We are taking over TV. We are reinventing TV.
I’ve argued about this with Amanda Congdon – who wants to call it video blogs – and from a different generation with former CBS News President Andrew Heyward – who wants to call it video. And I’ve had numerous fun discussions about nomenclature with the team at Jeff Pulver’s Network2.TV.
But it is TV. We are networks. We have channels. We make shows. We have series.
We just don’t have headquarters, studios, production staffs, vice-presidents, make-up people, gophers, expense accounts, expenses… and profits…. yet.
We are TV.
But we’ve just begun. In the evolution of the new TV, this is 1954: Arthur Godfrey and Friends, My Little Margie, the Adventures or RinTinTin. That was not the golden age of TV. TV then sucked. But it got better. So will ours.
And this means we have a great opportunity to reinvent TV from scratch in an entirely new medium with a new relationship with our public, new creative standards, new means of production and distribution, new economic models. We can nurture an explosion of creativity and commerce. But we have to do it right.
Blogs didn’t do it right. Not the economic side of the equation. We bloggers make it extremely difficult for advertisers to love us – and many want to. They can’t find the right matches: the blogs that write about what they care about, with authority and trust and popularity. They can’t measure us – and to advertisers, metrics are sex. Size matters. They can’t find our names and email addresses to negotiate with us. They can’t put ad hoc buys of us together across many incompatible networks. They can’t serve ads because we don’t all have 15-year-old sons who can dig into the PHP to put up the ad call. They can’t track their ads’ performance. Their clients fear us. And so they give up. And thus they still give too much money to old, shrinking media. They buy dumb. They lose. So do we.
On top of that, it has always been hard for our fated friends and readers to find us. That’s not the fault of bloggers or the technology, but it has long been an opportunity: helping people find the good stuff, as each of us defines good. Legendary blogger Doc Searls says the worst thing that happened to blogs was Technorati’s Top 100 list. Mind you, Doc is a fan of Technorati and a member of its advisory board, as am I. But his point is that this turned blogs – the tail, the vast space of people connected – into old, big media where only the biggest matter. But in this world, the biggest, added all together, are still small, tiny, infinitesimal. It’s the vastness that matters. So I disagree with Shelly when he said earlier that this is still a blockbuster, a hit business. The economics are radically different. What it takes to be a hit — to be big enough — is radically smaller. So think of it as – mangling a metaphor – a dinosaur: the tail is bigger than the head and more powerful. But top lists ignore the whole picture. The most-watched list on YouTube is essentially meaningless and is a self-fulfilling. Size doesn’t matter. Quality does. And there are a million definitions of quality.
So let’s not get stuck in the same traps. We can do things right – and we can define “right”. We can foster an explosion of new, small television and enable its creators to succeed and keep creating good stuff. We are reinventing TV.
So what should we do?
Personally, I decided I had to learn by doing. So with a partner, Peter Hauck, I have started my small TV company, Exploding Video, and we have created its first two shows: PrezVid, tracking the election through the eyes of YouTube, and IdolCritic, capturing and splashing around the watercooler on America’s favorite show. One, I make myself, the other I created as a studio. Plenty of other people here are way ahead of me – I’m looking at you, Steve Garfield – but my learning curve is your learning curve.
And I’m learning a lot about trying to find the right voice, which is not slick and TV-like. The directness, bluntness, roughness of our small TV gives it, I believe, an authority that big, slick, shrink-wrapped TV has lost. Even TV executives I know recognize this. To my surprise, a media consultant showed one of my PrezVid shows to 250 media executives at the Online Publishers Association in London. The reason they did that was to show how different this TV can look and feel. It was bad enough. A network executive there had me talk with one of her on-air people to convince him to unslick, to roughen up his own online shows. We don’t this to be old TV. We’re not exactly sure yet what it should be. And I hope that we never decide, that we never create a new orthodoxy of TV. We can continually reinvent TV.
I distribute my shows on Blip and YouTube and I’ve played with Bright Cove, Revver, Veoh, et al, not to mention Capitol Hill Broadcasting. I am happiest when they make it easy for others to share my shows – and not all these means do. We need to realize that we are all going to have to distribute via many means. Unlike big, old TV, we can’t expect people to come to us anymore. We have to go to them and be where they are. This, I’ve been blogging and arguing (blarguing?) – is Viacom’s mistake in pulling its videos off YouTube. It is demonizing the fans who aren’t stealing their stuff but are recommending it. Viacom is only increasing its marketing costs to draw people onto its authorized site. They are trying to maintain control rather than exploiting handing over control to the people, who will market and distribute their stuff for them. We especially have to recognize this new architecture of distribution and marketing. We don’t have promotional firehoses. We need to be everywhere. And that brings implications I’ll get to in a minute.
