Computing Profession

To Videolecture or Not

John Langford
John Langford, Microsoft Research New York

For the first time in several years, ICML 2010 did not have videolectures attending.  Luckily, the tutorial on exploration and learning which Alina and I put together can be viewed, since we also presented at KDD 2010, which included videolecture support. 

ICML didn’t cover the cost of a videolecture, because PASCAL didn’t provide a grant for it this year.  On the other hand, KDD covered it out of registration costs.  The cost of videolectures isn’t cheap.  For a workshop the baseline quote we have is 270 euro per hour, plus a similar cost for the cameraman’s travel and accomodation.  This can be reduced substantially by having a volunteer with a camera handle the cameraman duties, uploading the video and slides to be processed for a quoted 216 euro per hour.

Youtube is the most predominant free video site with a cost of $0, but it turns out to be a poor alternative.  15 minute upload limits do not match typical talk lengths.  Videolectures also have side-by-side synchronized slides & video which allows quick navigation of the videostream and acceptable resolution of typical talk slides.  Overall, these differences are substantial enough that youtube is not presently a serious alternative.

So, if we can’t avoid paying the cost, is it worthwhile?  One way to judge this is by comparing how much authors currently spend traveling to a conference and presenting research vs. the size of the audience.  In general, costs vary wildly, but for a typical academic international conference, airfare, hotel, and registration are commonly at least $1000 even after scrimping.  The sizes of audiences also varies substantially, but something in the 30-100 range is a typical average.  For KDD 2010, the average number of views per presentation is 14.6, but this is misleadingly low, as KDD presentations were just put up.  A better number is for KDD 2009, where the average view number is presently 74.2.  This number is reasonably representative with ICML 2009 presently at 115.8.  We can argue about the relative merits of online vs. in-person viewing, but the order of their value is at least unclear, since in an online system people specifically seek out lectures to view while at the conference itself people are often opportunistic viewers.  Valuing these equally, we see that videolectures increases the size of the audience, and (hence) the value to authors by perhaps a factor of 2 for a cost around 1/3 of current presentation costs.

This conclusion is conservative, because a videolecture is almost surely viewed over more than a year, costs of conference attendance are often higher, and the cost in terms of a presenter’s time is not accounted for.  Overall, videolecture coverage seems quite worthwhile.  Since authors also typically are the attendees of a conference, increasing the registration fees to cover the cost of videolectures seems reasonable.  A videolecture is simply a new publishing format. 

We can hope that the price will drop over time, as it’s not clear to me that the 216 euros/hour reflects the real costs of  Some competition of a similar quality would be the surest way to do that.  But in the near future, whether or not a conference has videolecture support substantially impacts its desirability as a place to send papers.


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