New Directions in Vlogging for ENG Livecasts

New Faces, New Channels, and a window of opportunity

Video Blogging has caught fire as the outlet for democratic on-line journalism. Inevitably, as tools evolve and the vlogging phenomenon propagates in the media outlet gestalt, professional users in the ENG community will wake-up to the possibilities.

The popularity of hosting services for vlogging is creating an impression within the ENG (Electronic News Gathering) market that vlogs are not ready for prime time. Video upload / transcode services, like Google, YouTube, and VideoEgg, are mere toys that do not offer the high quality delivery and real-time options for the management of ‘off-the-street video news blogging’.

This immaturity of the vlog tools market plays into the hands of a predictable culture of institutional snobbery that holds sway over the rather settled ENG labor and equipment markets:. If you do not have access to satellite uplink or terrestrial UHF mobile field production units, you are not worth talking to as a ‘professional’ journalist’.

The writing is on the wall, however, and HDV camcorders, like the Sony Z1, HDR-HC1, and others yet to come, are pushing down the cost of acquiring quality video for the web. For now, the act of capturing high quality video, performing fast in-the-field cutting for air or now, upload, and transcoding/uploading, is, as of today, a crafty manual process. The best video bloggers are producing finely edited and encoded works that do not fit the agile, mobile production mode of contemporary ENG, even at a community production level.

The next step for Vlogging will be better integrated transcoding, storage and syndicated delivery systems. The productization and delivery of an integrated ‘from the street’ vlogging service will likely be conquered by an on-line storage company, or a database / web services SOA company that has Superplatform and blog syndication expertise, and wants out of the very lonely and increasingly polluted web services mumbo-jumbo arena.

I do not see future Professional ENG Vlogging solutions coming from the current crop of Text Blogging heavyweights, as their hosting platforms are built upon sand and gravel.

A New Model of Electronic News Gathering for the Web

The next renaissance in web-based publishing of video content will be borne of systems that dramatically slash the time to a live vlog post. Additionally, the essence of the freelance video news market place requires a more sophisticated, yet accessible, model of content distribution and control of deliverables, i.e., the back-end infrastructure of offering a choice of stream and file formats, depending on the publishing end-client. Box.net, by offering a bulletproof set of features in the current product offering, should take an interest in taking the next step in packaging a comprehensive set of video blogging and content control services for the web-based video publishing market that aspires to encroach on ENG’s territory.

As Video Blogging slowly crosses the accessibility meridian, the market will stratify into consumer and professional sectors. Easy blog posting and universal transcoding, often to Flash, is making its mark at YouTube, Google Video, and posting services like VideoEgg. These down-to-earth services are fine for humbler uses, but the professional on-line journalist or those organizations seeking to expand from traditional ENG to web based syndication services, will need more.

The features that are important to the news gathering crows are hinted at above, and specifically entail the following:

A. Fast posting without hacking and jacking with embed code

B. Easy and integrated content upload and storage configuration – with or without a transcode of the preview post

C. Complete control over post and content access – per post, per user, per media buyer or outlet, and all of this with rights management and built-in payment system

D. No-thought integration of wireless broad band, OHCI -1394 DVCAM, and HDV Equipment – with an adjunct portable platform that allows easy operation, posting, stream archiving, live from the street, on the run ENG. The current Laptop and Tablets are just too cumbersome for man on the street ENG – but may be fine for vehicle based remote shooting.

E. Finally, a better, easier, syndication model that takes into account the whole enchilada. So, we have minimally delivery to ENG content subscribers, segment management with meta data, and outward syndication of an adjunct stream for advertising insertion or station control information.

That’s the broad strokes; in the next sections, we look at the worlds of interoperability and convergence that will enable ENG’s blog- based renaissance. Web 2.0 is more than a buzz word to raise VC or dump your clever service on a mega-operation – Web 2.0, to this author at least, means data interoperability and sharing.

This Web 2.0 World Becomes the Semantic Web

Buzz has no place in the hard-boiled world of ENG. Reporters and Videographer on the beat already have a rough time getting to deadline as it is. This brave new world of the Vlog invading the traditional or supplemental ENG broadcast space requires real pragmatism in the day-to-day usability realm. In a similar vein, ‘Live from the street’ Vlogging from a print or web reporter’s workflow perspective must be a substantively useful alternative to the current mess of what passes for Vlogging solutions. The acts of writing, trimming, annotation, and media asset management, must be made easier.

I am less concerned about the back-end – the management of subscriptions, syndication, advertising, and accounts. The power of today‘s application servers, databases, and web services provider stacks are up to the challenge, even if not yet used widely or well by the blog platform vendor community. Time will tell whether whip-smart companies like OpenLink Software will prevail, toiling as they are in virtual anonymity compared to the more visible blog hosting machinery folks at Six Apart, WordPress, et al.

The Web 2.0 hype spanning the arc of simple tagging to API mash ups of maps and data-sharing between service accounts, like del.icio.us, will need to made real to the ENG journalist transitioning to the Vlog. If Web 2.0 is read/write web, syndication, user participation, and interoperability, etc., then the next step will be the semantic web, the web of implied meaning made concrete.

