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.