The Wal-Martization of Video Production

There are a number of companies that purport to “produce” very low-cost business videos by using inexperienced producers who audition their talents on the Internet and only deal with the business client after a contract has been made. Some of those companies include:

http://www.studionow.com

http://www.turnhere.com/

http://www.geobeats.com/

http://www.lightswitch.com/

Not surprisingly, the videos are pretty lightweight. GeoBeats videos seem to be made entirely of still photos edited into videos with stock music and weak narration. Some are better than others, but it’s obvious that these types of videos are produced very quickly and by-the-numbers.

For a couple hundred dollars, it’s an easy sell to businesses. They may be thinking they are ahead of the game, but I like to look at the number of views a video has had. If only 50 people have seen it in six months, it’s pretty much worthless. And that kind of number is not uncommon in these cheapie videos.


At least they are not (yet) trying to outsource the production to China. These videos are shot at the business owner’s location so they require a local videographer. Young and inexperienced videographers get experience from this work and very small paychecks, but this makes it harder for real production companies to compete. That’s how business works many will say.

Wal-Mart does have positives: Great efficiency in buying and low prices, more choices for the consumer, employment for poor people who want to work. But don’t forget the negatives. Many Mom & Pop stores are forced out of business. Wal-Mart wages and benefits are very low. No one knows your name when you walk into the store. The charm and sense of community of small-town businesses is lost. Economists says that overall Wal-Mart helps the national economy, but I’m not sure it’s worth the cost. Wal-Mart is one of the largest private employers in the world.

What’s your opinion of this type of video production company?

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11 thoughts on “The Wal-Martization of Video Production

  1. Jaime E.

    When I first moved from weddings to corporate videography, I needed a portfolio of work. I’ve done many videos that are well done for the small business so I can step up to the next level of my market. I’ve learned a lot during the process. Now I have something to show for my next level of clients that want to hire me.

    Reply
  2. Andrew James

    I think another question we could ask is somehow how GeoBeats (to be specific) is famous in their niche? I think GeoBeats cant be really categorized as a video production company. Maybe more of a Video Marketing site. As for Wal-Mart and companies like it, we can’t blame them. I mean, all businesses have their own pro’s and con’s for the consumers. They just have to do their thing to profit and be successful. Might as well learn from their good points and apply it. :)

    Reply
  3. Sebastian HOward

    Cheap video companies produce cheap looking videos, which inundate the web and in the end help contrast the difference between quality craftsmanship and cookie-cutter products. There will always be a Wal Mart in every industry catering to those who will pay the bottom dollar for something they want. These clients shouldn’t even be on our target list and we could actually be happy that they’ve been squared away for us. If we believe in well produced videos with high quality production value and creativity, then that is what we should continue doing with a fervor, leaving the Wal Mart videos to inhale our dust. Fortune 500 companies are commissioning more videos then ever before and they want quality! Same thing for small and medium businesses.

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  4. Michael Colford

    A quote that one of my college professors used that has always stayed with me, and is one of the tenets of our business is “You cannot, not, communicate.” Meaning everything you do says something or coveys meaning to others. That includes the esthetic quality, or non-verbal message behind your crafted communication efforts.

    Sure you may be creating a video message, but does the communication conveyed by the cheap feel of it, outweight the intended scripted message? Non-verbal communcation is responsible for over 90% of the meaning taken away by receivers. That’s something we try to convey to potential clients to combat the idea of creating a message cheaply to represent their business. It’s like wearing a cheap suit to make an impression. But for some folks the idea of getting something made is such a big deal, they can’t get beyond the idea that paying for something that’s cheaply made is not necessarily better than having nothing.

    All I say is, look at the local car dealer ads and tell me what their ads make you think about them….

    Reply
  5. Michael

    All of these have their place. Not all companies can afford thousands or even tens of thousands to do a full production. While I did see some larger companies that could use a higher quality production, I also saw some very small businesses who probably just wanted a credible video to go on their website. These companies fullfill that need and give some up-and-coming videographers some great experience. I don’t see how they harm the industry. Whatever your niche, I wish you all continued success.

    Reply
  6. Max Drygin

    The article’s title of Wal-martization conflicts with the core message of the article – more and more poorly looking videos produced by amateur new comers. Wal-mart is a highly efficient business model that is set up and serviced by professionals and astronomic cash flow figures borrowed from Fortune 500s to operate the business. Nothing of this kind is the case of the aforementioned cheap video producers. In fact, these el-cheapos are indeed mum-and-dad’s Internet corner shops where those who don’t know or care of staying in focus or having proper white balance or coherent cut is all new and not important. And, as with the case of wedding videos, more often than you’d think clients of these videos just want the content, not the most perfect technique it is captured with. So, they get it – without a video-boutique $$$$ pro trying to deceive them into a much more professionally looking something they don’t really need – just to cover the costs of the entire learning career of the pro that regrets new self-taught youngsters eating out his wellness.

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  7. JR

    All this “cheapie” production is thanks in part to the availability of HD camera’s that are more affordable and editing software that is more user friendly for novices. While the competition by manufacturers has helped those of us who are doing this full time, it unfortunately opened up the floodgates for a bunch of knucklehead kids who are willing to do it for nothing.

