Video for the web | University of Oxford
Screenshots from undergraduate course films
Screenshots from undergraduate course films

Video for the web

Video is an incredibly powerful medium: but it is time-consuming to make and it is not always the best way to tell your story. To make best use of the technology, keep the following things in mind:

Audience

  • Who is your audience?
  • What are they looking for?
  • How can you keep their attention?
  • Focus on your audience: think what they need, not what you want.

Message

  • What are you trying to say?
  • What’s the most visual way to say it?
  • Make it engaging. You have about 12 seconds to grab viewers’ attention online, or they are gone.
  • Make it short: web video is usually between 2 and 5 mins long.

Style

  • Film has its own visual language: use it.
  • The strength of video is evoking an emotional response; don’t be afraid to use music or narrative to effect this.
  • Don’t allow a lecture to become your narrative.
  • Avoid clichés; try and find a modern perspective on a message.
  • Make it professional. Just because your film will only be seen online doesn’t mean it should be low quality.

Strategy

  • Don’t use video just because everyone else is.
  • Don’t commission a video just because they look nice.
  • Plan your cross-media strategy: a video on its own is not a strategy.

Production

  • Know your budget (time and money).
  • Work to the highest standard. Audiences expect quality, regardless of the medium.
  • Seek advice from media professionals before embarking on a video project.
  • Plan well in advance: video projects take longer to complete than most other forms of media communication.

For further information visit: www.ox.ac.uk/itunes-u/making-audio-and-video

Undergraduate courses films

Our first major video series, the Wall of 100 Faces, was an important medium for engaging prospective students and for promoting the diversity of the Oxford student cohort. We wanted to do something equally ambitious for the undergraduate courses that Oxford offers, something more than just a straightforward 2-minute video that basically reads aloud the text about the course from the prospectus or webpage. Often on websites you see:

  • a ‘Why study at this Uni?’ film on the admissions landing page, or
  • ‘What is our subject course about?’ film on a course page

but this seemed like a missed opportunity because a prospective student is likely to make a beeline for the course, possibly directly from Google, and so would skip over the ‘why this uni’ film. We were also conscious that a prospective student might first view our film on You Tube, through a social media channel or on a site that had embedded the film, none of which would have all the surrounding, supporting information of our own website, so that made three factors very important to us:

  • all the films needed to be clearly branded, especially since You Tube will show a collection of related videos once the film has played, so a consistent branded still will help the viewer
  • the end section of the films had to have live links through to important sections of our website and to other films in this series (related courses)
  • and, most importantly, each film would also have a set of key messages within them which related to Oxford University in general, not just one course.

Ultimately, each film had to answer the question:

Why is studying this subject at Oxford University the best choice I can make? 

How we approached it

There are almost 50 courses and we hoped to film interviews with academics and students from each one, ideally two of each, one male, one female. Thankfully many tutors could speak about both single and joint topic courses but this still meant at least 150 interviews so the only way to achieve this quickly was to take on a freelance filmmaker to work with Tom Wilkinson, our online media producer. We were very fortunate to find Meghan Horvath whose skill as an interviewer was only surpassed by her spectacular dedication to the project, often averaging 5 interviews each day. Over the course of Trinity Term 2013 and the start of July, Meghan and Tom interviewed 154 people.

In regular weekly meetings during the project we kept coming up with ideas about what style we wanted for the films and several pilot films were made before we all agreed that the split screen and sliding elements technique was our clear favourite. We showed a completed film to two groups of UNIQ summer school students, took on board their comments and gratefully accepted their largely positive feedback.

The films are all around 10 minutes long which may seem counterintuitive for online viewing but these are not meant to be catchy advert style films, they are designed for a very niche target audience who are keen to find out as much as possible about their intended course. We also think, and the UNIQ students verified, that the interviewees are just so interesting and the editing so well paced that they do not feel long at all, if anything they end too soon.

Finally, to add a further distinctive feel to the films we commissioned David Hughes, a recent Oxford alumnus and composer of the music for the Boat Race series and Wytham Woods films, to create some original music for us.

Finished films

When each film was completed and uploaded to You Tube, links were added to the end sections so that the viewer could find out more about the course, Oxford admissions or jump straight into 2 other related courses films. The films were sent to all the participants to check for any factual errors that may have slipped through and once we received sign off they were added to the course page on ox.ac.uk and made publicly viewable on our You Tube channel in an undergraduate course playlist. One major benefit of using You Tube is that the departments are immediately able to copy their film’s embed code and have it playing on their own website (to do this, from the film’s You Tube page click ‘Share’ then ‘Embed’ and copy the code into your own website page. You may want to change the width to suit your own site’s layout, the films are in HD so the larger the better).

Quotes

They are superb … I’ve already zoomed a note around to umpteen school contacts in the UK and abroad.
Anne Mullen, Senior Tutor, St Anne’s

LOVE the PPL talk!


Penny Tarrant, administrator in Psychology

These are awesome-well done!
Dr Eleanor David, Student Recruitment Officer

These videos are splendid. It must have taken a lot of work and organisation to produce so many and release them together at this time. It’s a real step forward in the communication of the applications process to prospective applicants.
Ivor Crewe, The Master, University College

These are so good. Please forward thanks and congratulations to the team.
Senior Tutor at Lincoln

Top tips for shooting video (hands-on class)

Took place on 14 November 2012

Online Media Producer Tom Wilkinson ran a practical session aimed specifically at those who want to get behind the camera. It offered tips for shooting video, with a strong hands-on emphasis. 

Making (good) video for the web

Took place on 9 May 2012

Tom Wilkinson, our Online Media Producer, discussed the benefits of using online video in your communications, offered practical tips about what works well and what doesn't, and explained what advice and services are available within the collegiate University to support you in this area of work. Presentation followed by a Q&A.

Brand marks and presets for film

A zip file containing presets for Adobe Premiere and Final Cut Pro X, and brand mark images files to enable you to use our house style.

Online Media Producer
Tom Wilkinson 
Tel: 01865 280076, email: tom.wilkinson@admin.ox.ac.uk

Online Media Producer (research)
Tom Fuller 
Tel: 01865 270775, email: tom.fuller@admin.ox.ac.uk