A TV revolution from the corner of the living room
Monday September 26, 2005
Television is exploding. Witness: A year ago, comedian and commentator Jon Stewart, star of the acclaimed American news satire The Daily Show, appeared on CNN’s left/right shout-show Crossfire to berate the hosts for their incessant arguing. “Stop, stop, stop hurting America,” Stewart pleaded. And stop they did, for Crossfire was soon cancelled.
That now-legendary TV moment was seen live on CNN by about 150,000 viewers. But then the segment was copied on to iFilm.com, where to date it has been viewed 3.25m times – plus countless millions more via BitTorrent and other file-sharing programs.
So which is more powerful: the gigantic, closed network owned by CNN? Or the network no one owns, the internet? And which has more potential? Well, just last week, PaidContent.org reported that another media giant, Viacom, was looking to buy iFilm. That is a sign that the real future of media is not centralised, controlled, and big but instead distributed, open, and small.
Of course, TV networks will not die. But neither will they grow – and in business, isn’t that as good as dying? Their audiences have been steadily falling away for a decade. Network ad revenue is now flat and a host of new gadgets compete for viewers’ attention.
Yet it’s not technology that ultimately will challenge big media’s monopoly. It’s the audience who will do that, for now they – or rather, we – can produce, distribute, and market our own content at a cost media giants cannot beat. Three important developments come together now to make this possible:
Â· Thanks to new tools, anyone can make a show. Just as blogging liberated publishing, cheap gadgets and ever- easier software can turn anyone into a broadcaster. For example, Audacity – a free tool that makes editing audio as easy as cutting-and-pasting – lets us produce podcasts, the radio shows of the people. And even I, a child of print-and-paper, can make TV using a tool called Visual Communicator, which lets me write a script for a teleprompter on my computer screen and then drag-and-drop inserts of graphics and video on to the script so it is all recorded at once – no editing necessary. (To see a demonstration, go to buzzmachine.com/rtnda.)
Â· The internet enables us to distribute what we make to the world. No longer do we have to beg the guy who owns the broadcast tower for time.
Â· We can now market via links. That is how some blogs have built audiences the size of midsize newspapers’. That is how podcasts and vlogs (video blogs) will grow.
There is the real revolution in media: The one-way pipe that was broadcasting is giving way to an open pool that everyone owns, where anyone can play. The end of the network era isn’t just about losing audience or revenue or profits. It’s really about losing control.
Now consider Rocketboom.com. This is a humble and charming vlog produced by Andrew Baron behind the camera and Amanda Congdon in front, giving their quirky, funny, snarky, fresh perspective on the news. Think of her as the poor man’s – and young man’s – Jon Stewart.
I’ve met Andrew and Amanda and I will tell you – I’m sure without dispute from them – that they do not have a killer business instinct. But they do have a business model the biggest broadcasters should envy: they don’t need a blockbuster to break even. Their only costs are a camera, a Mac, a cheesy backdrop in the corner of Andrew’s apartment, and some bandwidth to serve up the show every day. They have no fancy studio filling expensive real estate and filled with pricey equipment and with union technicians to run it all. They have no satellite. They have no high-priced talent (other than themselves, and they’re not rich … yet).
They have no promotional budget because their audience markets them with free links. They have no need for business development executives to negotiate their way onto network TV (and also do not need to fear being cancelled or, for that matter, edited).
But they do have audience. Rocketboom serves at least 60,000 downloads a day. Compare that with Crossfire’s audience on CNN: 150,000. So Rocketboom has more than a third of the big network show’s audience at a fraction of the cost. And, by the way, CNN’s audience is near retirement age while Rocketboom’s fans (excluding me) are young enough to be CNN viewers’ grandchildren.
Rocketboom itself won’t kill CNN. But a thousand Rocketbooms will explode television.
Â· Jeff Jarvis is a media consultant who blogs at BuzzMachine.com