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What One Star's Fate Doesn't Mean for the Future of Online Media
Micki Krimmel, 26 Sep 07
Article Photo

If you're at all involved in digital media, you've probably heard of Amanda Congdon: in November 2006, she was the first videoblogger to cross over to a mainstream network when she was hired to host a weekly show on ABCnews.com. Last week, however, it was announced that that Amanda would be leaving her ABC position.

As host on the popular and cutting-edge videoblog Rocketboom, Amanda became the first famous videoblogger. Her transition to a major network was heralded as a validation of online video and a sign of transformation in the media industry. While Amanda's departure from ABC hasn't so far earned the ink her arrival did, some folks seemed just as eager to use it as a defining moment for the medium, saying her split with ABC spells disaster for videobloggers everywhere. If an online star like Amanda can't succeed in mainstream media, after all, can anybody?

To use the success or failure of any one performer or show as a signal for the health of an entire medium is shortsighted. Frankly, I feel sorry for Amanda; because celebrity, gossip and sweeping generalizations sell magazines and papers (or generate traffic), whatever she does is going to be scrutinized and oversimplified. Still, the coverage was right about one thing: the media industry is transforming. While Amanda was working at ABC (as well as starting several of her own projects), the online video industry contined to grow at a rapid pace. And it will continue to do so with or without Amanda Congdon as a spokeswoman for new media.

The user-generated video market continues to boom; new and seasoned filmmakers alike are exploring the medium as a new means of expression for more professionally produced content. New shows (and stars) are being born every day, and artists are learning how to make money online. Some filmmakers and actors are using the internet to get their names out there in the hopes of securing work in traditional media, but many are choosing instead to use the'net to forge their own way without the creative constraints of studios or television networks. These artists understand what makes the internet different from traditional media platforms: it facilitates creating custom-built content for online audiences -- audiences perhaps too small to command attention from traditional broadcasters, but more than big enough to support unique ventures like these:

  • Galacticast is a weekly science fiction/comedy videoblog that is geared towards a very niche and very geeky audience. Because the show is produced weekly, Casey McKinnon and Rudy Jahchan are able to parody the latest sci-fi hit or internet meme and respond to feedback from their very loyal fanbase.
  • Jet Set Show is a weekly show focused on internet culture and is perhaps one of the best examples of show/audience interaction. Alongside the videos, Jet Set hosts a lively community where viewers discuss the show, suggest topics and compete in online games for prime real estate for their profile on the site and a mention of their names in the show.
  • Wallstrip delivers daily investment news with a side of irreverent humor. Business Week calls it "a sassy new investment show for generation YouTube" and CBS recently purchased the show for a reported $5 million.

Seeing dollar signs in the sky (or in the tubes), companies are forming to support online video as a viable entertainment business -- sometimes tapping into top veterans from both Old and New Media. For example,

Next New Networks
's founders include Herb Scannell and Fred Siebert from MTV Networks, and Tim Shey, a pioneer in interactive television (and producer of Amanda Congdon's "Amanda Across America"). NNN states that it's "creating micro-television networks over the internet for targeted communities, bringing together elements of tv programming and internet philosophy to allow viewers to contribute, share and distribute content." The company has launched 14 online television networks so far, covering everything from sports to fashion to green living.

Much like television networks of the past, NNN connects sponsors, shows and audiences. But unlike traditional television networks, NNN focuses on short content that can be accessed online and via mobile devices, and audience participation in the programming is highly encouraged.

While the internet is becoming a viable medium for money-conscious video artists, this is not to say that if a videoblogger were offered a television show he would turn it down. Nor should he. The real future of media is in creating cross-platform media properties where the story takes place wherever the viewer might be: in front of a television, in a theater, online, or on the street with a cell phone. Ask a Ninja, a wildly popular internet show, takes advantage of such multi-platform flexibility by delivering content on the web and via iTunes; it has a presence on Myspace and Friendster; it's even got customized ringtones. The creators' savvy business sense and well-defined comedy brand have attracted the support of some big name sponsors, and also earned them various TV spots, a DVD release on Netflix, a highly lucrative book deal and several projects in development within the studio system.

Such multi-platform brand loyalty by viewers is the holy grail of studios and television networks faced with decreased ratings and ticket sales. But because the mainstream media industry is built on the value of intellectual property (and because there are innumerable levels of bureaucracy to manage), it's been slow to take advantage of opportunities online. Still, that may be changing: As someone who works at the intersection between old and new media, I can tell you there is seldom a meeting in Hollywood these days that does not include an "expert" on new media.

How will all this play out? Huge strides have been made in online video since Amanda Congdon took her post at ABCnews.com a year ago. New Media artists are becoming business people in their own right, setting standards that Old Media is finally recognizing. While not every experiment to blur the lines between Old and New is going to succeed, this is a time of opportunity for online artists to experiment, to share their stories, and to create new meanings for the word "success."

Image: Screenshot of Amanda Congdon on ABC.com. Credit: flickr/slash_ovlov

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Comments

here's another example of the evolving landscape

http://tivocast.podshow.com

we'll eventually be presenting a wide variety of independently produced video on tivocast (as we do now online)

ubiquity is the hallmark of new media


Posted by: Noebie on 26 Sep 07

you should note the work of alive in baghdad, drishti media collective and video volunteers. citizen or community video units are the future. i've detailed a few links at http://luckofseven.com/day_77_resources_social_change_focus_ngos_india


Posted by: noneck on 27 Sep 07

She just wasn't that good.

Internet hype, cuteness and fanboy love only gets you so far, at some point you have to display some real talent.


Posted by: KD on 27 Sep 07

Smart, as usual, Micki.

Actually, it's another reminder for me to keep my eyes on the road ahead, not the one behind. Back in the day --the day when cable TV was new media-- we were all too focused on what "real" TV (the broadcast networks) were doing and whether or not we were good enough to make the transition. It took me about 10 years to not give a f--k, to focus on the viable, cool medium we were helping to build.

Internet TV needs to think the same way. Who cares who did or didn't make the leap to "real" TV. *We're* real TV, and we'll do just fine, thank you.


Posted by: Fred Seibert on 27 Sep 07

Excellent points, Micki... Especially about how much press her arrival received vs the amount her [pending] departure received.

The issue here isn't *only* whether internet stars can make in on television, it's a question of what MSM wants them to DO once they get there.

Obviously, the ABC/Amanda show was a *DIRECT* rip-off of Rocketboom. That's neither a good thing nor a bad thing, however, if you're going to copy something, you need to understand more about that show than how it looks. Don't over-produce the talent. Don't put long-running, unavoidable pre-roll ads between the videos. There's much, MUCH more to doing an internet show than whether the on-air talent can deliver lines. I'm not saying the show itself wasn't good. I'm saying that it's apples & oranges to compare the two situations because of the elements surrounding Amanda at Rocketboom and at ABC.

That's why there's only one Scriggity. That's why there's only one Galacticast. That's why there's only one JetSetShow. You can watch them all you like and THINK you know what's going on because the surface of the shows look like something you've seen before, but that doesn't mean YOU can do it or do it well.


Posted by: BillCammack on 28 Sep 07



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