United Nations on YouTube: Challenges of web video


UN on YouTube
UN on YouTube

Whereas agencies such as UNICEF had YouTube channels for a while, the UN did not. News of the new United Nations YouTube channel is exciting for this reason, even though at the time of writing there are just 17 videos online. These will surely grow and the historical footage alone will make this an invaluable resource for scholars of international politics and relations. 

My only concern is about the non-archival footage and productions that are featured on the site. I’ve watched UN TV a lot in the US and the programmes follow a staid documentary format, that simply will not engage and maintain the interest of a YouTube generation used to more rapid fire bursts of information. The meandering nature of some of the productions were tedious to watch on TV and putting them online on YouTube won’t make them magically more interesting.

It’s here that most organisations fail to fully leverage YouTube and new media, thinking as they do that productions for mainstream media can with no modifications or edits be put online in their entirety. While this may work to an extent with live radio broadcasts put online as podcasts, it rarely works with television productions. Longer productions require more bandwidth and result in larger downloads. They also run against the viewing patterns of those who frequent the likes of Vimeo, YouTube and NetCafe, where the average length of a video is 2.8 minutes (as noted by ComScore) and where viewers have more than one video (window) open at once. 

The longer documentaries simply don’t work with a primary audience that doesn’t have the patience to view them in full. Certainly, having these video online is better than not. What I’d really like to see however is the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) adapting its production values for the web to make the UN more meaningful and relevant to a new generation whose first and sustained interactions with it will be through the Internet and web.

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