Video production: buy in or do it yourself?

Commissioning video

A video shoot in progress
Video production: freelance or staff? Picture: Bill Rice via Flickr


Producing good quality video needs skills and resources.

Over the last decade, technologies have emerged that make putting video in front of viewers that much easier. YouTube calculates that its users upload 100 hours of video every minute – and neither content owners, nor viewers, have to pay.

Producing quality content, of course, is not free. Even though professional video equipment has become cheaper, smaller, and easier to use, especially with the arrival of video-capable DSLR cameras, it still needs a skilled team to put the technology to work, and to turn ideas into reality.

For any business other than a broadcaster or production company, finding the best way to produce content is as important as the creative process itself.

Should a company, for example, set up an in-house video team, recruiting producers, directors, craft specialists and even reporters? Should it use freelancers, or should it turn the whole process over to a production company, or perhaps another supplier, such as a marketing or PR firm?

Buy or hire?

Sometimes, employing a team, or setting up a video unit, makes sense: a number of news organisations with a background in print have done this, with some success. In other cases, though, businesses have rushed out to employ people and especially, to buy equipment. This can be expensive and inflexible, especially as equipment is changing so rapidly in today’s industry.

At the same time, though, a company that produces any volume of video or audio content – or indeed, one that offers those production services to its clients – will need at least a few experienced managers to handle commissioning and budgets, even if that role stops short of acting as a producer or director.

Audio Video Pro spoke to a range of industry figures about striking the right balance between hiring full-time video specialists, using freelancers, and tapping into the market for independent video production.

Nick Meir is 
vice president for editorial and broadcast strategies at Waggner Edstrom, an international PR firm.

A few years ago the news operation at the BBC took the decision to lay off many of its staff cameramen: a remarkable decision when you consider the amount of filmed output that comes out of the world’s biggest broadcaster! So now a huge percentage of all BBC output is filmed by freelancers. During the three years I worked on Watchdog all crews were freelance.

Why? Well there are many reasons… But to pick just three:

To be fully efficient you would need 100 per cent utilisation of a crew. That’s something you’re unlikely to achieve.

Keeping up to date and maintaining technology is an expensive business.

And crews that do the same thing day in, day out start to stagnate. There are very few staff news crews, for example, that can make crafted feature pieces.

I think the same applies for any business that isn’t a dedicated production house. By NOT employing specialist camera crews I am able to draw on a wide range of experience and fit the right crew to the job. It also means that my guys continue to work for network broadcasters and maintain a currency of TV grammar.

By not employing camera crews I can fit the right crew to the job

We may end up training the odd PR person to do a little bit of “run and gun” work but nothing more than that. I think given the speed of change in technology, technique, and the cost of staff we are in a far better position if we pull in from a contractor pool.

Different people will have differing views based on their business models and client needs. But in terms of being able to balance quality of our output with client needs, and provide a tangible difference in the marketplace, the associate model works best for me.