Mary Hodder, one of the most respected thinkers of the blog world, has launched her new company, Dabble. It’s a video search across many sites and a place where you can find the good stuff. In that sense, it is just what I was saying the world needs this morning: network 2.0.
Posts about vlogs
I’m not one to run guest posts at Buzzmachine. I have an overdose of blather all by myself. But when I can get someone who wrote for two of my all-time favorite shows, Letterman and Cheers, to write for me, well, I couldn’t pass that up.
Last night, I got email from Fred Graver, executive producer of VH1′s Best Week Ever, who has become a glancing friend thanks to blogs; he and I last saw each other when I introduced him to Amanda Congdon and Andrew Baron of Rocketboom in a fun lunch. Fred was emailing about a few things — mainly how a certain site that shall go nameless screwed them when it stole their very cool Apple commercial parodies, and how he was planning to blog himself, at long friggin’ last. Fred and I also chatted about the doings at Rocketboom and I could tell he had interesting things to say. And so, because he’s still blogless, I asked Fred whether he wanted to write a post here. Fred is a pro: Emmy winner, web pioneer at disney and MTV, and now producer of Best Week Ever on TV and on the web. Here’s his veteran’s take on Rocketboom:
My god… I know that the web is supposed to rewrite all the rules of media. But who among us believed for a second that it would rewrite the rules of human nature? Obviously, Amanda and Andrew did.
I can’t for the life of me figure out all of the details of what actually happened — for two people who make their careers opining on the web, neither Amanda or Andrew have done a very good job of being “transparent” about the goings on at Rocketboom.
Here’s what I do know — based on a lovely lunch that Amanda, Andrew, Jeff and I shared last December: Andrew had the idea for Rocketboom. He placed an ad on Craig’s List for an actress. Amanda (among others) answered. He hired Amanda.
Note to Andrew: have you ever DATED an actress? My god… at any point, did you ever think that you were going to get someone who wasn’t totally self-absorbed? That’s what they DO! That’s why we pay them the big money!!! But we don’t tell them they have some control over our business!
Over lunch, Amanda asked me about agents… and rightly so. Let’s face it — she comes across as interesting, engaged, fun to watch. And the agents — CAA and William Morris, particularly, were interested. Amanda was intrigued that Trent (Pink is the New Blog) had an agent and had recently made a deal for a tv show in development… she was anxious to see what she could do.
Given that Andrew was sitting to her left, she was very respectful about linking her star to Rocketboom. Andrew, in turn, was also respectful of everything Amanda had brought to his endeavor. In retrospect, I’m not surprised that the issue both of them site, ad nauseum, is “moving to L.A.” Show business was the “weasel under the table” (as Harold Pinter would put it) in their relationship.
And at this point, I freeze the image on the screen and ask you all… how is this different from anything we’ve seen in the past 300 years of show business? If you’re having ANY trouble understanding what’s going on here, read Trav S. D.’s brilliant history of vaudeville, “No Applause, Just Throw Money.” The phrase “Hit the bricks, kid, I got a million of you” was born at the same tame as the phrase “Ladies and Gentlemen, on with the show.”
Producers (myself included) make our living off of building a stage. We build it out of a concept, script, cameras, props, and actors… and hope and pray for an audience. At the very end of the equation (for most of us) there is money. (And rarely at the beginning… which is why Amanda and Andrew both get huge grace points in this story. It’s clear that two people who were overjoyed at splitting a forty thousand dollar check after months of work weren’t in it for the money.)
The problem with the internet -and a thorny problem it is – is that the phrase “I got a million of you” can be uttered by everyone in the equation – actor, writer, producer. There’s a million stages now, a million actors, a million writers. EVERY ONE of them can command an audience. Every one of them can start a show.
God love it.
But there’s going to be a tiny bit of hell to pay before we sort out the equation of who runs what. And Andrew and Amanda are paying the first dues for all of us. What follows is a little bit of advice for both of them that hopefully will make the next few weeks or months easier.
Andrew – you are the producer, the entrepeneur. You put up the idea, you put up the energy, you put that ad up on Craig’s list. You were / are amazingly generous in calling Amanda your partner. (I suspect you feel a little bit like your proposed marriage on your first date.) Screw the apologies. You own Rocketboom. Take a lesson from Dick Wolfe – the franchise (in his case, Law and Order) lives. The actors come and go. Put another fucking show on the web and move on. (To continue the bad marriage metaphor… what the hell were you thinking, bringing in mediators!??!?) Move ON! On the other hand… it’s been a year or so… what else are you going to do with this brilliant idea? Boom some more things, it’s about time.
Amanda – I’ve got two words for you: Martha Quinn. You’ve got a tough road ahead of you. You’re going to have to create a franchise for yourself. Get to work – the clock is ticking and 90 days from now, it’s going to be “what the fuck happened to Amanda Congdon?” (OH… and 90 days is about the time it takes for amandacongdon.com to load… might want to look into that.) I think you’re wonderful on camera, and would LOVE to do something with you at MTV Networks. But the poor little girl act (“I’m at my parents house in Connecticut?” … poor choice of state, my friend) is going to wear thin really fast.
Finally… a word or two from a VERY old warhorse… None of us are so good at this as to warrant this kind of public display of bullshit. What I’m obsessed with right now is feeling that two kids in a dorm somewhere in San Diego are going to release something on YouTube that’s going to blow us ALL away… Amanda, Andrew, myself, Jeff… we all have to be ready for the next generation of web media — something that’ll be as powerful as “Real World” was to MTV: the thing that made Martha Quinn look like… well, Martha Quinn.
Thank you, Fred.
