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Video startup cuts costs by curating crowdsourcing

Screengrab from a Sport Chek commercial in which minor hockey league players play in NHL arenas.

Sometimes, the problem with crowdsourcing is the crowd.

It has been a common trick for marketers in recent years to get publicity – and cheap content – by holding open calls for advertising production, such as contests where aspiring writers and filmmakers will submit ads they have made for the brand in hopes of making it to TV.

But while the cost-effective crowd model is attractive, it is not terribly efficient. A Toronto-based startup hopes to change that. And it already has some big-name marketers on board.

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Notch Video, a sister company of the Toronto PR and marketing consulting firm North Strategic, officially launches Monday after about a year of quietly testing its model with clients such as Samsung Canada and Canadian Tire Corp. The service connects companies with video producers it has vetted.

There is a growing need for this type of service among marketers who have stepped up their day-to-day video production to make websites and social media pages more engaging. Traditionally, for a TV commercial those companies go through their ad agencies, which work with highly reputable production houses. But small businesses that need online video to promote themselves often do not have that kind of money. And even big brands need more online video for cheaper than the typical production model is designed to provide.

"There is an insatiable desire and need for content, these days, as digital becomes more and more prevalent in marketing budgets," said Duncan Fulton, senior vice-president of communications at Canadian Tire and chief marketing officer for FGL Sports and Mark's.

"It's not like even three years ago, where you would produce a video and that would be it for the quarter. There's now a need to produce something six or eight times a week," he added.

The company has established its own in-house video production team. But both Canadian Tire and FGL's Sport Chek have partnered with Notch to increase production even further.

For example, the nationwide retailer frequently shoots video at different locations across the country. Hiring local video producers through the service can be as little as one-tenth the cost of hiring a Toronto crew and putting them on a plane, Mr. Fulton said.

It has also been useful for Canadian Tire's series of behind-the-scenes videos about the Ottawa Senators, which have come about because of its new partnership with the team. In order not to be disruptive to the players, the company has the team videographer shoot some of the more close-up content rather than sending in its own crew. It then relies on Notch producers to shoot other segments of videos that don't interfere as much with the team's schedule, and to edit the whole thing together.

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"It is considerably cheaper than other video options we have," Mr. Fulton said. "... I suspect there will be a lot more like this that pop up over time."

Advertising agencies are warming to the service, too. On Friday, Anomaly Toronto used its first video producers found through Notch. The shoot took place in Calgary, so they hired locals and cut travel costs considerably. And with a pool of freelancers, it is easier to meet the increasingly tight timelines that online and social media video projects demand.

"With this one, we had less than a week to prepare and shoot," Jennifer Mete, Anomaly's integrated production director, said on the phone from the Calgary airport. Ms. Mete does not believe it takes away from the video production houses.

"I find it complementary. I don't think [production companies such as] the Radkes or the Sons and Daughters of the world want to produce these limited-budget, very quick turnaround productions. These budgets are $5,000, $10,000 – no more than $20,000," she said. "...We're getting requests, weekly now, for things like this."

Video helps marketers get noticed in the digital space. On Facebook, people are 12 times more likely to share videos than links and text-only posts. And websites with video keep visitors on the site 5.3 times longer on average than websites without.

There is a growing need for this among small- and medium-sized businesses as well. According to a study from Bank of Montreal and Pollara released last week, which surveyed 301 small business owners, 57 per cent said they use social media such as Facebook and LinkedIn. That's up from just 40 per cent last year. As those small enterprises become more sophisticated about online and social media marketing, they increasingly need video content. Notch's website even has a walk-through of a project brief for business owners that may not know how to ask the right questions before hiring for a video project.

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There are other agencies that do similar crowdsourced video – MoFilm and Poptent among the better-known – but they tend to be more focused on running competitions, said Samsung Canada chief marketing officer Mark Childs. And their videographers number in the thousands, while Notch's list of providers is more curated, and vetted by the firm. Samsung used Notch to produce 15 to 20 daily videos from the much-hyped Consumer Electronics Show this year.

"Video is becoming more and more essential for marketers, particularly online," Mr. Childs said. "...This is a paradigm shift in how we get access to great video content."

Notch does not charge for access to the database. It makes money, for now, through consulting on projects.

Down the line, the company may consider an access fee for marketers, and may offer video producers a Google-style paid option to have their names come highest on marketers' search results, where they fit the project criteria.

"It's all about creating the kind of portable content that does well online," said Notch managing director Ian Buck. "We're trying to help people figure out how to make this smaller, quicker content."


  • 1.3 billion people watch an average of 170 online videos per person per month.
  • On Facebook, videos are shared 12 times more frequently than links and text posts combined.
  • Visitors to websites featuring video stay at the site for an average time that’s 5.3 times longer than visitors to text-only websites.
  • 75 per cent of senior executives say they watch work-related videos at least once a week, and 65 per cent have visited a vendor’s website after watching a video. More than half share videos with colleagues at least once a week.

Sources: ComScore, Simply Measured, Forbes, Globe and Mail C-Suite Survey

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