Garrett Goodman is excited about Wochit. As the director of sales and business development at the online video company this is hardly surprising but, (disclosure) having known Goodman for some time before his recent appointment, the honest enthusiasm is palpable.
"When they showed me I couldn't believe it," he said of the founders and the software firm's product in a call with Journalism.co.uk to demo the video creation platform which can turn a text-based story into a video in a matter of minutes. "I couldn't believe that something like this existed."
Such eulogising aside, it is difficult to deny the potential for news organisations that Wochit can provide.
"The aim is to allow any storyteller to tell their story in video quickly and easily," continued Goodman, and to do so by solving two distinct, recognisable challenges around video online: to reduce the cost of production for digital publishers and streamline the workflow for individual journalists or producers.
"So the idea is to get more of the newsroom producing broadcast-quality video," he said.One of the things I keep hearing across the board is that publishers have too much demand from advertisers for video, and not enough supply to fill itGarrett Goodman, Wochit
This is all very familiar, every new video production program on the market was built to make quality video production quicker, easier and cheaper.
What makes Wochit interesting is the combination of natural language processing, artificial intelligence and agency-licenced footage which means newsrooms can quickly turn out videos on stories or ride the wave of a trending story in different formats.
Once logged in, users take a URL, RSS feed or raw copy of an article and let the software analyse the text for keywords and elements that make up the story – the people, places, events and relationships.
Based on these key elements, the software will return a voiceover script. It may not be perfect, and Goodman was keen to stress the importance of maintaining a human element in the production process, but it's a start.
When it comes to choosing the footage to make up the story, Wochit will scour the archives of Getty, Reuters, Agence France-Press, Associated Press and Storyful (with more agencies soon to join the list) for images or video tagged with the keywords to then use in the final product.
The "most recent and relevant content" will be presented first – delivered at the speed with which agencies can upload it – and users can also choose from a "b-roll" of stock footage or "creative" content for more abstract topics "like net neutrality or the deep web, which don't really have any photos".
Wochit will also provide a selection of infographics for the video – a map that zooms to the location or, for business stories maybe, an animated graph of a company's stock figures.
Once the chosen footage has been selected, the full storyboarding, voiceover recording and editing process is possible in the browser window with simple drag-and-drop controls to fit media to the timeline of the script.
Any final post-production tidying is simplified or, for a fully-automated process, Wochit will sync footage with keywords in the script and have it recorded by a "team of voiceover talent".
Any of these elements can be carried out manually and there are no restrictions on producers adding their own footage or scripts, but a little automation can go a long way.
A video of the recent TransAsia flight crash in Taiwan by USA Today, made using Wochit
There are more features to the process – the option to re-shuffle a video already made by any Wochit user; the automated process of recognising social media embeds in an article and adding an animated scroll of the post to the content library; the growing number of languages the software recognises; the library of background audio tracks; the 'rating bar' that gives a quality assessment based on the number and diversity of media used; the automated post-production of normalisation and animation. The list goes on.
"One of the things I keep hearing across the board is that publishers have too much demand from advertisers for video, and not enough supply to fill it," Goodman said.
"It's a pretty obvious need as there is money right there to be made and video is becoming increasingly popular in terms of what the audience want."
But it is safe to bet Wochit's service doesn't come cheap. Goodman would not be drawn on how much the company charges to work with publishers beyond "a standard arrangement on a share of advertising revenue" and "a fixed fee per finished video, whether that includes three assets or 20".The ultimate aim is to be a WordPress for videoGarrett Goodman, Wochit
Neither is it the only in-browser video-editing platform around, with tools like WeVideo offering an online alternative to expensive professional options like Final Cut.
Where it differs, however, is in providing a simpler, intuitive production platform and a "content hub", as Goodman put it, with access to "basically all the licenced content in the world for news".
It will depend on individual cases as to whether the expense makes business sense, but Wochit has already proven an attractive proposition for Hearst's magazine titles in the US, as well as a number of German publishers both for news and more evergreen ideas.
The company's eventual goals are broader though, beyond publishers towards a more universal user base. A "self-serve model" will launch in the near future where "anyone can have an account and anyone can log in and create a video".
"The ultimate aim is to be a WordPress for video," smiled Goodman. "WordPress made it very easy for people to have a professional-looking blog, we want to help anyone make professional-looking video."
The likelihood is that such an idea will spawn derivatives as with the blogosphere, each with their own USP. But if Wochit can nail the product and make it attractive and democratic enough for the everyday internet citizen it could be quite the coup.
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