Now my advice: I am rooting for both Amanda and Andrew. I like and respect them both and I am confident that they will go on to create more amazing things, given the boost of the last amazing thing they created. Valleywag sent out a survey asking who was at fault in this thing. I say that the Blogosphere — and Hollywood — are both no-fault states. Doesn’t matter. That’s show biz.
I spoke with Andrew this morning as he scurries to get a new Rocketboom up. I emailed Amanda with Fred’s post and said I know she’ll do well. I’ll offer them both my help. And they get my advice whether they want it or not:
The web and Rocketboom gave you both not just fame but also a platform to create, neither of which would have been at all possible only five years ago. You showed other people that they, too, can create amazing things. So go on and make the next thing. It may not be amazing at first, but I’ll bet it will be.
: LATER: One reaction to Fred’s post in comments and emails that Amanda proved to be more than just another pretty actress. Yes, I’d say so.
: The new Rocketboom with Joanne Colan is up and I think it’s good. The opener has her ducking a barrage of tomatoes, successfully. And I am a sucker for a British accent.
When people ask me for the most forward-thinking news organization in the U.S. that has actually accomplished things in this new world, I point to WKRN TV in Nashville, run by Mike Sechrist, and Terry Heaton’s work with them. They’ve listened to their community via bloggers (in meetups) and shared knowledge with them (teaching them how to shoot video) and promoted them (in the station’s blog) and supported them (with an ad network).
This week, they announced an important next step: valuing the work of these amateurs. Terry reports:
…WKRN-TV announced tonight that it would begin paying local bloggers for approved video stories they submit and running those stories on its Website and in its newscasts. WKRN president and general manager Mike Sechrist told a “meet-up” of local bloggers that he could envision the day when a daily program would be made up entirely of material submitted by the community. . . .
Sechrist told the group of bloggers that they had already had a significant influence on the news programs the station produces, simply by doing what they do. The station has pursued stories first raised in the blogging community and has used local bloggers as a sounding board at various times. . . .
I’m sure that we’ll hear plenty of bitching about this from the trenches of the TV news business, but the truth is this was inevitable. Stations have always employed “stringers” or “freelancers,” but most of their work was raw video that station reporters used to tell stories. This takes the concept a step further and taps into the knowledge, passion, brainpower and, yes, skill of people in the community. This a fruit of the personal media revolution, and it will be interesting to watch. . . .
I have no idea what’s happening behind the map at Rocketboom with Amanda Congdon gone and Rocketboom grounded. I’ve known Amanda and Andrew Baron since the early days and like and respect them both. I also saw some creative tension there but I think that’s part of what made Rocketboom good. I hope that they manage to get back together or that they each go on to create great new things. The one thing I hope doesn’t come of this is dead air.
: Here’s the Washington Post’s report. Yes, vlogging is big news.
: LATER: Here’s Heather Green’s reporting in Business Week. She gets to Baron with more. I disagree with one thing Heather and other reporters who’ve emailed me have said. Heather:
And it’s bound to raise questions about the viability of video blogging as a sustainable business.
Plenty of blogs, newspapers, magazines, shows, networks, you name it, have changed or folded and it doesn’t say anything about the entire medium.
Here’s another overdue recommendation: One of my favorite podcasts from two of my favorite podcasters — Filme und So (translation: movies and stuff) — is now in video, as I hoped it would be. Fans of Annik Rubins and her most charming voice from her other podcast, Schlaflos in MÃ¼nchen, can now see her award-winning dimpled smile. Cohost Timo Hetzel has produced a simple and shorter versin of the audio podcast and I like the added connection it gives us with both of them. They know how to podcast well by being informative and casual but still professional and just slick enough. OK, so most of you won’t be able to understand a word (and I can’t understand every word) but I use them as a model for what podcasts and vlogs can be.
: I also just saw that Annik Rubins has a podcasting book from O’Reilly (auf Deutsch).
: And more: Annik held a contest to come up with a podcasting logo. I like it.
So Rocketboom’s ad auction came off with a rather obscure advertiser — TRM, an ATM and photocopy vending company — getting the privilege to be the first to promote on the hottest vlog … and to get free publicity because of it. Good for TRM and good for Rocketboom, valuing a week’s worth of commercials at $40,000 (and good for me not being made a liar predicting in The New York Times that they would be worth a high CPM).
But this is bad for big ad agencies and big advertisers who missed this boat bigtime. I’m not talking about any specific brand or company (disclosure: I know of some advertisers but I’m not talking about them; I’m talking about the ones that didn’t even have the courage to try). They should have been falling over themselves to grab this unique bargain. And they should be slinking off with their long tails between their legs now. Advertisers constantly whine that they want to do something new, but when something new comes along, they freeze because they can’t fit the new thing into their definitions of old and safe.
And here we have in a microcosm the explanation of why media is so horribly out of sync today: The public is valuing new media much more than the old, but the advertisers still value the old. Most every newspaper and in many cases TV networks and magazines have much larger audiences online, but the revenue for their old media properties remains much higher because the advertisers and agencies still value the old and the safe. They want metrics. They want control. They want guarantees. This, in turn, makes big publishers and producers play it safe because they don’t want to mess with the cash cow. And that means that advertisers miss the opportunity to reach a larger, younger, smarter audience in the new medium, which is — supposedly — what they’re dying to do. And that means that big media companies now face competition from a thousand Rocketbooms and a million Gawkers. That allows a TRM to come along and snatch away an opportunity from the big, lumbering giants. That is why small is the new big. Small be nimble, small be quick, small jumped over the conglomerates.
Or let me summarize the problem in one word. Big advertisers and big agencies are chickenshit. They need to grow some balls or else they’ll find new competitors running circles around them. The explosion — the rocketboom — that has already come to newspapers, magazines, TV networks, the music industry is coming next to the ad business.
Please take this, advertisers, as a friendly kick in the pants.