The past, present and future of film and video at the Ri

Ri's Head of Digital, Cassie Williams, takes us through the lessons learned from six years of the Ri Channel.

  • Credit: Pexels

We’re making some changes to the Ri website to make it easier for everyone to access our award-winning video content. From early December 2017 our CHRISTMAS LECTURES archive will be moving to the heart of our main website, whilst our own Ri-produced videos can now all be found on our YouTube channel. That means we’ll be saying a fond farewell to the Ri Channel. This blog explains more about these changes and what we’ve learned from 6 years of running the Ri Channel.

It’s been almost exactly 6 years since we launched the Ri Channel platform. At the time it was at the leading-edge of online science video, yet it’s easy to forget how quickly things can move in the digital sphere.

Back in 2011, sites which have now become staples of our online world, like Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat were each less than a year old. And whilst YouTube and Vimeo have been around a bit longer, they launched in 2005 and 2004 respectively, their functionality was much more limited, and the services they offered weren’t as fully formed as they are today.

Due to the limitations in YouTube and Vimeo’s functionality, we decided that our founding aim of ‘making [science] video available through as many relevant channels, to as large an audience as possible and displaying that content in an appropriate and rich manner’ was best met through a bespoke video hosting solution.  So we built our own platform and the Ri Channel was born.

It was immediately applauded for its innovation, with unique features like ‘footnotes’ which allowed us to feature links to curated reference sites at just the right time in the video, linked to via the videos transcript. And it was an example of how partnerships can make amazing things happen; we couldn’t have done this without the amazing support from Chris Bishop, one of our former Christmas Lecturers, and with funding from Microsoft Research. 

  • richannel on tablet

    Credit: Royal Institution

But times have changed, and now both YouTube and Vimeo excel in building communities of massive global audiences, providing them with an accessible and easy-to-use interface across all devices, from mobile, PC, tablet and more. This means that if we were to develop the Ri Channel today and were to ask ourselves the same founding question, it’s unlikely we would decide that a bespoke solution was best.

We’ve found that we’re best off focusing on making really great content, and placing that content where our audience naturally gravitates to – which is mostly YouTube. Ultimately we’ve decided that it doesn’t matter where people watch our videos, but what does matter is making sure as many people as possible do get to watch them.

This approach has been working well for us – we now have over 325,000 YouTube subscribers, and we’re currently adding 7000 more to our YouTube community each month.

Whenever we want to remind ourselves just how much we’ve done, we turn to the total watch time for our videos, which at the time of writing is 285,274,016 minutes– or about 542 years, 270 days. That means over ½ a millennium has cumulatively been spent watching our engaging and exciting videos.

It’s also now much harder for us to answer the question ‘what does the Ri Channel offer that’s different to the usual experience of consuming videos online?’

Whilst we were really excited to launch the Ri Channel with features like footnotes, this was very time intensive for us, and we found that although many people said they liked the feature, the reality was not many people were actually using them.

YouTube has gone on to catch-up with other features we built into the original Ri Channel, such as the ability to share specific moments in a video. And its enhanced subtitle/closed caption ability is practically impossible to beat, with YouTube’s ever growing accuracy of its speech recognition for its auto-generated captions, and the ability for our audience to translate our video captions into new languages.

Yet despite its many advantages, we’ve also learned YouTube isn’t always the best place for all our content. Some of our videos have performed much better on Vimeo, which as a platform has generally been more focused on video creators, rather than YouTube, where our more presenter-led Ri Talks and demo videos have proved more popular. Some of our animations, made by our brilliant animators in residence, have found large audiences on Vimeo.

  • animation being worked on in adobe after effects

    Animation in progress

    Credit: Ri / Andrew Khosravani

And some of the complex copyright issues around our past CHRISTMAS LECTURES means we still require a more bespoke solution to publishing them online. So with this in mind, we’re going to be moving our CHRISTMAS LECTURE archive to where they rightly belong, at the heart of our main Ri website.

In order to do this, we’re excited to be launching a new section for us to share our wonderful archive of Christmas Lectures past and present, coming to our rigb.org website early December 2017, featuring improved searching and viewing by topic, lecturer and year.

So, as we look to the future, it’s time for us to say a fond farewell to the Ri Channel platform, and to find new ways to connect our ever-growing audience with the past, present and future of Ri film and video.

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