Quirks of online video contests

Having participated in (and hosted) my fair share of online video contests, I have strong opinions about how to best run one. I’m going to use the recent ReBrick Halloween Contest as an opportunity to discuss some of those opinions.

Let me preface this by saying how great it is to see the LEGO Group supporting the brick animation fan community with a stop motion app and numerous video contests with substantial prizes. Additionally, I know how much hard work goes into every brick animation released on YouTube, so all the entrants to the ReBrick contest should be very proud of their accomplishments.

That being said, the results of this contest highlight the problems inherent in video competitions that involve a public voting component. Opening a contest to public voting seems like a great way to ensure a fair result, right? (Yay democracy!) However, unless people are incentivized to watch multiple entries, voting will always favor entrants with large, established audiences. One might as well just compare the number of YouTube subscribers each entrant has and declare the winners that way. Additionally, if the voting period overlaps with the entry period, entries finished early will tend to accumulate a disproportionate number of votes. These means that great videos entered by up and comers close to the deadline are basically doomed. (Yay democracy?)

Public voting doesn’t always ruin video contests. Sometimes, public voting will be used in conjunction with judging so that there is a “People’s Choice” winner/finalist in addition to a winner selected. Other times, judges will whittle down the field of entries to a few finalists and let the public vote to determine the winner (as opposed to the reverse, as ReBrick did). I have also seen really elaborate voting systems (i.e. the annual IAWTV nominations) where voters don’t necessarily have to watch every video, but a back-end system ensures that every video is viewed and voted upon by an equal number of voters. In this situations like this, voters are been treated like judges, so it’s more of a crowd-sourced judging than a random popularity contest. So, if you are creating an online video contest, please be thoughtful about how voting is implemented. Judging is almost always better than voting.

Having watched all the entries to the ReBrick contest, here’s the video that I think should have won because it best fits the theme of “spooky fun” and is well made:

And here’s one that was legitimately scary (to me at least):

One final note, the ReBrick contest has lessons for those who seek to enter online video contest too. Read the rules carefully, lest you be disqualified like two films were that would have otherwise been semifinalists were in this contest.

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