Is this the University of Sheffield’s answer to Netflix?

This week on Most Clicked, we're discussing a powerful example from the University of Sheffield of how you can make the most of on-demand video for your website.

The University of Sheffield gets a double win this week. Firstly, for its media hub, which is a powerful example of how you can make the most of on-demand video for your website. And, secondly, a research video about “Pipebots” – robots that fix waste and water pipes from the inside out. Of course, Pipebots are theoretical right now, but the effort that has gone into bringing this research to life is remarkable. There’s a fully animated video and you can even experience the life of a Pipebot in VR. Complete with sewer section.

Media Hub | Pipebots | Pipebot VR

Nathan Monk
Hello, and welcome back to another episode of Most Clicked. Every Monday, we’re bringing you a top story, so you can take it into your week. Now, this week we are talking about the University of Sheffield’s take on Netflix. So this is quite an interesting one. I think, Kyle you came across this as part of some research, is that right?

Kyle Campbell
Yeah. So when I do the ‘What unis are doing’ section in my newsletter, I tend to go quite broad. And as a result, I enter university websites in a lot of different directions. So I actually came across this via a research video on the Sheffield site. And it was about these little spider-like creatures called pipe bots, they go into like sewers, and they repair pipes on the inside. It’s just a concept piece, but I thought was a really cool way of showing the promise of research rather than just diving into what it achieves now, so it’s well worth a look if people want to look that up. So the player thought, this piece, this research video was as part of this player and I was quite surprised that Sheffield weren’t making more of this. Because it looks slick. There are all kinds of different playlists on it, it feels like a very cohesive and complete experience, like a lot of work has gone into this. And what it might be is it’s it could be like a leftover from the pandemic or virtual experiences when they were the only option. But it feels like a shame that something like this isn’t getting more attention and more use, I mean that some of the latest content here, it’s not been frequently updated. There’s a lot of stuff from 2020, a bit from 2021. But I haven’t seen anything from 2022. But looking through this, you can see that it’s got the feature at the top loads of intersections where you can create topics. And it looks like it hosts a range of videos from different platforms. So it feels like they’ve thought about it as a media hub to pull all this content together. So it’s a nice piece of work. Not to show it’s got a defined purpose going through it at the moment.

Matt Lees
Yeah, I think that that was my take on it. You’re spot on, aesthetically, it looks really slick, you know, a great piece to look at. But I just struggled to understand who it was really for. And you mentioned Kyle, you came into it through a piece of research. And I wondered whether that was perhaps what it was intended for. And a few years ago, we did some work with UEA, and their homepage was about surfacing some of the really good work of research pieces in particular that the university do and, and allowing people to navigate through those topics onto different sets of content within that. And I noticed that they’ve got something I think called series in the player. And I wondered whether that was a similar take on being able to connect different sets of content based on a similar theme.

Nathan Monk
It’s a cool idea, isn’t it? I mean, we’ve toyed with that idea of series for any number of things from related news articles and how, you know, a news article is never one standalone piece. It’s actually a larger story for most bits within a university which are 3, 4 or 5 contributing articles, and maybe even things like videos and other bits of media and social activity. So joining that together as part of a series is definitely something that we’ve always enjoyed toying with as a concept and it’s so nice to see it’s so well executed like me saying that, but I’m with you like the purpose just feels a bit woolly. And I feel like it really suffers from what I term ‘microsites syndrome’, like it’s landlocked, or siloed away on another domain, another microsite that’s not the flagship property, and it doesn’t feel particularly integrated into the wider landscape, which is unusual, given that the whole notion of series is about a wider integration of a narrative. But I looked on the Sheffield website and couldn’t really find a way into it necessarily, or an obvious way or how this asset was being used. And part of the question when we’ve pitched anything like this idea before, the challenge we have always got is why? Why not just put this on YouTube, given that it’s primarily video content?

Sheffield Player Sheffield,Video

Kyle Campbell
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s a fair point. I mean with YouTube, there’s always the element of distraction and being pulled off into a different content rabbit hole. And it’s hard to build a, a university-owned experience on YouTube or say, a virtual event or something like that. But I see your point, like, if you’re just replicating that functionality, then why go to the effort of building a media hub? I mean, in terms of purpose, I think I’ve seen some universities do this really well. So they have a media hub, but they treat it like an on-demand platform. And it’s usually content that’s created from edits of their live content during virtual open days or, or hybrid events. So the best universities are fully aware that you can’t just take a recording of a live virtual event and then just upload it and expect people to consume it in the same way. I’ve seen some cut them down. So they will cut down the hour talk into like a 20-minute on-demand piece. So repurposing content for their demand platforms, I think is very smart. And I think a platform like this that Sheffield has could be used in a very similar way.

Nathan Monk
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s a really neat idea. When did it when did this one go live? Do you know?

Kyle Campbell
Pandemic, 2020.

Nathan Monk
Oh, really? So 2020, so it’s two years old as well as I mean, who knows? It’d be this is one of the stories actually where I kind of wish that I knew somebody at the University of Sheffield because I’d have loved to have asked them the questions about this. I’d love to know more insight. So Sheffield, if you’re watching please do get in touch. Yeah, I’m, what I would ask Sheffield if they were here, or a person from Sheffield. I’d ask them what their plans are and what’s on their roadmap because actually, this might be their kind of very attractive MVP and they might have bigger plans for integrating that content. I genuinely would love to know.

All right. Well, I think that probably wraps up this episode of Most Clicked, Kyle. Matt, thank you as ever. If you have enjoyed today’s content, please consider dropping us a Like it really does help and it really pushes us to do more of these but until next week, have a good one.

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Elliott Barnicle

Lead Designer