By Russell Sparkman published October 11, 2010

How To Plan a Video Budget

Content marketing clients interested in incorporating video into their publishing understandably start by asking the question, “how much does a video cost?

There’s no easy answer, of course. My own answer is usually prefaced with the analogy of trying to answer the question of “how much does it cost to build a house?” To answer that, we need to know intended use (full-time residence or summer home?); size (for a family of four or a single person?); and the quality of the materials (Home Depot fixtures or high-end functional art fixtures?).

The same holds true for video. Everything from intended use (60-second video news release or five-minute documentary story?) to the quality of the final editing (is it to be edited in iMovie or Final Cut Pro?) influences the costs of video.

Before you can answer the question “how much,” you really have to answer the questions “why” and “what kind” and “who for?”

A starting point when contemplating video budgets is to consider whether your needs can be met by a “Low Production Value” (LPV) video, or a “High Production Value” (HPV) video. The following explains some of the distinctions between the two levels of production values, which can also be thought of as production inputs, as the basis for understanding how to budget for videos.

Low Production Value Videos

LPV describes a minimalist approach to producing a video, which makes it more affordable. LPV videos are distinctly different from HPV videos in that the latter are normally shot and edited by professionals or semi-professionals.

For purposes of this discussion, LPV refers to videos that are likely to be produced by a business using their own staff.

Choosing LPV videos makes sense when:

  • There’s little to no budget to hire a videographer
  • The look and feel of LPV is acceptable for the subject and audience type (for example, wobbly handheld cameras may be right for a skateboard company trying to reach teens but not for selling fine bone china to grandmothers)

Frequently, internally-produced LPVs have the following characteristics:

  • They are captured with a “prosumer” level of camera (i.e. cameras marketed to consumers but with some features found on professional grade products), or small handhelds such as Flip cameras, the iPhone 4, etc.
  • The camera is often handheld
  • The audio is often captured by an in-camera microphone
  • The audio is usually “voice on tape” (versus voiceover narration recorded in a studio)
  • The videos have minimal editing done in amateur apps such as iMovie
  • Available light is the primary light source
  • Color balance, tone and saturation are often what the camera originally captured (i.e., there is little to no post-processing adjustment of the picture)
  • There are little to no motion graphics (animated text, etc.)
  • The video is shot at a convenient location, even if better locations exist elsewhere

What’s a great LPV example? How about Gary Vaynerchuk’s very first episode of Wine Library TV, Episode 1-Verite. It’s interesting to compare this to his more recent episode in which there’s overall higher production values including attractive motion graphics that open the piece, as well as much improved audio, light, color and presentation.

High Production Value Videos

At the opposite end of the spectrum are High Production Value videos (HPV). The primary distinction between the two is that HPV videos are most often created by video production specialists. These professionals have made an investment in formal training (visual storytelling, video, audio and post-production techniques) and in equipment (HD/HDV video cameras, HD-enabled Digital Still Cameras, professional-grade wireless microphones, computers and editing software and so on).

HPV videos are used most often when:

  • There is budget for a professionally-produced product
  • Meeting the objective of the video storytelling can’t be left to chance or luck, to an intern or an inexperienced employee
  • High-fidelity color is important (e.g., showing products, interviewing the CEO, etc.)
  • Messages have to be on point, either through scripted on-screen dialog or voiceover narration
  • A consistent product, on budget and on time, needs to be delivered for a series of videos, a conference or special event, etc.

Common features of HPV video include:

  • High-quality motion graphics, including animated logos, title slides, lower thirds, ending credits, animated infographics, etc.
  • Video lighting set-ups ensure accurate color reproduction (for example, pleasant skin tones)
  • Professional-level HD video or HD video-enabled digital still cameras are used
  • High-quality ambient audio is captured on location or from a set
  • Wireless microphones are used on interview subjects
  • A written script is often reviewed by several people
  • Voiceover narration is recorded in a professional sound studio, often by a professional voiceover talent
  • A paid host or talent may be a primary onscreen character or personality
  • Licensed music is used
  • Principal video is edited together with “B” roll video
  • Editing is done by a skilled professional using an application such as Final Cut Pro

Comparative Examples of LPV and HPV Videos

Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of LPV and HPV videos, one by a B2B/B2C outdoor recreation equipment manufacturer and the other by a health-related non-profit.

Dive Rite, Inc. is a manufacturer of technical SCUBA diving gear. They needed an affordable approach to providing “how to” videos within their site, The solution was to produce videos using internal resources to keep costs of production down. Since mid-2008, they’ve produced over 40 videos, presented within the Gear Configuration channel on the Dive Rite TV section of their site. This section of their site is the second most popular after the product catalog.

Their video, Transpac: A General Fitting Guide, is an example of the following LPV qualities:

  • It’s produced internally by the company
  • Audio is captured with the on-camera microphone
  • The only audio is dialog captured during the shoot
  • Title slides and scene transitions are very basic
  • There is no background music
  • Location is an office in their building

Comparatively, when the Gift of Life Family House wanted to raise funds for its patient and family lodging facility, it turned to professionals to produce stories about people whose lives have been impacted by waiting for organ transplants.

