How to produce news videos to capture an audience

It took listening to a radio commercial while driving recently to remind me that a blog post on this subject is overdue. It was a political spot for some guy running for governor of Maryland. I’d never heard of him before (and, eventually, he did not win), and the radio spot was no help. Here’s why – the irrelevant background music added in post production was so LOUD that I could neither discern his name nor what he was saying. His bid for governor was lost to noise.

radio-2-peopleThe use of background music is an old, old, old habit of PR people that has its roots, I’m told, in 1960s radio as an attempt to “liven-up” otherwise boring commercials or announcements. It has no place or purpose in TV news and most video production.

NPR and news-talk radio rarely will use music behind a voice because they want you to listen to the voice.

Television news producers disdain background music, calling it “popcorn music,” because it’s often nervous-sounding. They always avoid using video that contains background music because (1) music is an artificial and irrelevant distraction, and/or (2) music is a tool of editorializing.

In some cases, added music is used to propagandize. As a result, most established TV news organizations prohibit using background music because it corrupts authentic news credibility (except for Al Jazeera .. but, that’s another issue).


Hearing – auditory perception – is perhaps the most important reason NOT to use irrelevant background music. As I type these words, there are all kinds of potentially distracting noises in the background that compete for attention – a radio playing, people talking, a lawn mower just fired-up, children are playing outside, a honk of a car horn, car and traffic noise (as in the case of the radio commercial). What’s more, studies have found that as we all get older, our ability to differentiate sounds declines … and, that begins over age 40.

Conversely, when irrelevant background music is not used, listeners and viewers are far more likely to pay attention and become engaged in listening.


With the soaring use of video in the digital space, here are some tips for increasing your viewership of a video:

  • Hire a pro, someone who makes a living shooting and producing videos that capture audiences.  Conversely, cheap is as cheap gets … or amateur is as amateur gets.
  • Use video to tell a story. A great story has impact, is memorable, and is shared. Storytelling is literally the most powerful force in communications, and a skillfully produced video story can be told in 75 seconds.
  • Keep the video focused on one subject.  If there is the temptation to want to tell a whole kitchen sink-ful of things, produce more videos.
  • Shoot the video in a meaningful setting.  For example, if interviewing a bicycle designer, do the video session in a bicycle shop and not in an office behind a desk with filing cabinets in the background.
  • Avoid being cutesy or cheesy.  Leave the current trendy front and side camera shots of an interview to the people who produce commercials and promos that no one will watch. Stated another way … multiple camera shots for no purpose are distracting. Besides, it will be out of trend soon.
  • Do not use name supers and logos if you want anyone – like TV news and bloggers – to use your video.  Let them add their own style of name identification.
  • Do not use music if you want your message to be heard by an audience.
  • Use of natural sound is far, far more powerful, relevant, and credible.

Let me share an example of an amateurishly made video that cost a bundle but attracted few viewers. To be more specific, the video was viewed just 58 times in the last two years. It’s a “who cares?!” kind of video.

The chemical industry has a little-watched, alleged “news” site that they’ve paid a Washington PR firm – which itself is a lobbying outfit and has limited journalistic credibility – an outrageous amount of more than $1.5-million … making it perhaps the costliest little-watched website in history.  Here’s one reason why so few people visit the website – a video that violates every best practice of audience appeal.

Plastics at the Classic from Plastics Make it Possible on Vimeo.

As I cruised through the many videos on the chemical industry site, I found some that had excellent video and could even provide superb b-roll for TV news.  But it was diminished in post production by a silly narration and music … the kind of noisy tracks you might hear in a hair salon.

My bottom line advice to PR people is just to stop trying to hype otherwise good news video with music tracks. It’s not necessary to “brand” with logos and stuff. Focus instead on telling a story with video as the messenger.