The idea of a film fest to generate positive videos about family history and the power to connect will remain a grand idea that RootsTech launched in 2019. Unfortunately, the execution fell a little flat and missed opportunities on YouTube to have a more viral presence. If RootsTech hosts another Film Fest, the organizers should consider a few suggestions for improvement.
Acknowledging My Bias
I did enter my video in the RootsTech Film Fest. It has achieved the goal I set out – touch the hearts of those who needed to watch it.
The video has received requests from folks who want to showcase the video as part of their Family History Discovery Days. (If you want to use it in this way, please do!) They enjoyed the video and that’s why I made it.
The feedback I will share stems from my personal interest as a participant, my experience on YouTube, and interactions with other participants.
Improve RootsTech Film Fest Category Definitions
Two challenging parts of submitting videos to RootsTech involve category selection and release dates. Since the release dates are related to voting, I’ll tackle those items together in the “Improvements for Voting.” For now, I’ll focus on the challenging of appropriately categorizing videos.
The video submission categories were Youth, Amateur, and Professional. One would think this is clear but pay attention to the problems.
For the Youth Category, what does that mean?
- Are the participants in the film under a certain age?
- Are the film creator and editor under a certain age?
- Is the topic of the video about a childhood experience?
If the answer to the first two questions is yes, then a specific age date cut off should have been clearly stated. “Participants and film producer must be 18 or younger as of 27 February 2019.” A statement such as that would clearly define the youth category.
Buried in the Contest Rules page, the youth category says it’s for participants between the age of 13 and 18. The RootsTech Film Fest committee should move this statement to a more prominent position on the website.
It seems films could fit into question three – videos about youth. To prevent voters, and other entrants, from doubting whether a video was improperly placed in the Youth Category, then perhaps the Film Fest should require videos to state the age of the stars, editors, and videographers in the video. Transparency in this regard would reduce doubt.
What is an Amateur versus a Professional video?
The Amateur semi-finalists total 60 entries and the Professional category had 15. I’ll admit, that my video and others would likely have fit better in the Professional Category but we were tripped up by the classification as professional. RootsTech should clearly define what constitutes and amateur or a professional video.
Professional videos suggest folks are actively involved or retired from, the television and film industry. They might also create professional grade videos for special events (weddings, conferences, concerts, etc.)
Videos created by professionals use professional grade video equipment, advanced lighting set-ups, use camera filters (on camera or in post), add special effects, use a green screen, transitions, multi-camera angels, drones, stop-action photography and masks and overlays. Not every professional quality film uses all of these. However, professional videographers use these techniques well and often. You can see the difference immediately when you watch an amateur video.
The only guidance the Film Fest committee offers involved what category a YouTuber should fall into. The introduction of financial compensation into the conversation adds to the confusion. How much does a YouTube channel have to make for it to ‘make videos for a living”? How much do you have to receive before you can consider you are ‘paid for the videos you make”?
Clearly defining categories based on skills rather than financial compensation would simplify the decision of whether an entrant falls into the Amateur or Professional category. While I think about this, why not have the categories of Novice and Advanced Videographers?
How can the RootsTech Film Fest improve their categories?
- Define the Amateur (Novice) Category – videos use limited film editing skills. Videos may include slideshow and voice-over work
- Define the Professional (Advanced) Category – videos use advance storytelling techniques, including but not limited to drones, green screen, stop-action video, multi-camera overlays, and picture-in-picture work.
- State the RootsTech Film Fest Committee reserves the right to reassign a video entered in the wrong category.
Improve Film Fest Voting
The RootsTech Film Festival fell flat because of the lack of clarity for voting. When the semi-finalists appeared on the Film Fest site on 1 February, voters saw no instructions on the voting process. Instead, the submission rules remain prominently displayed.
Folks directed to the Film Fest page did not learn how many videos they could vote for or how often they could vote. Many of my friends, family, and fans asked:
- Can I vote for more than one video?
- Can I vote once a day for the duration of the contest?
- What happens if I want to change my vote?
- What happens if more than one person in my household wants to vote? Do they need to log in with a different computer, different browser or different IP address?
I received tweets, DM, PMs, and emails asking for clarification on the rules on February 1st. I asked and received no response from the RootsTech Film Fest coordinator until I happened to stumble across an answer in a Facebook group on the last day of voting.
The lack of voting instructions frustrated for those who wanted to support their favorite videos. If RootsTech holds a Film Fest again, they must add voting instructions as soon as the semi-final voting goes live. Then update the website for the final vote.
The Problems With Submitting an Entry
The voting seemed to involve pressing the vote button on the Roots Film Fest website. This creates a problem.
Entrants had to release their videos prior to February 1. Videos should be made public, though some folks might have submitted an unlisted or private video. Changing the video from private or unlisted to public creates problems on the YouTube platform.
