Bonus online article: Is the video news release still relevant?

May 14, 2009

Copyright © 2009 PRSA. All rights reserved.

By Todd Grossman

Though a lot of arguments remain about whether or not video news releases (VNRs) are still viable PR tools, traditional VNRs, which are produced and distributed with the sole purpose of gaining widespread television exposure, are losing value. Special interest groups and the FCC have merely hastened an inevitable overhaul of the traditional VNR and a move away from heavy reliance on local TV news.
In March 2005, The New York Times printed a story about how the government was misusing VNRs and some broadcasters were blamed for not disclosing their sources. Since these government-produced VNRs ran on the air without much attribution or editing, viewers assumed that what they were seeing was real news. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) deemed that two of these federal agency VNRs were “illegal propaganda.” The FCC followed suit in April and issued a public notice on sponsorship identification rules for VNRs and the following month, Congress passed a legislation excluding federal agencies from producing or distributing VNRs that don’t candidly identify the government as their source.

The new media landscape
According to Harris Interactive research from this past November, there are an estimated 184 million total online users as well as 81 percent of U.S. adults using the Internet. Many of these Web users say that they get their news from the Internet on a variety of devices and average about 14 hours per week online. 

The Pew Internet & American Life Project's first major report on online video showed that more than half of online video viewers (57 percent) share links to the video they find with others, and 75 percent say they receive links to watch video that others have sent to them. In addition, comScore recently released that more than three-quarters (77 percent) of Americans who are already online watched online video this past November, with more than 146 million unique users watching a total of 12.7 billion videos.

New platforms

The Web is only part of the new media landscape that is making video information accessible in almost every aspect of our daily lives — from using our phones, to shopping, traveling and even filling our cars with gas. For instance:

• Major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Costco now provide in-store video programming via closed circuit temevision, and the trend has trickled down to liquor stores, pharmacies, health clubs, doctor’s offices, elevators, airplanes, gas stations and other out-of-home sites.

• In New York, 13,000 taxis now have touch-screen television monitors with news, ads and entertainment. And more than 5,000 cabs now have Cab TV in major cities in the United Kingdom.
• Experiments are under way with TV-equipped shopping carts in eight Midwestern States.
• Large outdoor screens project video to millions. Times Square Video projects visual messages to 53 million people each year.

Strategic placement options
If the VNR controversy had occurred a decade ago, we would have had limited alternatives. Fortunately, it is occurring at a time when the industry is naturally seeking new ways to deliver video messages beyond TV news.

So, are VNRs dead, dying or still alive? Perhaps the real answer is that they have been reinvented. While many people in the industry have been fighting to save the traditional VNR, others realized that the shifting media landscape may have rendered the VNR we know as obsolete.

The evolving VNR
In the past five years, traditional VNRs have morphed into new multifaceted communications tools designed to deliver video messages over a wide range of platforms where people now seek out and interact with news. 

While going by a variety of different names, VNRs are still the television equivalent of a press release. The key elements are still present. There’s an edited segment that still helps position the story to TV producers, who today are more likely than ever to use b-roll to build their own reports. But now, that edited story also delivers a client’s message to thousands of media and special interest Web sites, cable TV commercial time placements, outdoor and indoor public digital screens, cell phones, direct customer distribution and more.

Even more exciting than the expanded reach and the ability to communicate over multiple platforms is the manner in which we can now deliver video: over the Internet, embedded in microsites or HTML e-mails with additional content like digital photos or links to other content.

Multimedia news releases
The fastest growing service in the video communications business today is what is commonly called a Multimedia News Release, or MNR. The MNR delivers video, together with photos, text, links and other information to a variety of media platforms and directly to consumers. It’s designed for the new media landscape and intended to go beyond traditional broadcasting. 

An MNR is basically a customized HTML Web page integrating streaming video, text and other multimedia assets. It can be used as both a PR and direct marketing tool. Because its success is not solely dependent on editorial acceptance at television news stations, the MNR can be used by a wide variety of clients. B-to-B companies use MNRs as direct marketing tools via search engine optimization, targeted distribution to key Web sites and direct customer e-mail. Concurrently, major consumer, healthcare and entertainment companies use MNRs to communicate with audiences across television and other traditional news media, as well as to deliver multimedia messages directly to targeted audiences.
We can now communicate with video more efficiently and in a more targeted manner. The power of video communications has become accessible to a wider range of communicators because stories no longer have to fit the editorial needs of TV news to reach intended audiences. 

So, rather than dwell on the past and try to resurrect the old VNR, it is time to focus on how video can be used to market almost any product over a range of highly effective distribution platforms, how additional interactive communications tools can enhance the user’s experience and engage an audience in ongoing dialogues and transactions and, finally, how creative use and placement of interactive video can help PR professionals add valuable marketing services to communications programs.

Todd Grossman is vice president, sales and client services, of MultiVu, a PR Newswire company.



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