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July 29, 2005
On Getting Scooped and Current TV
So, ugh, I was scooped this week by the NYTimes on a story I was working on about Current TV. That's the new cable channel that former VP Al Gore is launching on Monday that wants to democratize TV by getting viewers involved in creating and choosing programs for the channel. There wasn't much room for me to write a business story after what the Times did. And Salon had already done an interesting in-depth story on the gripes among video bloggers about Current TV.
Getting scooped was annoying. But I learned a lot from the video bloggers I spoke with and will apply their insights as I track the company and video blogging. Thought I would post about that and would love to hear your what you think about the company's outlook. I spoke with lots of video makers and many want to work with Current.
However, many had real caveats. And in a world of blogs, they are coming through loud and clear:
1/ Current Hasn't been Consistently Transparent:
There is some distrust about how Current TV has handled big and small decisions alike. And that could have consequences. It seems clear that Current lost some early momentum when it abandonned a plan to hire and rely on a group of 50 young video makers, dubbed digital correspondants. Last fall, Current did a full bore, idealistic recruiting program that brought in 2,000 applications and created a lot of excitement through a very lively blog. Coincidental to bringing on some new programming execs onboard, the company decided not to follow that plan.
Current execs and consultants have a good argument that it's actually more democratic to draw from everyone submitting videos, rather than hiring a stable of DCs. But they flubbed the way they handled the decision, shutting down the recruitment blog almost overnight and not being very open in communicating with its very loyal community, according to some video bloggers.
They then made other mistakes on things that are important to the young, tech savvy group of indie video maker--such as not immediately relaunching their video blog after the change in the hiring plan. And submission restrictions that seemed onerous. To be fair, they did react to these criticisms. But to many video bloggers I spoke with--even those supportive of Current--the seeming lack of consistent transparency means they're taking a wait and see attitude with Current.
2/ Tone Can Breed Resentment
In some instances, the way Current suggested assignments got under people's skin because it seemed too topdown. Umair Haque pointed out a classic example after the London bombings. Current execs say they're erring on giving too much guidance in the beginning to help people who aren't used to doing submissions and make the whole submission process run more smoothly.
3/ Options are Multiplying
The options for publishing video online are exploding. These upstart networks and open source services aren't as powerful as Current's TV reach in 20 million homes. But they are an appealing, vibrant alternatives. Up and coming video producers don't have to make as many compromises as before to be seen and heard. In Current's favor are its ambitions to partner with innovative thinkers online, as it's doing with the soon to be launched Participatory Culture online digital video service.
I actually think that Current has a shot because, though we might be in the Internet age, we're a multiplatform culture. People like the Internet AND television. I think they might like each a little better because they have the choice between the two and aren't locked into either. What the Internet is unleashing is an ability to create. And under the right circumstances, it seems like creators would like the option to reach audiences on the Internet AND TV.
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? CURRENT TV... AL GORE'S NEW THING from Junto Boyz
I put this on the backburner for the week, but decided to post about Current TV. Since it was the annoying Al Gore's new venture I was contemplating to scrap it, but it's an interesting play so here it is: [Read More]
Tracked on August 5, 2005 02:23 AM
Big bummer that your story got killed. It sure seems like your article wouldn't have overlapped that much with the NY Times. But I'm glad you can post your findings here.
I agree with your conclusion... I keep having to stop myself from thinking of Current.tv as direct competition for videobloggers and citizen media. The fact is they're both part of an ecosystem and will hopefully find their audiences, and maybe even help each other.
Posted by: Chuck Olsen at July 30, 2005 03:00 AM
I don't think I agree when you say "What the Internet is unleashing is an ability to create", at least with regard to content. A standalone word processor, graphic editor, digital camera, handheld video camera, and standalone software applications for editing all this media are the tools that have been unleasing the ability to create. The role of the internet is twofold: 1) distribution, and 2) establishing relationships between both content and users.
I think its sad that so many of these internet efforts are focused on *controlling* distribution. Sure, the nice thing is that it frees content creators from the evil "old media" distribution channels, but it's really just substituting a new "lord" in place of the old.
The original beauty of the web (as distinct from the underlying internet), was the hyperlinking capability that enabled us to easily build "webs" or application-level and sometimes user-level networks.
I have no objection to artists using the internet to distribute their monolithic "works", but it sure would be nice to put a lot more attention on the networking of content and the networking of users.
Blogs are great enablers of that networking, blurring the distinction between what constitues content and what constitutes a user... a blog essentially is a user. That's the problem with podcasts and video blogs... the networking between content is missing and content doesn't have the interactivity that a user (or blog) has. Do you know anybody who has audio comments on their podcasts, or video comments on their video blogs?
So, blogs (and search engines) are a very clear democratizing force... controlled "channels" are not.
Blogs and their "feeds" are essentially channels; we just need to figure out more creative ways to cope with everybody having control over their own channels. Creating new institutions for controlling content distribution basically sucks, to use a technical term of art.
-- Jack Krupansky
Posted by: Jack Krupansky at July 30, 2005 08:43 PM