Splitsville at Rocketboom
Amanda Congdon's days with Rocketboom, the pioneering video blog, ended the way they began: in front of a world map. On July 5, Congdon announced in a video that she produced and released on her own site that she and Rocketboom co-founder Andrew Michael Baron were parting ways.
It's a sharp reversal for Rocketboom. And it's bound to raise questions about the viability of video blogging as a sustainable business. After it emerged online in October, 2004, the daily mock news show became the posterchild for video blogging and its potential to recast what we think of as television. The blog regularly draws 250,000 people each day (see BusinessWeek.com, 9/5/05, "Rocketboom's Powerful Lift-Off").
Now, the fate of Rocketboom is very much up in the air. Congdon and Baron worked together from the start on the show, filming it initially in Baron's Upper West Side apartment. Baron hired Congdon, a New York actress who appeared as a coat-check girl on NBC's popular show The Restaurant in 2004, to be the host, after finding her through Craigslist.com. But she soon began writing and producing, and now owns 49% of the show. Congdon says she will hire a lawyer to figure out how to resolve the ownership issue.
With Congdon out of the picture, Baron plans to bring in another interim host next week while he searches for a permanent replacement. Baron says he thinks it's possible to continue, pointing to traditional shows, such as the tongue-in-cheek Daily Show, that have thrived under different hosts. But this transition, especially since it's happening without any formal handover from Congdon, will be tricky for the fledgling show. " I am nervous because people don't know me and Amanda—the face of Rocketboom—is leaving," says Baron. "But I have a lot invested in this and think Rocketboom can come out strong."
The split appears to be a classic case of creative differences exacerbated by business pressures. Though it only lasted three minutes each day, Rocketboom could take hours each day to write, film, and produce. Both Congdon and Baron are perfectionists and that contributed to the slick presentation of the show—and its immediate success online. But both admit that they have been having problems working together over the past few months.
Congdon's long-stated desire to move to Los Angeles, where she planned to pursue her acting career while working on Rocketboom, brought their differences to a head, according to the pair. The timing of this move and discussions over Congdon's involvement with the show were something the two couldn't resolve—even after mediated discussions. Congdon says she finally felt she owed it to the viewers to let them know what was going on.
This underlying tension was heightened by the fact that Rocketboom was still trying to get on its feet financially. Though the show is produced for around $20 a day, that figure doesn't take into account the labor costs, or the fact that the pair didn't draw salaries. This spring, Rocketboom made news when it sold a week's worth of ads through eBay (EBAY) for $40,000 (see BusinessWeek.com, 2/10/06, "What's Rocketboom Worth? $40,000?"). But they hadn't yet brought in a steady stream of advertising. "If they were making money, they might say at least this is working to some extent, so let's continue," says Chuck Olsen, a popular video blogger in Minnesota and Rocketboom correspondent.
For her part, Congdon says she has offers coming in, though she hasn't accepted anything yet. After appearing in conferences and TV shows, such as CSI, her profile has risen dramatically.
When Rocketboom emerged in 2004, independent online video had for the most part been discredited. Now, it's beginning to flower, thanks to Rocketboom and other upstarts. But the question remains: How many of these nascent operations will take root and break out to become real financial successes? (see BusinessWeek.com, "The Online Video Revolution").