This evolution of self-describing content that can be queried in-context is the Holy Grail of the electronic media, and we are almost there. Even the pure text services giants, such as Lexis Nexis, have not completely capitalized on semantic technologies.

As Vlogging takes hold in professional news gathering, semantic search and retrieval may become even more crucial as article content explodes in number and diversity of citations and references.

The Convergence of Services and Technology

The forces driving this threshold culture of “street-live’ vlogging are:

A. Availability of mid and low cost HDV video camcorders

HDV is rapidly supplanting MPEG2 HDCAM for cable and television field documentary work, and may be a strong contender for independent film documentary work.. The HD revolution is here and you can see the results on even sub-sampled 480×260 Quicktime shots at 15 fps. The results are stunning compared to SD-DV. No doubt we can thank MPEG 4 family, most notably the H.264 codec for this high quality revolution. This phenomenon alone will relegate Flash transcoding sites like YouTube to the Amateur constituency, while more professional Vlogging systems, as proposed herein, will take hold for serious beat coverage and professional shooters that do not have access to traditional ENG setups.
B. Wide area, Wireless Broadband and Increased Wifi Availability

ENG’s well worn default options for field transmission have been terrestrial UHF to building top, or a SAT van. Both are expensive and considered de riguer for serious local station coverage of community and affiliate news. The trailblazers in live Vlogging, especially for technology trade event coverage, are using built-in web cams, camcorders with live 1394, and fast fingering to get the editorial text, syndication tags and account postings done in real time.

This may well start to change if the new vision of live, integrated, news quality Vlogging comes to take advantage of Wide Area Broad band systems, such as those offered by Cingular and Verizon. We are in a critical crossover period, where the next generation of wide area broad band will take upload speeds from ~50-70k KBPS, to 120-150 KBPS – roughly equivalent to residential home services performance and in some instances, superior when in good coverage.

Let us not forget Wifi, which is also undergoing a sort of renaissance of its own; in the number of free and paid hot-spots, and backwards compatible speed increases with WiMax and 802.11n transitional soon to become even more widespread.

Finally, there are new terrestrial transmission alternatives for point-to-point services that have not yet been widely exploited for roving news services – this the dedicated licensed spectrum for data services infrastructure companies like Waverider and others in their sector that normally provide last mile and back-haul data services in urban areas. Something to keep an eye on, as the Vlogging business may open up new territory for these direct wireless data companies providing much higher data rates than the wide area commercial broad band offerings.
C. Next Generation Blog Hosting and Content Management Systems.

Next generation may be a purely pejorative term here, as these mega syndication engines already exist and just need to be discovered and popularized. OpenLink Software’s Virtuoso Superserver is one example, yet today we see weak-assed systems like Moveable Type and WordPress taking up more than their fair ‘share of mind’.

Or maybe it is fair, and this revolution has been waiting for the division of the high performance database and blog syndication engine to crumble. The ability to move news content out of the file system and onto a content aware virtual storage platform is long past overdue. However, what we have today is just the opposite – Databases over here pointing reference links and metadata to native file systems over there….and this causes problems.

What kind of problems? Let me count the ways: difficult to edit templates, account access grant problems,. broken media links, bad publishing client behavior, unrepeatable features loading, ridiculous error reports and laughable tech support ticket excuses.

The marriage of the database to the blog system, to any system, and abstraction from the file system, regardless of OS, is the smart way to achieve this vision of ENG quality Vlogging. The alternatives as they are offered today are too weak and will ultimately delay timely uptake within the professional media trades.

If only FDR were still Alive – It’s A New Deal for ENG Video Blogging

Who will take charge of the next convergence event? Which company will transition Vlogging from a niche specialty of a few Ultra Geeks putting out Rocketboom-Crafted masterpieces (using customized MT hosting and Javascript), to a true tools platform for the professional or community news organization?

We shall see. In the meantime, I will apprise you of the deficiencies of the current crop of blog technologies, video equipment interoperability, and platform issues – including the wholesale selling ad buying-in to inferior blog publishing platforms.

Prediction:

As a fully realized ENG blogging platform must include some type of media management at the capture end, the most likely suspects to make a mark may be a partnership between a heretofore unknown Blog Engine, Web Services/Database middleware Web2.0 Powerhouse, and a HDV Savvy video device company, likely not a camcorder manufacturer, but a 1394/OHCI control and storage system VAR.

About the Author

I certainly want to be involved in trade awareness, brokering partnerships between key players, and product management of this brave new sector of professional Vlogging for ENG – and I have made the investment in my own Sony HDR-HC1, and a Full Editing Suite using Edius (soon to be) 4.0.

If your company is looking for a hyped-up media savvy evangelist and technofreak with a background in technology and Video – and you are interested in this emerging sector, please contact me.

Until then, I will be posting on the aforementioned issues of the transition of Vlogging from an amateur and specialist phenomenon to a professional, manageable medium.


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One thought on “New Directions in Vlogging for ENG Livecasts

  1. Hello Alan,
    I have read your blog on ENG LIvecasts and am in agreement with you about your predictions of how this workflow would best be addressed. I invite you to read my blog and possibly we can keep a discussion going around the future of IP based protocol for the tranferring of broadcast capapble video. Regards,
    Hassan

    http://www.readyforbroadcast.blogspot.com

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