But this doesn’t mean we small guys should not have a relationship with the big guys. We can exploit that. We can exploit each other. We can get them to promote our good stuff. This gives them more good stuff to show to their audiences, at little or no cost. We get audience this way. Viral is great. But viral is hard. Viral is a magnesium fire. Poof. Blink and you missed it. The good stuff – as Jeff Pulver presciently realized when he started Network2.TV – is more likely to be made in series by people who care, for people who care to watch. Series are about building audiences. And we’re just learning how to do that.
And then there’s money. I’m not getting enough. None of us is. Since the web began, I’ve watched advertisers trying to turn the internet into television. Well, they’ve arrived at the promised land. And here we are with our stalls set up, selling manna and honey. But, like bloggers, we’re not making this easy for them. And we need to.
I sat down a few weeks ago with Dina Kaplan at Blip.TV and we hatched the notion that there needs to be a summit meeting of interested parties in the television revolution to get our collective act together. I’ve heard and made prior calls for prior meetings that didn’t end up doing much, so I make no promises for this. But for the sake of discussion, imagine if we had creators, distributors, ad sales, ad agencies, clients, and technologists in a room. Imagine if we had a day or two to agree on what we all needed to make this new medium, our small TV, explode. Imagine if we left that room ready to establish standards or tests or relationships. What would that be? What do we need? Well, I’ll start the bidding but then please add your wishes to the list…
1. Measurement. We have to give advertisers orgasms. We have to give them metrics. And in a distributed landscape – where, again, we are going to put our videos up on many places and hope they get embedded in many, many more – we need to measure across all those platforms. We need to have standard metrics that are publishable and verified. And we need to add more than just views. We need demographics and viewing patterns and clicking patterns and cookies. The Viral Video Chart values links and embeds: recommendations; that’s the right way to look at this. We need context: where are these videos appearing, on whose blogs and sites that are about what? We need every media element to have a unique identifier – a sort of traveling URL – so all these stats can be consolidated, so we can report on the distributed audience for the latest IdolCritic.
2. Ad units. It’s way, way too early to know what forms of advertising will work in our new medium. So we need experimentation and measurement and reporting.
3. Ad serving. We need to serve ads across these platforms. That’s going to be tricky but it’s going to be the only way that the big boys will be comfortable placing their content in multiple sites. We also need to put together ad hoc networks across multiple producers and multiple sites to get a critical mass of targeted audience sufficient for an advertiser’s attention.
4. Trust and identity. Of course, there will be a lot of anonymous video out there. That’s fine. But for those who want to make money or get credit and credibility, they need to have identity that, once more, cuts across the multiple platforms. How do I know who made this video? How do I get hold of them? What else have they made? Is the PrezVid I find on YouTube the same as the PrezVid I see on Blip? This is going to matter in this presidential season as we wonder who made that latest attack on Hillary.
5. Guides. I came up with the idea for Entertainment Weekly in 1955 because I saw a need: Thanks to the cable box and VCR, we had more choice. Well, that was nothin’! Now we have millions of choices. It’s hard to find the good stuff. I know, because I’ve gone digging for it. During an interview for a 20/20 show about small TV, I kept insisting that they were concentrating on the wrong genres, on the flaming farts atop YouTube. There are gems in YouTube, I said. Well, that night, I went home and said, ‘I’d better find some damned gems.’ I went mining… and mining… and mining. I was engulfed in what smelled like mine gas: flaming farts. But finally, I found good shows, starting with 39SecondSingle (and I hired its team to make IdolCritic). There are gems but we need guides. That’s why I celebrate Jeff Pulver’s efforts with Network2.TV. That’s why I pushed the folks at TV Guide to branch out with guides to small TV, our TV. That’s even why I started my company, Exploding Video, to provide guides. PrezVid is finding what’s interesting in the YouTube campaign. We need to help viewers – and advertisers – find our best while remembering that best is not a one-size-fits-all definition. And the added benefit of doing that is that we show audiences and advertisers that we make good stuff.
6. Relationships. Even though we’re reinventing TV, I don’t think we’re at war with old TV and big, old media. We can use each other. They can provide us with promotion, traffic, infrastructure, ad sales. We can provide them with content, cool, new talent, new ways to make and think about TV. We can also teach them to be smarter about living in our new world. Viacom is a fool for demonizing its fans for recommending their shows. CBS is a genius for recognizing that our recommendations are free marketing and so, when they take down an infringing clip, they put up an official clip on YouTube. We need more noninfringing uses of the technology we need – Bittorrent, YouTube, et al – so the big guys don’t infringe with us.
7. Protection. We need to listen to Jeff Pulver and Jonathan Askins about the danger of regulation. To quote Doc Searls again, this is not about content. This is about our space, our conversations. And you can’t regulate those conversations, our speech.
8. Creativity. Of course, we need to keep making new, good, surprising TV. We need to keep the creativity flowing. We need to keep reinventing TV. It’s our TV.
Afterwards, an exec from the NY Times Company said that what I proposed sounded like us trying to be big media. I said that no, we want revenue — monetization, if you wish — and we need the things that enable that to support what we love doing and ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we want to be or need to be big.