are silent and strain against duration — the longer a GIF, the higher the file size, which puts pressure on reducing image quality and frame size. The looping videos don’t face these same restraints, but can’t be distributed in all of the same places as GIFs.
A further complication is that since the same source material can be distributed across multiple channels, it may require a different medium to sit on each one. This means that one channel (say Instagram) may happily display a looping video but another may not, which might require the actual content of the video to be repeated several times within the file. While this proliferation of versions may not affect your creative, it’s always better to know what delivery is expected early on so that you can determine whether there are things that affect your idea selection, and you don’t end up being surprised that maybe audio can’t be part of the final piece. The types of medium we can identify are:
- Animated GIFs
- 360º VR video
As you consider these categories, you can see that any given video has a genre, form, medium and method of distribution before we even get into the particular creative concept or visual style employed. It is essential that we have a clear understanding of what each of these essential terms means and delve deeper into the scope and qualities within each category.
We will explore all of these in much greater detail in future posts to pick apart the challenges and expectations implicit in each area, but for now let us agree that genre asks the question “what is it’s function?”, the form asks “how is it communicated?”, the medium asks “how is it packaged?”, and the method of distribution asks “how does it get to its audience?”