For years, the only way investors could get their stock advice rolled up in a fast-paced, entertaining video show was by tuning in to the likes of CNBC and Bloomberg. There was nothing on the Net resembling the quick, catchy tech news shows and comedy series fans flock to online. But now, video producers and wannabe stars are pooling their talents and cheap digital cameras to create Wallstrip, a daily show examining top-performing stocks.
The timing seems perfect, with pioneering online video series such as Rocketboom and Ask a Ninja drawing hundreds of thousands of viewers and Google Inc. (GOOG) snapping up YouTube for $1.65 billion. Many people are now betting that 2007 will be the year money starts flowing to top indie video creators. In many ways, Wallstrip fits the formula for a popular digital series. The three-minute show features Lindsay Campbell, a fetching 29-year-old actor, as host. And its audience is growing fast, hitting 10,000 daily viewers within three months.
But what really sets Wallstrip apart is its ambition in the business news arena. Wallstrip creator Howard Lindzon, a small-time hedge fund manager with an eye for Internet startups, is betting that a short, savvy, tongue-in-cheek approach will create a highly profitable niche among twenty- and thirtysomethings turned off by old-school business news. To further entice this hard-to-reach demographic, Lindzon enlisted a group of 10 financial and venture-capital bloggers to contribute regularly to the site. And he raised more than $500,000 in angel funding to create a slate of shows.
Lindzon and his merry band are a radical departure from run-of-the-mill financial market coverage. The show takes a humorous slant toward most of its subjects and even runs parodies. A sketch featuring actor Khris Lewin wildly spoofing CNBC talk show host Jim Cramer garnered over 30,000 viewers, making it Wallstrip's most popular episode.
SPOOF IN THE CITY
Instead of focusing on price-earnings ratios and the opinions of Wall Street analysts, most episodes of Wallstrip zero in on a single stock that has recently hit its 52-week high. A recent episode filmed in New York's Times Square, for instance, spotlights Aaron Rents Inc. (RNT), which leases appliances and electronics to a mainly low-income clientele. The stock has jumped 25% in the past three months to an all-time high.
Amid teeming New York crowds, the crew preps for this episode, a spoof of the game show The Price is Right. Campbell, who sports a beehive do and 60s-style black overcoat, enlists passersby to guess the price of objects from Aaron Rents. To demonstrate why the company makes so much money, Campbell shows each bystander a flash card with an item from Aaron Rents and the item's price at a regular store. Co-star Andrew Leeds, meantime, quizzes them: "So you can buy this computer from Dell for $688. How much would it cost to rent to own from Aaron's?" Few come close to the real answer: $1,319.87. Wallstrip's team isn't trying to ridicule its contestants or criticize Aaron Rents. They're trying to show viewers why the company has such high margins.
Street theater is just one offbeat element that sets Wallstrip apart from traditional financial news shows. In place of the typical hands-off approach of most professional reporters, Lindzon, who picks every company featured on the show, doesn't hesitate to recommend stocks he has stakes in. When that happens, Campbell simply discloses the fact.
The crew heads downtown to start editing, only to discover that Wallstrip is being featured at the top of Yahoo!'s video site. Although coveted, even this appearance only underscores the quirkiness of the new digital world. There, on Yahoo, Wallstrip sits between a video of a chimp that does karate and conjoined twins arguing over a hat.
By Aaron Pressman