The other day we urged our readers to dive into online video, and pointed out that big budgets weren't required. We've received some useful comments on that post from Humane Society of the U.S. and from See3 Communications, which I urge you to read.

But here in its entirety is a mini-case study sent by Charles Langley at Utility Consumers' Action Network (UCAN) in San Diego. I think you'll enjoy!

You asked for low-budget videos. At UCAN, our videos are probably below low budget. Our budgets are so low they could play handball against the curb, but we've still done some nice stuff with mixed results as a part of our “New Media Rights” project. We are determined to master this medium under the direct order of our E.D.

What we've discovered is that like all things internet, video is not a panacea. It seems our most effective videos are those where we are quoted by the TV news, or are making stern pronouncements about policy issues. However, last year, we did 18 videos with the hope that some would go “viral” – especially, our video warning about cell phone contracts and our offer of a free guide on how to save gasoline.

Our most successful video in terms of PR was when we announced that we would be filming a consumer video to the local media. All five TV stations showed up to cover the epic battle between the Big Oil Hog (played by me) and the consumer underdog, played by our E.D. Michael Shames. The video is here. This story had great media traction because every Ground Hog day we trot out the Big Oil Hog. If the Oil Hog sees his shadow, you can expect six more months of obscene profits for the industry. The TV stations literally BEG us to repeat this schtick each year, so when we decided to do a video of the oil hog in September, it did rather well.

We added a few thousand local names to our snail mail list as a result of that effort. We've also had thousands of downloads of our mobile phone contract fact checker, plus hundreds of requests for mailed copies locally. Not bad.
At this time we are experimenting with more “serious” videos that are less gimmicky, although one of my favorites is a tour of UCAN given by our bulldog mascott “00K-9″.

We've learned three things from our ongoing experiments:

First, it is possible to create viral videos, but it is very hard to determine in advance which videos will go viral.

Second, the ability to rapidly respond to breaking news with a video or podcast has become an important bullet in our communications bandolier.

Third, UCAN has a history of using humor to make a point. When we started our video adventure our aim was to create humorous videos that had some useful information. Right now we are more inclined to make informative videos that have some humor.

It is also worth noting that MGM has threatened to sue us for a parody of their roaring lion. We are still using the 'Roaring Bulldog,” and at this point have fought them and won. Our staff attorney and videographer now sport T-Shirts with the Roaring Bulldog logo (attached as an image).

In fact, understanding copyright and fair use can be an important part of making your own videos, especially when they are parodies and plays on existing material. This is why we are launching a Web site in the next month dedicated to helping creators deal with the issues of copyright and fair use, as well as how to respond when a large media company like MGM threatens your free speech. You will even be able to write in to get information, direction, and advice.

We will let you know when it is ready.

Charles Langley

Thanks Charles. It goes without saying … you deserve a raise! And The Agitator will contribute to your defense fund.

Tom

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