When you release a video on YouTube and you don’t have a link for the Semi-Final (or Finalist) Round of voting, you can’t direct viewers in the video description to watch the video. If you release the video too early, you could have a high view count and a small vote base since the viewers weren’t directed to the FilmFest website.
Since I have a YouTube channel, I waited to the nearly last possible moment to release my video before the contest deadline. I attempted to minimize my views so that if it made in the semifinals, then I could send viewers to a link to vote.
Missed Opportunity for Greater Reach for Film Fest Finalists
All RootsTech Film Fest videos had to reside on the YouTube platform. However, voting happened on an entirely different website. Since the Film Fest voting was not based on views, RootsTech missed an opportunity to have a greater reach for the message of family history to “Connect. Belong.”
Voting to advance from semi-finalist to finalist and then winner occurred on the Film Festival website. Again, the instructions for voting did not appear on the website. Thus, how could someone vote? More importantly, how could someone advance if their view counts on YouTube barely reached 100 eyeballs?
Base Voting on View Counts and Likes
If the advancement from the semifinals to the final road used view count, then all entries would start on the same playing field.
Someone could game the system and replay a video repeatedly on multiple computers to increase their views. Which is why organizers should also base final selection based on views AND LIKES. (A ratio of sorts).
Individuals can watch as many videos as the want, with or without a YouTube account. They can only like a video once when they have signed in to YouTube. The like-to-view ratio can help the RootsTech Film Fest committee know which videos received the most reach and support.
Videos With Higher Reach Did Not Advance to Final Round
Since the voting lacked clarity and did not consider views, several videos that had greater reach did not advance in the semi-final categories.
When voting ended and the finalists in the Amateur category appeared on the FilmFest website, I compared my videos to the others.
My video had views in the mid-400s. (I had hoped for more exposure, but the comment section made my cup runneth over).
A friend of mine’s entry reach the mid-200s. I liked her video and felt sad neither of us advanced.
Then I looked up the view counts for the advancing Amateur videos. section, I noticed several finalists had view counts in the mid to low 100s.
Videos with small reach on YouTube had discovered how to gather enough votes to advance. As such, the reach of the contest, from a YouTube perspective, did not grow. That’s just so sad.
How would RootsTech Film Fest measure the popularity of videos quickly?
Create a playlist of the semifinalist entries (and then the finalists), like the one I created below. Sort the playlist by popularity and then view the likes on the top ten videos. The videos with the highest like-to-view ratio advance to the next round. The videos with the highest like-to-view ratio in the final round win prizes.
Why would this work better?
RootsTech would leverage the power of YouTube to attract viewers to the Film Fest that otherwise would not have realized it existed. Spreading the message of “Connect. Belong.” would be a net benefit for film creators and the family history community.
YouTube’s algorithm shares videos that generate more views and have a positive like-to-view ratio. It also will share videos of similar content. As the view counts increase, the entire competition generates more buzz and more views. YouTube watchers know they should like videos they enjoy. Therefore, voting on the videos becomes an organic reaction to the videos from a larger audience.
To ensure videos receive maximum, RootTech should provide text for entrants to add to their video description that says,
“This video is part of the #RootsTechFilmFest. Winners are based on views and likes. If you like this video, press the like button and share it so others can watch and vote. You can like as many videos in the competition that stand out on the theme of Connect. Belong.”
Additionally, RootsTech should have the Playlists of Semi-finalists. The playlists will simplify the viewing experience and also generate more reach because YouTube will share the videos in a playlist when someone begins watching one or more.
How much reach did RootsTech Film Fest have?
The short answer, from a YouTube perspective, is not much. The most viewed RootsTech entry is:
This is the total number of views two-weeks AFTER the Film Festival ended. The second most popular video on YouTube, is this one:
As one of the most popular independent YouTube channels in the genealogy niche, I love those numbers. Our DNA videos reach into the thousands in a few months and I’m still trying to get our genealogy videos to reach 700+. In the genealogy space, those numbers are great. In terms of reach on YouTube, those view counts mean the videos have not grown outside the genealogy space.
(By the way, these three videos come from the Pro category). Naki’s Legacy won the Professional category. )
Who cares now anyway?
I held this story for many reasons until I thought, let’s change things. We can not change the voting and the final results for the RootsTech Film Fest. The opportunity to spread a message of connecting and belonging doesn’t have to end because the winners received checks and drones.
Instead, let’s do the work the Film Fest should have done. Let’s share the winners and the semi-finalists. Let’s give the videos the reach they deserve.
Use any or all of the following ideas:
- Share the videos through your social media accounts
- Play the videos before your society meetings
- If you’re a conference planner, use these videos in the breaks between sessions to add more flare to the breaks.
- Play the videos before you teach at libraries
- Use the videos for Family History Discovery Days
Congratulations to the RootsTech Film Fest Winners
Even though I dislike the voting process and feel saddened that the winner’s reach on YouTube is really low, I want to congratulate the winners for the messages they developed. I invite you to like, comment, and share their messages.