Eight tips for Web producers

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With today's limited bandwidth, producing streaming video is like crafting the visual equivalent of a haiku. Michael Silberman, MSNBC's East Coast managing editor, tackled the challenges of new media after 11 years as a producer at CBS News. He offers these suggestions for making the most of the "little screen":

  1. Shoot people tighter. Even on TV, you don't want a distracting background. 60 Minutes learned that a long time ago. It's even more important on the Web. The more pixels that you have to put down the pipe, the more the image degrades.
  2. Minimize motion. Action doesn't work well in streaming media, whether it is in the frame or is a pan of some kind. The more motion, the worse the image.
  3. Use straight cuts, not dissolves. Streaming video doesn't handle dissolves very well because of all the pixels changing. Like motion, that degrades image quality.
  4. Divide graphics by four: Take whatever you learned about presenting information on a TV screen and cut it to one-fourth of that. Say you have a list of 12 bullet points on TV. Translating it into bigger fonts on the Web brings it down to just three bullet points.
  5. And do not list credits. This kind of information doesn't belong in a stream. Direct viewers elsewhere on the site for a text version.
  6. Use the Web-page context. Frame streams in terms of the surrounding Web page, not as a separate piece in a stand-alone video player. If you have an anchor, he or she can point to tabs and buttons on the surrounding page for further information.
  7. Keep it brief. Sure, you can put a lot of footage up on the Web. But, for now, users have a short attention span for video. If you go much longer than five or, at most, 10 minutes, you've lost most of your audience.
  8. Keep it fresh. Visitors to news sites want live streams or clips on-demand about breaking stories. The day's hot topics get played. Clips of the Concorde crashing was played many hundreds of thousands of times.
  9. Maintain high production values. The GIGO rule (garbage in, garbage out) applies when you encode streaming media.
  10. If the source file is low quality, the streaming version will be low quality. Do not think, "It's for the Web; it doesn't matter." Treat it like broadcast, and you get a much higher-quality end result.

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