Guardian column: One man’s network

Ditch the broadcast tower – here’s the one-man network

Jeff Jarvis
Monday December 4, 2006
The Guardian

I have been prattling and pontificating in this space about the explosion of television, but only lately have I seen just how easy it suddenly is to light that fuse. Thanks to the confluence of higher quality and less expensive equipment, simpler tools, free distribution and effortless marketing, I’ve been able to make and air my own very humble shows.

I’ve bought an excellent digital video camera the size of a paperback Harry Potter for under $500. Even before that, I was able to use a $99 webcam or the camera built into my Mac laptop to make video good enough for the web. When I wrote a blog post for the Guardian’s Comment is Free (CiF) about Google’s purchase of YouTube, I decided to illustrate the power of the video service by recording my commentary using my laptop. I foolishly shot with no light against a red wall, making me look like a poster boy for the perils of tanning salons. So for my next effort, I bought a professional lighting kit – bright bulbs, tripods, umbrellas – for $200. And to stop my videos sounding as if they were recorded in an empty tube station, I bought a $25 pin-on microphone. And there it is – my own personal TV studio.

I had been intimidated by the prospect of editing video until my teen son taught me how to use Apple’s iMovie, which comes with its computers. It is stunningly simple – you just drag video clips onto a timeline in the order you wish. Edit by snipping either end. Drag on transitions (fade-in, dissolve, all the fancy stuff) and music. Other tools – Visual Communicator for PCs, Videocue for Macs – give you a teleprompter for your script, so you have something to say. They also allow you to drag graphics, photos, audio and video onto your words, so it is all recorded as you read: no editing necessary.

The big stumbling block to becoming a one-man network used to be distribution. When I put a few videos on my blog a few years ago, five people watching them would have brought down my server and cost me a fortune in bandwidth. Enter YouTube. Now you can upload a video in minutes and serve it to the world for free. I used it to air that CiF video and easily put a player onto the Guardian site for it to be seen there. There are many competitors with dazzling services: offers blogs and feeds of your shows; Revver shares the ad revenue; MotionBox offers online editing; and so on. Who needs a broadcast tower?

But how does anyone see your video? As with everything else on the internet, via the power of the link. My crude CiF piece has been seen 1,600 times. That won’t compete with Newsnight, but there are plenty of YouTube series – Lonelygirl15, Rocketboom, zefrank – that boast tens or hundreds of thousands of viewers, larger than many cable networks. CBS TV is just starting to put up its own clips and it believes this has helped boost late-night host David Letterman’s audience by 200,000. This is the virtuous virus of video.

Ah, but we always return to this question: how do you make money? Well, Revver sells ads around videos and shares its revenue. So far, I’ve made $4.12. Too bad I already quit the day job. But Rocketboom has sold ads for $40,000 a week. And I believe the real reason Google bought YouTube is to power advertising in online video the way it has on web pages – everywhere.

So there is one last pesky issue standing between me and monomaniacal populist video triumphalism – quality. The truth is, of course, that most of what I’ve seen on YouTube et al sucks. But that is just what makes this new media vista so intriguing: even though video is easy, it’s still harder than text. A thousand monkeys may end up typing Shakespeare, but they won’t film The Godfather. So I am coming to believe that the medium itself will be a filter for talent and substance. Since you have to work harder to make it, you’ll make sure you have something worth the effort. And the difference between good and bad is more immediately apparent in video than text. So I see great opportunities to make good video. And now that I have the means of production, distribution and marketing, I need to concentrate on the fun part: having something to say and saying it well.