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Understanding the Incentives in Crowd-Based Video Production

by April 28, 2011

There are some valuable take-aways from Jared Cicon’s latest reflections on online video contests. The post chronicles his return to contests on Poptent after time away due to a heavy workload. Having been in the sponsor’s shoes for several recent contests (ocean acidification, Why Dialogue Earth?, and intro to energy), we are keenly interested in understanding this approach to video production. Here’s a sample of Cicon’s work from one of the two contests on Poptent he won.


Why are we interested in crowd-based video production? We are striving to communicate science-based stories to large, diverse audiences. We believe that using a wide selection of storytellers and approaches, Dialogue Earth will create videos that explain each issue in voices that will resonate with a range of audience segments. Here’s more on how we plan to create a trustworthy brand that will serve as the foundation for all of our video content.

It is important to note that we sit in a decidedly different position than most sponsors who turn to crowdsourcing for video production. That is, our goal is to produce highly-engaging videos on a continual basis, with multiple—for the sake of argument—”contests” running simultaneously, all to further Dialogue Earth’s mission to increase public understanding on hard-to-explain-science-based-issues. Cicon highlights the tension that develops when a vendor like Poptent has to convey the wishes of the sponsor to their community, even though the sponsor may have a cloudy sense of their needs and/or these requirements change during the contest. That is definitely not a good situation for the creative community, and I am guessing that it isn’t a good spot for a crowdsourcing vendor to find themselves in.

Through our three contests on Tongal, we have experimented with different contest structures. Starting with concept-to-video contest, followed by a straight-to-video contest driven by a tight deadline, then a tournament-style contest that had a concept, storyboard and video phase. We have learned tons working through these three contests, and we are grateful for the many insights provided by team Tongal. That said, we are compelled to keep adjusting the incentive structure to make a long-term goal of creating highly-engaging videos a win-win for the creative community and the Dialogue Earth mission. This quote from Cicon below exemplifies a key element that we feel a win-win strategy will have to address:

For me, [at the PopTent pay rate], if I produce more than three contest submissions per win, I start to back-pedal from a fiscal standpoint…and that’s a serious question all creatives need to ask themselves. Yes, $7,500.00 for a contest victory for three weeks work is decent pay, but if you really worked for three months, because it is the true frequency rate of your ‘wins’, than you now are netting about $26,000 per year. I pay more than that in rent alone. I do hope that one day, PopTent is able to negotiate bigger paydays for it’s creatives, so the losses don’t hurt so badly between wins.

We have long been bothered by the fact that many people spend many hours on content for which they are not compensated—and which sadly never helps to further the goals of the sponsor. Instead, we would like to figure out how to repeatedly get a few creators interested in a specific video task and provide them the feedback along the way that would help them to maximize their payoff. Plus, given that we need to have tons of eyes on each video to further our mission, we think there would be a rationale for creators to be gain additional rewards based on the traffic their videos garner. I should note that there is an element to contests highlighted by Cicon—the rush of winning—that is a motivator not to be overlooked…

We’re a nonprofit enterprise, so the big paydays that Cicon advocates for Poptent is a challenge. Yet, we believe that there will be a formula that would enable us to repeatedly get great video content because we have maximized the incentives for the creative community. This will be the first of many posts on this topic. We welcome your thoughts and reactions!

7 Responses

  1. Apr 28, 2011


    Thanks for the insightful post. I think (as we’ve discussed in the past) that a tournament style model is the way to go. For example, our work on “Energy” as well as how CloudSpokes is using the platform:

    As you know, in these competitions, if a filmmaker’s pitch is selected, they are given a production budget and guaranteed a win (in no particular order) which helps creators financially and helps ensure that you as the sponsor have feedback along the way and guaranteed deliverables, maintaining the benefits of competition.


    • Kent Cavender-Bares
      Apr 28, 2011

      Great to hear from you here, James. The tournament style certainly is an innovative approach. As you know, we are torn between giving creators too much and too little feedback during the process. I think we were able to help tweak the scripts of the semi-finalists in the Energy contest, although we held back from making any creative suggestions. Who knows if that was the right approach, although we feel pretty strongly that the creators should own the creative aspects, or else we might as well just have someone on staff make the videos. It’d be really interesting to get feedback from the creators, both those who were rewarded at the storyboard phase and those who came in as wildcards. Did you get some feedback that caused you to drop the wildcard idea for the Cloudspokes contest?

