Mobile video and UGC – the Hugh Garry way

As we know, the rise of user-generated content and the ubiquity of mobile devices have had a massive effect on the way we produce and consume media. We’re just as likely to make our own shows by sitting around with friends sharing favourite YouTube clips as we are to watch catch-up TV on our laptops. Mobile viewing figures have increased markedly as a result of the iPhone; according to YouTube in the first week of the launch of the 3GS video uploads to YouTube increased 400%, and over a six month period uploads from mobile phones to YouTube increased 1,700%. This is just as much related to the ease of sharing video across social networks as it is to improvements in phone and web technologies.

Now I know stats are notoriously ‘malleable’, but according to the IAB, in 2008 271 million requests were made to watch a program through the BBC iPlayer, and yet only 2.5% of total video watched online is through the five main broadcasters (BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five and Sky). It’s easy to get lost in reports and stats when trying to find out about western viewing figures but taking all into account it’s probably fair to say that YouTube accounts for around 90% of all online video consumption. The majority of that viewing is based around short-form content (5 mins or less).

After noting the frenzy around the launch of the iPhone 3GS and thinking about our changing relationship with the ‘moving image’,  I started thinking about students studying video and whether we should also be looking at short-form, user-generated content alongside traditional film-making in order to foster an appreciation of a range of production values.

Our PSVT students are given a solid grounding in the technical, practical and theoretical aspects of video production and many go on to work in the industry. As is the norm in engineering-accredited courses, the focus is on high production values and top-end equipment. Being a lecturer in social technologies, I tend to focus on UGC and so this year the students have been working on mobile video projects – that is, videos shot entirely on mobile phones. The students are working in groups to create videos, taking advantage of the accessibility and mobility of consumer technology to film things that would be difficult to capture with industry-standard equipment. It’s an interesting exercise as it challenges the students to think differently, focusing on the editorial as opposed to the narrative, and also challenges their perceptions of what makes a good film. It’s also a great way for them to get to grips with mobile phone technology and get a deeper understanding of the inner-workings of the phone as a media production device. The students are using wikis to document their research and development – both in terms of project management and the practical side of mobile film making (technical specifications, filming techniques, editing processes), and the wikis are complemented by Flickr photo-stories to show the ‘making of…’, adding another layer of UGC to their productions.

We’ve been lucky enough to get Hugh Garry on board to give the students a masterclass in mobile film making. Hugh is Senior Interactive Producer at BBC Radio 1, winning several awards – including the Guardian Media Innovation Award – for ‘Shoot the Summer’, the first full-length film shot entirely on mobile phones. Hugh is an amazing speaker on top of being one of the most creative and innovative media producers in the industry. He’s been inspirational for the students as it can be quite tricky working across a range of production values/contexts, but he’s really helped them to take a deeper look and appreciate the value of UGC through demonstrations and anecdotes based on his experiences when producing Shoot the Summer.

All in all it’s a pretty exciting project, offering the students a different kind of challenge through further developing their technical skills and media literacies in a way which, until relatively recently, wouldn’t have been possible…