Stage to Screen: Survival of the Video Species
Posted Jul 26, 2007

Charles Darwin did not live long enough to hear the term “video,” but his theories on survival of the fittest are relevant to video professionals who operate in an ever-changing environment where annual software updates are celebrated like birthdays, high-definition is the new standard, and Blu(-ray) is the new red. Darwin once wrote, “In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.” If you don’t adapt you will join dinosaurs, dodos, and projectionists on the list of extinct species.

One market I have noticed change in is the conference video market. Only a decade or two ago it was a very lucrative market for freelance videographers and the demand for videotaping conference keynotes and presentations was growing. I know of a few businesses in my area that made their living mainly from the conference video market—back in the days when they could develop relationships directly with the conference manager at convention centers and hotels.

It was only a matter of time before the larger A/V companies signed exclusivity agreements with conference centers and became their “in-house” solution. These agreements made it difficult for videographers to compete because the perceived convenience of dealing with the conference centers’ in-house audio and video solution appealed to the client who was hosting the convention. Many videographers adapted by leaving the conference video market for the corporate or wedding video markets. Some went to work for the A/V companies, albeit at a lower rate of pay, and others ceased to exist as businesses.

Most A/V companies provided basic videotaping services, and this worked well for them when their clients’ needs were limited to a VHS tape or DVD. Fortunately for us they never adapted into fully evolved event video production companies or offered creative editing or a variety of delivery options. This has created an opportunity for event video professionals to move back into the conference video market as modern conference planners are becoming increasingly aware that if they want professional video they need to hire an outside company. The internet has made it much easier for conference planners to find us, and this market is now reemerging as a lucrative one for responsive companies that can adapt and develop a strong reputation and web presence.

Conference video products and services range from the standard videotaping and DVD creation of speeches and presentations to corporate Same-Day Edits, webcasting, online videos, and documenting the social aspect of the conference. Add this to the proliferation of PowerPoint presentations that clients want edited with the video, and we’ve established a barrier to entry into this market that can make professional video skills and equipment indispensable. Video production companies have the advantage over A/V companies whose existing talent pool is audio technicians who in the past were asked to operate video cameras when needed. A/V companies are not adapting to the needs of their clients for the video portion of their business, and therein lies the opportunity for small video production companies to benefit. By adapting we are assuring our individual survival until the next evolution is required, which will probably have something to do with the letters “HD.” In transition times such as these, companies that cannot adapt will struggle to survive.

Learning to survive and evolve as a small business owner is not easily achieved in isolation, and many adaptations will come from observing others’ responses and adopting their best practices. I am still surprised by how many videographers don’t want to join their local professional videographers association (PVA) because they are afraid they will lose business. The reality is that in addition to benefiting from professional development opportunities and learning video business survival skills, active PVA members get more work, thanks to member referrals and working as subcontractors for other videographers in their market with whom they’ve forged relationships. I run a small video production company and I am my only full-time camera operator, with my wife acting as the occasional second camera. When I need additional shooters I turn to my PVA for talent, and having access to this pool of shooters has allowed me to act like a much larger company and to leverage my profits with multiple shooters working for me at any given time. Through my company I recently provided four shooters for a conference held concurrently in five cities and joined by webcast. Next year I’ll be providing five shooters, all from my local association, the British Columbia Professional Videographers Association (BCPVA).

I enjoy working in the conference video market because most of the conferences I film are business conferences and the topics are very timely and relevant to my own business. I like being paid while I learn and make valuable connections. If you want to increase your net worth, you have to start by growing your network. For me, the conference video market is both lucrative and a source of repeat business that allows me to grow my network. Most important of all, remember: Business changes. Survival is optional. Choose wisely.

Shawn Lam is an MPV-accredited videographer and business owner based in Vancouver, BC. He specializes in stage event and corporate video production and has presented seminars on business strategy and stage event video at WEVA Expo 2005-2007 and the 4EVER Group’s Video 07.