Online Video Contests

Enter to win a Big Prize!

I just watched the winning entry into a contest on the forum. I liked it.  It had a nice story, no dialogue, perhaps a touch sentimental for me at the end, but that’s me.  Very well done, good creative filmmaking. But it took a lot of work! A lot of locations, several actors, some “special” shots like the POV of a bottle rolling down the hill, underwater camera footage, a bit of jib, a bit of slider.  Not really free.  Not tons of money, but certainly some time. Good preproduction work, lining everything up. So who does this kind of thing? Who pays?

Joseph Tran does.  He’s won this same regularly reoccurring contest on FOUR times now.  He’s a professional magician in LA. But besides Vietnamese-American Magic PRofessionals in the Greater Los Angeles Area, who else does? Students?  But so many entries are really good! Freelancers in between gigs? Pros with extra capital, good production friends and favors to call? Prod cos with a lot of spare productive capcity on the payroll already? Or is it just one of the modern marketing strategies?  To get a directing/filmmaking career going, you must a) do Kickstarter b) enter a bunch of contests c) know what you’re doing d)have a Dad who knows a guy.  You always have to be competent, but… I think about my fledgling production company and what I’m doing to make it viable.  It’s not entering contests, that’s for sure.  I wonder what the return on investment is like on entering contests?  For Joseph Tran, it might be pretty good. Maybe I should be using my “spare productive capacity” to enter contests.  It would certainly be fun, and refine your creative skills, but still, you can’t do everything alone, and gear isn’t free, even if you own it yourself. Art department and locations are often not free. Opportunity cost?

I’m scratching my head over the whole system of web-based video contests.

Are they really a contest? What’s it take to get into a “fair” competition? Is there such thing? Is it even about the prize or is it just about exposure? It makes me think of Kickstarter, that people reference at least as much as an awareness-raising tool as a fundraising tool. It’s not about the mooney.

I started thinking about this after I was recently an operator on a contest entry. I really liked the product, it didn’t win though. Didn’t come anywhere close. The contest is one to make a video for a song off the new Sigur Ros album.  Hundreds if not thousands of people put together nice-looking music videos for free and send them in.  The winner gets to win, but talk about a cost-efficient way of getting a good music video!! It’s like the anti-Kickstarter. When it’s a matter of voting, it really seems to have so much more to do with how big your social network is than how good the piece is.  In this Sigur Ros contest, I looked at which vids got the most votes, and what struck me immediately is how many more views the top contenders had..  Never mind the votes, this one has over 41,000 views!  How do you even get that many? The second-place entry has 26,000.  Is the piece better? Number three has only 14,000 views. The one I worked on only got 1000 views.  Is this actually any kind of comparison? Are people more likely to pass video around because it’s awesome or because their friend needs more votes for their contest entry? When you go to one of the contest voting sites, do you generally start by voting for your friend’s video, and then you watch it, and then maybe one more?
It seems that there’s a snowball effect, like the myth of bootstrap-based social mobility. Kids born into rich families are far more likely to end up in the 1%.  Videos submitted by people with huge networks are going to win.  Once the submissions are closed, the three that are the highest rated are going to get at least one view from everyone else who enetered the contest, plus other casual observers. That great video hovering at #34? I doubt it. It snowballs.

Exhibit B:

the Lollapalooza app contest that I produced a video for.  The contest was to make an app to help Lollapaloozers find their way around the festival, and it required you had to make a video to go along with the submission.  My friend Ben and one of his colleagues wrote an awesome app, we made a funny video, and… someone else got more votes. Way more. But to illustrate my point, Ben’s app and my video won the judges’ choice award, but the audience pick was someone with a bigger social network. They crushed us in votes until the judges declared us the judge’s choice award. The audience winner was an app that had already been written and was already being marketed and sent out and had a team of four people at least behind it. They already had a marketing ball rolling when they entered their app into this contest, quite possibly just to get more exposure for the product they already had made.   Judge for yourself, but I thought their video was pretty straightforward. Standard-fare good-quality web tutorial on how to use software X.  Not something that would kindle fire in the loins of most video enthusiasts. But disregard that for a minute, we still have to look at who got the most views.  Ours now has over 2000, but I think that’s because it won.  I think we had something like 84 at the end of the contest.
So after it was all over, it was over 2000 for #1
1300 views for #2
173 for #3
and 94 for #4.

The data’s flawed here because I didn’t collect it til long after the contest was over, but it really illustrates that having a high rank really cements your position in the lead. These “voting” contests are not controlled at all for how many views a given entry has. The question is not, can you make a dynamite video, but can you get the vote out?  I bet there is a marketing firm who can win a contest for you. I’m sure you’d spend much more on them than you’d win in the contest, but you could really stack the deck in your favor.  Like our court system: whoever can afford to field the most lawyers wins. The Lollapalooza contest was a little different because there was a small group of people who need the winner to suit their urposes and be a good app, so they didn’t let the number of votes decide everything.

To be fair to the winners, you have to have a good video, but if you had to pick between a great get-out-the-vote social apparatus and a great video, you might be better off picking the social apparatus.

winning entry:


by Airbox lights

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