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Does video quality really matter?

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Warning sign - quality guarantee

The importance of quality in online video cannot be overstated, but times are changing. The technology we use to create and produce video is becoming more accessible with apps like Periscope and Cameo, which means more people are watching user-generated videos. The success of Tik Tok is just one example of people using their smartphones to create engaging video content. Who needs a professional crew when the equipment is available and you can do it yourself?

For brands and organisations, user-generated content can be a powerful tool to humanise what you do and achieve new levels of engagement. In education, as Helen wrote recently, the fundamental interaction between pupils and teachers can finally be replicated, helping to realise the potential of online video to transform education.

But while the quantity of videos being uploaded is increasing, our expectations of quality haven’t changed. Video is known to be an effective tool for raising awareness or knowledge transfer. Unfortunately, more often than not, tight budgets or a lack of skills are leading to poorly produced videos.

While audiences may not be conscious of exactly how they know it, they do make decisions about a publisher based on the quality of the content they see. For any organisation or business with a reputation, this can be massively damaging. Research by Brightcove and Screen Digest discovered the following:

  • If viewers watch a poor-quality video, 62% of those are more likely to have a negative perception of the brand that published that video

  • 23% would think twice about buying from a brand with poor-quality video

  • The majority of respondents - 9 in 10 consumers - said video quality was important and while HD resolution was a key factor, the high-quality sound actually mattered more.

There are three dimensions to a quality video production: the technical, the editorial and another that is becoming increasingly important: the experience of watching the video. The sweet spot for quality is when a video is a perfect balance of these three aspects. Let’s look at each of these in more detail, why they matter and tips on ensuring quality with each.

1. Editorial

Man with yellow jump holding pencil on notepad

You can have the most technically polished video but if the idea is weak with a flimsy script, then it will mean very little to your audience. Before any production starts, it needs a strong story and a rationale. Why should they watch and listen to what your video has to say? Are you offering your viewers real value? The audience should be able to take your content, use the information you’ve given them and respond to it.

The response that you want depends on what your goal is. It could be thought-provoking, persuasive, entertaining or inspiring. Whatever it might be, the mark of high-quality video content will be seen in the audience’s response, which comes from sound editorial guidance.

2. Technical video quality

man, surrounded by video lights, presenting in front of small group

With a strong idea ready to go, the technical side should convey the story in the clearest and most impactful way possible. Every creative decision should be made with the story at the forefront. For the majority of knowledge transfer videos and vlogs, these basic tips should help.

a. Sound

As the study I mentioned earlier showed, respondents rated sound above picture resolution as more important to the quality of a video. It’s particularly important when it’s tied to an action, like when someone is speaking and you can see their lips moving. Anything that’s unexpected will be a distraction, like wind damage, speech being out of sync or the outside sound of passing cars when the subject is sat inside an office. Quality sound should be clear, detailed and consistent. If you notice how bad it is or find yourself switching off while someone is talking, chances are the sound just isn’t good enough. b. Framing

When pointing the camera at your subject, make sure that they’re the first thing that the audience sees. Too often there are videos where a company banner or the favourite office plant dominates the screen at the expense of the person speaking. Don’t point the camera at anything that detracts from the story or message.

c. Lighting Lighting is an art form in itself but the basics are straightforward. Like sound, it should be consistent and stay on the subjects, helping to focus the viewer’s attention and holding their gaze.

d. Focus

A simple pointer, but make sure your subject is in focus. A blurry subject isn’t comfortable on the eye and is distracting.

Previously, the editorial and technical aspects were enough to determine the quality of an online video production. But now a third dimension has emerged: the online video platform.

3. Video viewing experience

As the lines between web and video become blurred, the viewer experience has become an increasingly important part of online video. Online video platforms (OVP) like YouTube or Vimeo should deliver a seamless viewing experience, which means you can rely on a video player to stream your videos with no problems.

While it may seem obvious, it isn’t always the case. Brightcove asked 1,204 consumers about their responses to poor video experiences of YouTube, the world’s leading online video player. Out of the viewers, one-third said they abandoned videos halfway through because they failed to play. Remember the findings I quoted earlier about poor video experiences leading to negative perceptions of that brand? While your videos may be technically and editorially produced to a high standard, if it doesn’t playback, it’s practically worthless. Not only that, but it will damage your company or organisation’s reputation. So, having a reliable OVP is a key component of a high-quality online video (I explore why in more detail in this post). It’s a simple idea, but developers and filmmakers are combining to create video experiences with some incredibly creative and powerful results. For best in class examples, check out Life on Hold from Al Jazeera and Choose Your View from YouTube.

Is quality always important?

When considering all this, is video quality important all of the time? Actually, no.

Smash hit viral videos like Charlie biting a finger and popular video bloggers like Russell Brand and PewDiePie don’t have the highest technical specs for their videos.

In politics, Chuka Umunna was heavily criticised for using Facebook video to announce his short-lived campaign for Labour leadership, but it gave him a platform to speak directly to his target demographic without meddling or framing from the traditional media. What better way to distance yourself from the Westminster club, which is rightly criticised for its close links to the media establishment, than to produce and publish your own video on your own terms?

Chuka Umunna

Chuka Umunna - criticised for using Facebook video to announce his leadership bid.

Crowd funding videos are another grey area. A polished well-produced video can put off potential donors if they’re suspicious of big budgets already being spent on expensive promotional campaigns. It can conflict with the good will and grassroots nature of the platform. Overall, though, when it comes to deciding between user-generated and professionally produced video content, refer back to your goals and strategy and what your video content is aiming to achieve. When planning your video production, simply ask yourself: can you afford to risk the reputation of your brand or organisation with poor quality video?

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