Lights, camera, Internet-More Web sites using video: Vodcast clips catching on as a way for organizations to deliver their message in a new, more exciting way

November 13, 2006

The terms for emerging Internet technology are enough to make the less savvy long for the days when e-mail seemed cutting-edge. The communication tool, especially among teens, has given way to instant messaging, of course.

So it's no wonder colleges and companies alike are starting to shun standard e- mail and Web-page marketing efforts in favor of video-on-demand clips, known as vodcasts.

"The computer was meant to be watched; it wasn't meant to be read," said Jon DiGregory, who founded Fishersbased Cantaloupe Shows in August 2005. "The traditional ad model, in my perspective, is dying."

DiGregory has an obvious stake in the outcome. His company produces simple video with a high-definition camcorder and builds for clients what he calls "video magazines," or ever-changing Web sites sans the text. E-mails blasted to company customers contain links to the Web sites that can be forwarded to others, creating a targeted marketing approach DiGregory claims is much more effective than canvassing the general public.

The Web 2.0-inspired phenomenon of short, self-produced video delivery, made possible by broadband, is one companies cannot ignore, supporters say. As proof, they point to Google's recent purchase of YouTube, with its 8 million page views a day, for $1.7 billion in stock.

Now national vendors such as California-based Cisco Systems Inc. are selling encoders to turn video into digital formats; a media server to host searchable, categorized video; and a portal that lets companies brand their own Web-based video players. The package starts at $130,000.

Cisco is going after a growing segment of the business market in which production quality isn't up to television standards, but the video is much easier to produce.

Butler does it

At colleges, professors are recording classes and using Web portals to host video and presentations online. The Butler University College of Business, for instance, is taking the technology a step further and using it as a recruiting device.

The private Indianapolis university with an enrollment slightly more than 4,000 is scaling back on brochures and direct-mail campaigns to focus on a Web-based promotion it hopes will appeal more to highschool students.

Armed with a database containing the names of guidance counselors, alumni and students who have taken the SAT and ACT exams, the university shoots weekly emails linking to a series of vodcasts.

The three-minute clips show freshmen "Rob" and "Jana" in various campus settings. The series will run through the semester and ultimately feature 12 clips, culminating with a snippet of the two participating in a business plan competition, said Stephanie Judge, the college's director of marketing.

"Bottom line, our main goal is to increase the number of applications to the university," she said. "We want to show our college in an authentic way through the eyes of students who are already here."

To be sure, there are plans for the pair to continue capturing their experiences next semester, only through blogs instead of video clips. The campaign could be repeated next year, depending on how many visitors the page attracts and, most important, how many applications are received.

The university has contracted with Exact Target, an Indianapolis-based e-mail marketing firm, to track page hits. The clips are available on iTunes and YouTube, which should boost exposure.

Judge declined to reveal the cost, but noted it's more than what Butler spent on previous marketing efforts.

Boost for business

Media Sauce, a 10-year-old Carmelbased advertising agency that specializes in digital media and marketing strategies, is producing Butler's recruiting endeavor. Company CEO Bryan Gray sees the shift from print to video.

The agency produces pieces for a smattering of entities and events, including the Indy Pods feature that showcased the city during this year's Final Four. That project helped Media Sauce create clips for the campaign of Republican Prosecutor Carl Brizzi and the Arts Council of Indianapolis, which highlight local artists and their works.

Perhaps one of its more unusual jobs had staffers traipsing 26 cities in 32 days to capture the summer Sounds of the Underground tour, featuring metal bands with macabre names such as As I Lay Dying and Cannibal Corpse.

"I think Gutenberg got in the way," said Gray, referencing the inventor of movable type. "We're visual people, with the stick figures in the caves and all."

Gray and DiGregory of Cantaloupe were partners at Media Sauce until last year, when Gray purchased his share and DiGregory founded his new venture. In the meantime, Cantaloupe has amassed 40 clients and 10 employees and nearly outgrown its space in a former Fishers residence.

The two companies are at the forefront of the fledgling movement in Indianapolis to produce video segments for marketing purposes.

Cantaloupe's client list includes Kiwanis International, the city of Beech Grove, and Lushin & Associates Inc., a local sales-training firm.

Lushin advertises in standard print and talk-radio outlets, but began experimenting with text-based e-mails to further market its services. Partner Matt Nettleton had known DiGregory and provided sales tips for a Cantaloupe client's Web page.

Lushin followed suit with its own site, or "video magazine," earlier this year. The weekly e-mails the company sends containing the link to the site are opened three times as much and forwarded five times more often than the text e-mails, Lushin research found. The return on investment, in terms of new clients, has been well worth the cost, Nettleton said. Its Web site now contains no text whatsoever.

"People will sit for hours watching a cat falling off a toilet, but they're not going to read a three-page bio on somebody," he said. "The reality is, people will sit and watch video forever."

Both Media Sauce and Cantaloupe have plans to expand operations beyond the metropolitan area. Gray at Media Sauce is eyeing Chicago, San Diego and Washington, D.C. Cantaloupe's DiGregory seeks a national presence as well, with the ultimate goal of going global.

DiGregory makes it sound so simple: "All I need is a shooter and an interviewer to deliver video back to us."

Still skeptical

Yet the trend of video streaming has its skeptics. Robert Unmacht, principal of iN3 Partners Inc., a Nashville, Tenn.-based media and investment-banking consultancy, doubts video will replace traditional advertising and marketing venues.

The delivery can be costly and requires a lot of bandwidth, cautioned Unmacht, noting the toughest task might be producing clips compelling enough to make people want to watch.

"It's just one more tool in the marketing world," he said. "Radio didn't replace the newspaper and TV didn't replace the radio, and the computer didn't replace any of the above. But it's big and it is hot. Just look at YouTube."
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