  2. Apr 28, 2011

    Hi there,

    As a creator that has been at this new venture for several years I can tell you that if you look at the most successful independent creator contests sites today they are NOT tournament style.

    The biggest contest to date is the annual Doritos Crash the Superbowl contest where creators submit their best produced spot with NO secondary writing from the brand or anyone else. For three years in a row now creators for this contest have nabbed two #1 spots and one 2nd place spot during the Superbowl from the USAToday Ad meter poll. All finalists get $25.000 too.

    As far as sites that run all year long, it is clear that is now the number one independent Ad creator site today even though sometimes they don’t always have the higest payouts. The level of top Poptent creators in my opinion is now about equal to many of the top creators that submit to Doritos contest.

    I respect everything that Tongal is trying to do but I just cannot stand the Tournament model that seems to drag on month after month, I have only entered one time there and will probably not be back unless they make some changes. I know that many of the top creators at Poptent feel the same way.

    I have had only one purchase at Poptent but a handfull of Finalist and editors choice awards there and love the model of following a creative brief set fourth by the brand and having the Brand themselves select the purchased spots.

    I do sometimes wish that Poptent would get the payouts up more for the quality of work they are getting now but I know they are working on that. Many times the Brand will purchase up to 6 spots and pay them all the top prize which is really cool.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. Thanks for the blog;)

    • Kent Cavender-Bares
      Apr 29, 2011

      Thanks for your comments, Danny. I’ll sidestep the platform-specific comments, because our experience is from a brand/sponsor, and our experience is also limited to one platform so far.

      You’ve hit on a couple of issues that I’d love to dig into more: timing and “secondary writing.”

      In order to further our mission, we need to work toward very rapid turnaround. It would be key for us to figure out how to structure a contest in a way that great content could be produced within days or a week or two, rather than weeks or a month or more. It’d be great to get feedback from you and other creators on what would make a very compressed time line work. Is it all about payout and an individual creator’s chances? Is it knowing that there will be new projects issued every couple of weeks? Others?

      In terms of “secondary writing,” do you mean having the sponsor / brand come back with edits after submission? This is something that we really need to work through given that most of the videos we’ll be creating will be based on a number of “key points” that are based in science or technology. We need to figure out a way to help a creator who has an amazingly creative approach but has not gotten one of the points quite right. Or, for a creator that has all of the points accurate, but may have a phrase or imagery that would make the piece feel like issue-advocacy for a particular audience segment.

      We think that there might be a role for creating a process that has a cohort of creators that move quickly through the process, getting feedback along the way that will increase their confidence of success. As mentioned in my colleague Tom’s post (, we would like everyone who is serious about one of our video projects to be winners.

  3. Apr 29, 2011

    My first response to the above video is that there are people who are willing to play a relatively high-stakes game with their time and energy… to sell chewing gum or corn chips. Then I think: is that the person I would choose to communicate for me on sensitive and complex issues?

    The tournament idea discussed above is (I think) a little more like the real world, in that at least there’s an accepted pitch before someone puts all their eggs into one basket. Imagine being the producer’s shoes without an actual go-ahead and relationship with the client – it seems one would lose many good potential submissions on this alone.

    Now for disclosure: I am a producer of commissioned (prefunded, usually from grants) environmental and social interest documentaries. I’m definitely not here to say “step aside, leave this to the pros”, but there must be a slant in there somewhere.

    I’m also completely new to the crowdsourcing concept, and need to let it soak in a bit. If I wasn’t intrigued by what you’re doing, well, this message wouldn’t be here. I’ll be looking at the future contests.

    Happy Spring, Tom!

    - Steve Braker
    Worthwhile Films | Nonprofit Media

    • Kent Cavender-Bares
      May 02, 2011

      Thanks for your comment, Steve. It is really good to have your perspective added here. My reaction to your first thought about the type of people we’d want as storytellers is that I think there are tons of people capable of telling an engaging story if we provide them with a decent description of the project goals and requirements. I believe you’ve also hit on the issue of incentives, which we fell is key. We’d like to figure out way to encourage more people with good storytelling ideas to take part in our projects, providing them sufficient input along the way so that they have a good sense of what they can expect in terms of rewards. Look for some more posts on this soon!

  4. Kent Cavender-Bares
    May 04, 2011

    The conversation continues: check out my latest post ( Would be great to have any and all feedback!

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