The media organizations of today are generating more digital video content than ever before. Increasingly, since the rise in established user-generated content and cloud-based computing models, the digital content business has been focused on producing video-based content alongside text-based content. This trend is rapidly becoming standard operating procedure for many media organizations and will continue to be a long-term influence on the future of media. It raises the question of what kind of impact this evolution in content formatting has on our experience in consuming digital content.

Experiencing The Media
If you open CNN.com, the first tab listed at the top of the website is labeled “Home”, naturally. The second tab is labeled “Video”. Full stop. Interesting. Suddenly, this does not feel so natural. To the right of those two tabs, there are 14 more tabs with various labels, ranging from “Health” to “Politics”, etc. As a user of this website, I am confused as to whether the “Video” tab is a short-cut way of searching video content archives across all categories, or whether the tab is actually a category unto itself that is not cross-listed in other categories. When I click on the “World” tab, I am immediately presented with several videos, so that confuses me further about when I should use the “Video” tab, and when not to use it, since I can look for videos on other tabs. Furthermore, when I click on the “Video” page, I am bombarded with a loud video playing in the window, even though I did not choose to play this video.

The Associated Press has a small column on their home page titled “AP News in All Formats” with links to Photo, Video, Audio, RSS, Podcast, and Mobile. Perhaps yesterday these categories made sense, but information and formats are quickly evolving in today’s world and tomorrow these differentials will not make sense to users anymore.

There are thousands of user experiences to relate beyond these two traditional online news media sources, other interactive websites and blogs that are facing this same evolution from publishing predominantly text-based content to more video-based content. I am relaying these observations to make the point that post-print media is in the early stages of experimenting with different user interface designs and user experiences concerning video content and are still trying to figure out how and when users want to consume information in video- or text-based format.

Video Is Here To Stay
Technology giants, such as Cisco Systems, Microsoft, and Google are investing heavily in video streaming and video distribution to Wi-Fi enabled devices beyond the PC, such as mobile phones and HDTVs. They are forging alliances with many content delivery partners to compete in the digital video technology space, and are snapping up video related startups right and left. Business strategies, such as Microsoft’s “3 Screens and a Cloud” which focuses on the convergence of the PC, the smart phone, and the television, are broadening the platforms for digital video content — the displays are merging and getting more ubiquitous in our everyday activities. Already, watching the news in Egypt unfold in real-time on the television, is the same as streaming this news on my computer, is the same as streaming this news on my mobile phone.

As part of Microsoft’s strategy for video, the company published a research study by Sparkler, a brand consultancy based in London, conducted across five markets in Europe that focused on people’s consumption of video, examining 1) how is people’s video viewing behaviour changing, 2) who is viewing content in these new ways, and 3) how are people’s relationships with video content changing.

“[The study] identified that relationships with video content are changing – moving towards a more visually orientated world where consumers expect much more control over the content they consume. It also identified that the home is where the screens are competing for roles – some households have more TV’s than people but now combined with a desktop, laptop, a personal mobile phone and a games console, the choice for viewing opportunities gets ever greater and potentially more fragmented.”

Online video advertising and cloud-based video gaming on-demand are examples of a broad range of emerging trends in the digital video content business. As the technology for digital video streaming and video embedding, like Adobe’s HTML5 embedded video player improves and becomes more standardized, we are only going to see a continued increase in the demand for video based content in media.

Complementary Formats
However, this notable increase in demand for video based content does not necessarily mean that we are going to see a decrease in text-based content in media. I believe that the demand for video-based content will rapidly increase over the next decade, but it will never completely replace text-based content. The question is, how can content publishers leverage both of these experiences to support a dynamic, digital media ecosystem?

The key to success is figuring out how to strike the right balance between the two formats, so that consumers have the ability to participate in the full range of experiences and have the understanding how to choose which format according to the specific context.

Some people believe that text-based interfaces have an inherent advantage over audio/video interfaces because they allow for humans to multi-task, whereas audio/video interfaces are single-tasking platforms that don’t easily allow for humans to do multiple activities at the same time because they require more attention and auditory-visual processing. For example, I can sit in a classroom listening to my professor lecture, while scanning an article on my laptop, writing notes in my notebook, and reading through the comments from last week’s blog post. But even in that example, the lines between tasks and the hyperactivity of our attention spans are blurring, so that in the near future we may not be so certain about the delineation and differences in how we process text-based content and video-based content.

Just as people today have the ability to scan, skim, and jump-read through text-based content, engineers are currently working on ways to do these sorts of mechanics with video content by parsing out the semantic and structural video objects, so that we will have the ability to scan, skim, and jump-to sections of particular interest.

Context Is Everything
The context in which we choose what digital format to consume is paramount in today’s world. Context will dictate behaviors. This is the issue that should be at the forefront of our current research in the digital video content business and in the evolution of post-print media, and it is the issue that we should level-set against — not whether people are going to want to consume text-based content versus video-based content, but rather when, and under what conditions, are we going to choose one format or another, and what are the new tools and interaction models that we need to create in order to support our desired experience in consuming this information.


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