Video is hard, there’s no two ways about it. As Brian Goldberg wrote recently, online video is expensive and hard to produce effectively. The social video category has further demonstrated, rather unwaveringly, that the average person is as uncomfortable in front of the camera as they are behind it, with both shortcomings too often painfully apparent when watching the final product.
So with this backdrop, it would seem that only a masochist should take on a video-centric startup – or someone with a massive competitive advantage.
Lumeo founder Brian McDonough is banking on just such an advantage in launching his online video education platform today. Just like Brian Robins’ experience producing hit TV shows made him a standout among premium YouTube channel creators, McDonough believes his time in the editor, producer, writer, and cinematographer chairs for TV shows including “The Voice,” “Sarah Palin’s Alazka,” and “Ghost Hunters International,” among many others, gives him a unique perspective on what’s wrong with video education.
“The TV and film industries have just about perfected the art of using non-linear editing techniques to impart a lot of information in a short amount of time, and get audiences emotionally invested and engaged in subjects they might not otherwise be,” McDonough says. “Editing is what makes TV engaging, and what makes remembering the lines and the characters easy. So why are educational videos typically long unedited sequences alternating between the instructor’s face and a screen capture of their computer?”
Lumeo is starting in the creative space, initially teaching photographic and filmmaking techniques. At launch there are just five videos available, including an intro guide to taking better photos, and specific skill instruction on no flash photography, one light photography, surf photography, and short filmmaking. The plan is to quickly expand within this category – two more videos will be added this week – as well as expand over time into other areas including business and technology.
McDonough likes to look at his instructors like characters, placing them on missions to complete a task and demonstrate how its done, along with the ups and downs of a typical television drama. In the TV world, this style of programming would be referred to as a procedural. By combining this context, with reality TV-style editing, where the ratio of raw footage to finished content can be as high as 600 to 1, he believes Lumeo can offer the most compelling educational videos online. By comparison, the typical learning video has a raw content to finished content ratio of just 2 to 1, according to the founder.
Bringing reality TV style editing to online video is easier said than done. While typical TV projects have hundreds of thousands of dollar budgets, McDonough shoots his typical one to eight minute video for between $2,500 to $7,500. He explains that his ability to achieve great results under these budgetary constraints depends on his knowledge of exactly what angles and shots to record the first time, so that he will have all the necessary material in the editing room to tell a great story.
In addition to providing instructional videos, Lumeo offers its members weekly photo challenges in which they can win prizes like a Canon DSLR camera. Users can also create personal portfolios on the site, enabling others to browse, like, and comment on their work. While the site is heavily geared toward photography at the outset, these community features could be easily adapted to meet the needs of other disciplines.
McDonough’s venture is privately funded by founders, friends, and family. The company will likely pursue traditional venture financing once it can establish proof of concept with its initial photography school content, the founder says.
Lumeo’s content is available on an all you-can-eat subscription basis. The introductory rate for both beginner (one minute per episode) and intermediate (eight minutes per episode) level content is $9.99 per month. Eventually, McDonough plans to separate these two categories, charging intermediate students $24.99 per month, and also adding a pro level for $79.99 per month. The startup’s customer acquisition strategy will rely largely on distribution and promotion from publisher partnership within the photography industry, including specific affinity niches like surf photography.
Santa Monica-based Lumeo is relatively late to the online education game. Category leader Lynda.com, which is based just an hour up the coast in Carpinteria, offers a wide variety of educational content, including photography, for $25 per month. Lynda may not compete with Lumeo on video production quality, but with 2 million subscribers and $100 million in revenue, the 17-year-old company it could squash the company like a bug. And it’s far from alone in that respect.
Besides, founder Lynda Weinman would argue that the secret to great online education is not technology, or glitzy production techniques, but is boring old good teaching technique. McDonough and his team will need to prove that they can master this fundamental skill before all the TV experience in the world will begin to matter.
With a background in creating TV caliber video content, McDonough brings a unique perspective to the video education market. For some, video quality may be the factor that keeps them from subscribing to or enjoying existing options in the market. And for them, Lumeo will offer an attractive alternative. But pretty and entertaining will only get the company so far in this industry. McDonough will need to prove that he can expand Lumeo’s content offering, both within photography and into new categories. If he can do so, and along the way successfully guide students from novice to expert in a variety of subjects, only then will the company offer the full package.