Equipped with an Irvingesque sense of inescapable fate as I ply my trade in the event video world, it occurs to me that there are two looming inevitabilities in this business, although some of us may be able to work our way out of the gloomier one.
The happier of the two struck me at a meeting of the Wisconsin Digital Media Group (WDMG), a regional videographers association started in the Madison area earlier this year. At the September meeting, the group debated strategies for heightening the profile of wedding videographers in our area. Not all the videographers in the group do wedding work, and not all of those who do shoot weddings do so exclusively. That said, it's easier to focus on improving the lot of wedding videographers, because the challenges are so pressing and are shared by just about anyone who's doing that kind of work.
The issue, as ever, is convincing brides of the value of professional video. One member hypothesized that if another 10% of the brides in the Dane County area who were laying out big bucks on their weddings decided to hire a wedding videographer, "everyone in this room would have as much work as he could handle." I'd never heard the solution quantified so concretely before, and maybe he was just pulling the number out of the air, but it seemed to resonate with all the members present. Put that way, it actually seems like an attainable goal. Let's imagine, for a moment, that this is the inevitable outcome of the efforts of videographers far and wide to advance not just their own businesses, but the business as a whole.
Let's say the stars align and finally bring the brides' impression of the value of videography in line with the reality of what videographers can do, and we reach that magic 10% of growth that brings solvency to any videographer worth her salt. Let's say that it's not just a possibility, but an inevitability, something that will happen in every wedding video market in the United States. The question, of course, is when.
The when is important for several reasons. First of all, not everyone can wait that long. Follow any of the videography forums and you'll encounter the depressing farewells of videographers who've thrown in the towel because their market's too small—or too indifferent to videography—to support them. I'm sad to say it happens way too often.
But there are other forces at work here that bring additional urgency to the issue. If there's one other inevitability in this business, it's this: The line between consumer video production technology and the so-called "prosumer" equipment that's the videographer's bread-and-butter gets blurrier all the time. The day will come when it's virtually impossible to differentiate what you do on the basis of what you use from the amateurs whose intrusive hobbying threatens to cut your business off at the knees.
If the stream of HD video announcements that came out of IBC in September is any indication, Sony meant business when they said HDV was designed as much for fun as for business. The new pro cameras look dazzling to us, and they keep getting better. But the eye-popping features that send videographers rushing to upgrade from, say, Z1U to V1U are increasingly arcane to the uninitiated. Meanwhile, the consumer models are multiplying; they're cheaper and smaller and more accessible to the auto-focus army than ever, and it's going to get worse before it gets better. Correction: It's going to keep on improving on the consumer side, and for the pro with the technology-driven sales pitch, that will make matters immeasurably worse.
So maybe what we're really looking at here is a race against time. Can we spread and clarify the message about the value of pro video versus amateur video before one of the most ballyhooed elements of that "value" proposition, for all practical purposes, disappears in the eyes of the amateurs who comprise our client base?
If the future of videography lies in the hands of these two clashing inevitabilities, the answer is a resounding no. This is a race we can't win. In truth, we're not even racing against the Uncle Charlies of the world this time; we're racing against Sony and Canon and JVC and any vendor who's targeting the happy-go-lucky hobbyist with an HDV camera and promising pro results from their latest consumer models. No videographer will ever be able to shout his message louder or more clearly than those massive manufacturers.
The solution? Change the message. Rewrite the story, and alter the ending. As Randy Stubbs says, "Quit selling signal-to-noise ratio and start selling the intrinsic, archival value of video." Pull the technical and push the technique.
Unlike a novelist, a magazine editor is not a doctor who sees only terminal cases, and I don't see decline or demise as inevitable here. If we stick to a message we can sell, our industry can endure.