    Reply
  8. Mark O'Brien

    We are a small, two person corporate video company in business since 2006.We’ve been producing video for both TurnHere and StudioNow/AOL for more than four years. I can’t speak about GoBeats or Light switch because we have not worked with them. I can say that in working for the former two companies that, yes we’re working as they say “hard for the money”and I charge my direct clients quite a bit more than we get for 2 minutes of finished video for TurnHere or StudioNow. They get their cut of the pie which comes to around 40-50% of the client’s invoice.I’ve also gained new clients and many thousands of dollars from first doing these low paying videos because they liked the work and hired us directly for larger and even annual projects.
    The reason we work with them is simple: The economics of having a production company mean that there will be slow times when having an extra 1-2K a month in the account comes in very handy!
    The goal is of course to not NEED this low-paying work and replace it with much more lucrative work and this IS happening, slowly. Am I conflicted? Yes. Do companies like TurnHere lower the creative bar for video production? That depends on who’s producing the video. I use a Cannon 5dmk2 to shoot most of our stuff including these low-paying gigs and many of them look stunning and have an effective message, are well edited and an are an amazing value for what they are: 90 minutes of shooting and about 2 hrs of post. Are these companies Bad for our industry? There is the reality of video today so let’s get that out of the way. Everyone, even your Grandmother has a camera now. Video is simply not the voo-doo it once was. There’s a lot more people out there with HD gear and a computer with an NLE. They may not be ‘pros’ as the term once was used, but they’re getting paid. And that has changed the game forever. It’s NOT going back to the days when filmmaking was in the hands of a chosen few working for the fortune 5′s who could afford video. There is simply more supply to meet the demand. Yes, there are many more companies using video and that is a GREAT thing! There are also a lot more videographers to meet this demand. Lower rates for our work will be the inevitable outcome. But there is MORE work. It’s economics 101. Even large corporations are using TurnHere and StudioNow to produce video now. I know, I’ve produced them. So, is it a bad thing that we have these companies that pay us such a low rate for our professional work? Like I said. I’m conflicted here. In the end, can you fight change? You may hate it, but letting it turn you into a bitter old videographer, telling stories of “the good ‘ole days” won’t get you anywhere. God, I’m conflicted. Hold me??

    Reply
  9. Michael Kleven

    I think the most important issue that needs to be addressed is what can we do as a community to combat the downward pressure on prices and expectations in terms of quality. As many of you know it is very difficult to establish a viable commercial video operation. Companies like these are merely taking advantage of lower priced production gear, software and computers, eager content creators and the vast expansion of the online video market in the last few years.

    In fact this should be a boom time for the industry. Professional experience is valuable and for some the small amount of compensation offered may improve the revenue picture slightly. But in fact these companies are taking money from the pockets of all freelance producers and their crews, and in many ways providing a substanderd product to the end client.

    I don’t know if there are any easy solutions to this issue. These companies have a broad reach and experts in marketing and sales on there staffs. There packages may include website, SEO and branding that may be attractive to the small business owner. If they have an Achilles heal it would be that working for them is unsustainable long term. Not only does the content creator need to pay the bills, but expensive equipment needs to be replaced usually on a 3 to 5 year cycle. At the levels of compensation that I am aware of this it is just not possible to do both.

    Are there any constructive ideas about how to address this threat to our industry and livelihood?

    Reply
  10. Chuck Words

    We love to create great video. We love the art, the technology, the industry. So does everyone else. How do you make a living doing what you love when companies are setting the market price for Web videos at $200?

    1. Minimize overhead. This is Hal Landen’s website. If you buy and read his guide to creating a successful video business (which I highly recommend), he says it is better to rent equipment than buy. He says to invest in marketing rather than equipment and when you have paying jobs on the schedule, rent what you need. I can shoot with a Red camera any time I want. I don’t have to own one. I can always have the latest equipment and don’t have to worry about earning enough to pay for the equipment in three years so I can buy the next new thing. (Buy everything Landen has written on the subject.)

    2. Market yourself. I know a lot of starving production people who are great with cameras, audio, editing or whatever but suck at marketing themselves. I know mediocre production people who make a lot of money because they can network and sell their services. Don’t let Turn-Here and the others out-marketing you.

    3. NEVER compete as the low-cost provider. You cannot compete with Turn-Here or the kid down the street who just wants a project and is willing to do it for nothing. So, if not low-cost, what are you selling? Expertise? Maybe. In my case, I do a lot of TV commercials. I know what formats and technical requirements each TV station in our market require so I can give them what they want. I can also do the media buys. In this example, I have some expertise that creates a nice package of services I can offer to small business owners. Think about wedding photography. Everyone, including Grandma, has a camera. The kid down the street has a camera and is willing to do wedding photos for next to nothing. Just like with video production, most wedding photographers cannot compete as the low-cost provider. If you say to a bride, “do you really want the kid down the street to do your once-in-a-lifetime photos for $500?” most brides will say no. My neighbor’s daughter just by-passed many low-priced photographers and hired one that charges $3,500. Why? She wants quality.

    4. You have to sell more than pure production. If I create my productions with Avid and the kid down the street uses iMovie, are my productions so superior that they command a higher price? Maybe, but not double or triple what the kid is charging just because my edit suite is more expensive. See point 1. If you do corporate training videos, you better be an Instructional Designer, too. If you do corporate marketing materials, you better be an expert at SEO and social media and anything else that creates success in marketing. If you do corporate communication videos, you better know what makes an effective, engaging, motivating presentation.

    The bottom line is, if you offer value beyond what the Walmarts of video offer and can effectively market your value proposition, you can have a profitable video production business and support yourself doing what you love.

    Reply
  11. John Commons

    I first heard about TurnHere today and have been reading up on them for a few hours. There are some excellent comments here.

    I’m curious about something slightly off topic, but in relation to a point made in the article:

    “If only 50 people have seen it in six months, it’s pretty much worthless. And that kind of number is not uncommon in these cheapie videos.”

    Even with better produced videos, for a small business this is common. I’m interested in offering a valuable service to my clients. Even a video that gets 1000 views is still costing them over a dollar per viewer. What can we do to help ensure the videos actually get views and are worth it?

    Reply

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