Videos such as Mike’s Kidney Transplant Challenge, which appears on the site’s Patients and Family Stories page, include the following HPV elements:

  • Motion graphics, including logo, title slide and lower third graphic
  • Use of licensed background music
  • Multiple days of shooting, including interviews, slice-of-life scenes and so on
  • Two-person field team (producer/interviewer, cameraman/audio tech)
  • Travel
  • Location lighting
  • Photo research
  • Professionally-written script for voiceover narration
  • Voiceover narration by a professional, recorded in a studio
  • Professional editing in Final Cut Pro

Budget Considerations for LPV and HPV Videos

Based on this post’s premise that LPV videos are produced in-house, a minimal in-house LPV video production capability can be built for as little as several thousand dollars, depending on the variables of camera, tripod, computer and video editing software costs.

However, it’s important to be realistic about the time involved to produce in-house LPV video. Beyond the investment in technology, you need to think about the time to:

  • Arrange the shoot
  • Conduct the shoot
  • Manage the content (backing up tapes or disks)
  • Log the tape
  • Edit the content
  • Manage the approval process with the client and/or manager
  • Upload the video

Producing LPV videos internally can be a lot to manage. In fact, by the time the costs of equipment overhead and time are factored into the internally-produced LPV video, it often makes sense to hire a videographer instead. An experienced videographer will be able to tailor her production value inputs to match your needs and your budget.

When you work with a professional videographer to produce HDV videos, use a budget framework of between $1,000 and $6,500 per finished minute for planning purposes. The range is wide due to the number of variables involved. A professionally-produced version of an LPV video would might be at the lower end of the range, whereas video produced with the production values found in broadcast programming, such as the type of program you might see on Discovery Channel, would be at the higher end.

It’s a Wrap!

The content marketing mantra is that marketers need to think and act like publishers. I’d add to that the need for content marketers to think and act like broadcasters. The kind of image you project to your audience as a broadcaster will be determined largely by the production values of the video that you provide to your community. The decision about the level of production values will always be based upon:

  • Purpose, intent or objective of the video
  • The video’s intended audience
  • The available budget

The trick in deciding which way to go is in distinguishing between the production values described. Understanding and appreciating the low and high end in video production values will help you make better plans for your video budgets.

Author: Russell Sparkman

Russell Sparkman has 25 years of experience in visual communications (photography, video), the last 10 of which have been as the head of Fusionspark Media. Fusionspark Media specializes in content strategy, content marketing and content production across multiple platforms for B2B, B2C, non-profits and government clients. Fusionspark Media is based in Langley, WA, north of Seattle. You can follow Russell on Twitter @fusionspark and see him speak at Content Marketing World.

Other posts by Russell Sparkman

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  • Joe Pulizzi

    Incredibly helpful Russell. This should be in the back pocket of every marketer.

  • Eric Vaughan

    I would add… when you describe expected costs for HPV video as 1000 to 6500 per finished minute that the ability to hit the lower end of that scale depends on how many minutes of finished video you will have or to put it simply, the more minutes of video you plan the more the costs can be spread. Shorter pieces done one at a time cost more than longer or multiple pieces shot together.

    • Russell

      Hi Eric,

      You bring up an excellent point, re: the costs of shorter pieces. Had I continued to go into all the variables, I would have doubled the blog post’s length, I think! So, I really didn’t address what you’re touching upon, but it’s very important.

      Although subtle, I try to make the point in the post that the low end of the budget ($1000) would be a professional videographer shooting the equivalent of the Low Production Value (LPV) video.

      Shorter pieces that include all the variables described as being High Production Value inputs do cost much more than that. I often think of the following T.S. Eliot quote when I think of High Production Value “short form” videos:

      “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

      Shooting, writing and editing short form HPV videos can take an extraordinary amount of time to get right, and the costs of producing them by video professionals scale up accordingly.

      Thanks again for the comment.

      Best regards,

  • Peter Wiant

    AWESOME info! Very well broken down, with great examples. Creating a video can be very confusing for potential corporate customers and that is why this information is so important.

  • Laurie Dunlop

    Thanks for touching on video. I think one of the best resources for a company considering online video is the book “Get Seen” by Steve Garfield. He really touches on many of the basics. It is one of the books I keep near my desk as a reference!

    • Russell

      Laurie, Thanks! “Get Seen” is on my Amazon Wish LIst now.

      Look for an upcoming post from me in which I’m going to be talking about the “Grammar and Lexicon of Visual Storytelling.” It’s a presentation I’ve given a few times over the years that I’m going to work into a series of posts.

      Thanks for your comment,

  • globalcopywrite

    Hi Russell,

    I think the point you make about a written script improving the production value of a video is really important. I’ve recently been working with a company who had previously invested a lot in video production but didn’t have a script. Everything they did was “winging it” on camera.

    We’ve done our first video focusing on content by planning and producing a script before anything else. We took a LPV approach in every other respect. The overall value of the LPV effort has actually been greater because, first and foremost, their story is being told in a very succinct way.

    Even though I’m a content marketing consultant, I was impressed with the substantial difference made by having a script for the video.

    Thanks for your very informative post. I’ve sent it to my client for reference. I think you did a great job defining a complex topic. The answer for video budgets could easily be “How long is a piece of string?”

    • Russell

      I love the “How long is a piece of string” question. Will use that from now whenever someone asks “how much for … [insert Web Site, Content Marketing Plan, Video, eBook, etc., etc.]

      Yes, Script writing is what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, when it comes to videos. When everyone has a camera/video, the differentiator is the ability to skillfully tell a story. It takes writing talent, especially if there’s going to be voiceover narration.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Henk-Jan van Essen

        Within our (Dutch video content production) company we say: “Creativity should not happen during the shoot, At the shoot all crew is there and must produce in the less time possible.” Scripts are a result of research and goals bringing together.