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Nobody Watches TV on the Internet…

…except the people who do.

Last week the LA Times ran an article about the CW no longer offering new, streaming episodes of “Gossip Girl” online.

In a strategic reversal, the CW television network said it would no longer offer free Internet streams of new episodes of “Gossip Girl” when the show returns to the air Monday. Instead, CW wants young fans to watch the drama about privileged preppies the old school way — on TV.

Apparently the show is a hit on the Internet. But the ad revenues can’t equal what the CW can make for first run TV ad rates.

The problem is that the genie is out of the bottle and it’s going to be very hard to put it back in. A whole generation of viewers is growing up right now that expect and want to watch professional content on the Internet. I’ve noted in other posts that I know children from my actual life who have no loyalty to the TV screen, and who assume the real fun to be had is by opening mom or dad’s laptop. It’s just happening. Right now!

Avoiding first run online will not solve the problem. In my view, that path walks perilously close to the disaster the record industry built for itself. To assume that the consumers of entertainment will simply keep doing things the old way because it’s more convenient for the producers and the distributors of content to do things the old way is to throw water into the wind of reality. The consumers have the technology these days to get the content the way they want it. When the record industry didn’t face that reality, piracy ensued. When Steve Jobs harnessed the technology that would let consumers pay for songs at a price point that made piracy more of a hassle than simply buying the song, people bought.

The same thing is going to happen here. For better or worse, people will grow up expecting to watch content on their computers, on their cell phones, on their iPods. It’s just happening.

The only solution is to dive into the reality of the situation and find a model that will actually make money via these new distribution paths. If not, the consumers will find ways of getting it without watching it on TV anyway. They’ve already proven it with music content. They’re certainly capable of doing it again with pictorial narrative.

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My Favorite New Anecdote

So, I’m at my friend’s house, and it’s time for him to put their rambunctious five-year-old Carter to bed.

The negotiations begin:

Carter asks, “Can I have three bedtime stories?”

“Yes. You can have three bed time stories?”

Carter asks, “Can one of them a comic book?”

“Yes. One of them can be a comic book.”

Carter asks, “Can one of them be a comic book from the Internet?”

Ding!

See, he knows that daddy can carry his laptop into bed with them, just like a book, and read a story from the screen.

This boy is growing up assuming the fun is on the Internet. He already goes there for fun, games, videos and Google research. (Yes, Google research. He recently went through a phase where he was obsessed with the sinking of the Titanic. No. I don’t understand it either.)

I’m not saying he’s not going to watch TV and go to the movies.

I’m saying he’s already thinking of the computer as a primary source of fun.

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YouTube: The Victorian Edition

Slate.com has a new Slide Show piece up today: What the First Movie Goers Saw.

The piece is an essay that includes 10 short films from the first years of the 20th century.

You can link directly to one of the slide show videos here.

These early films are hard to categorize: Often less than a minute long, they are experimental without being avant-garde (except in one case, which I’ll get to). Perhaps they look oddly modern because of the recent rise of Web video: YouTube has fostered our patience for short clips that would probably look insipid on the big screen, and the spirit of improvisation that thrives on the Web seems alive n the Victorian films, as well.

She writes later:

The novelty of these earliest films, most of which simply offered glimpses of the real world in motion, lasted for about a decade. By 1907, more fictional narratives than documentary scenes were being shot; and by 1915, Charlie Chaplin was using movies to generate a new kind of star power.

I believe the same will hold true of Internet: we will have a period of the “real world” and the documentary, but in time “star power” of one kind or another will take hold.

Go down and look again at the video from Britain’s Got Talent I posted. Notice something: people know when something is better than something else. We actually know when something is really well done — and we respond with approval. (I notice this as a child reading comic books. There was no doubt that the work of Neal Adams, Gen Colan, and Jack Kirby (to name a few of my favorites) was superior to the art of other artists in the field — and I responded with favor to the titles they drew.)

Amateur Hour can only last so long. While I believe that the current “folk art” period of YouTube will always be with us, ultimately the novelty of the new medium and delivery will wear off and people will respond to more professional work.

I think and by 1915, Charlie Chaplin was using movies to generate a new kind of star power.” Chaplin didn’t generate that star-power, the audience did. It was a big thank you for making movies even better than they had been before.

Thus my warning to all the executives around Los Angeles excited about making a killing on “user generated content” (read: “We don’t have to pay actors and writers!”) — This too shall pass.

Some folks are going to come along and make what I call “content-on-purpose.” The same shift that Chaplin created when he took a medium that had been very casual and awkward and brought professionalism, emotion and artistry to bear upon it.

The same thing will happen in a dozen different ways with the Internet.

And at that point the buzz phrase won’t be, “How do you monetize it?” but “Get me the next Chaplin!”

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“CNN the TV Channel Is No Match for CNN the Website”

I’m just sayin’…

“We’re all pretty convinced that news doesn’t break on TV anymore,” said Eric Bader, senior VP-managing director of digital connections at MediaVest. “Almost everybody across pretty much every economic and age demographic learns of breaking news online, increasingly on mobile.” He points to coverage of Sept. 11 as most representative of the shift. “People didn’t have to channel surf to get to that urgent information, especially if you lived outside of New York.”

(emphasis added)

Advertising Age has the full story.

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“Stranger Adventures” gets THIRD Emmy Nomination!

Last year I was the Head Writer on an Internet show called Stranger Adventures.

If you’d like to know more about the show, here’s the Sales/Promotional video I wrote and produced. You can hear my voice doing the narration… hey, we were strapped for cash and I was at the office! (And it takes a while to load. If you want to watch it, click on the link, turn off your sound, come back here and read a while…. and then go back and watch it.)

We produced three episodes, two of which were nominated for Emmy Awards last year, and the third, Ian Hollister and the Haunted Hospital, was nominated this year for Outstanding Broadband — Drama. (One of the episodes I wrote, Danny Bowles and the Jade Treasure was nominated for the 2005-2006 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Interactive Television.)

Stranger Adventures was maybe the best time I’d ever had. Produced by Riddle Productions out of some floor space provided by Red Car in Santa Monica, we were a mix of a tech start-up and micro-budget production company. Everything was fast, cheap and energetic.

The show used many of the ideas I’d been thinking about for a while (First Person Storytelling, the importance of intimacy on the Internet and so on…) and it was great to have place to try it all out.

Chris Tyler, the head of Riddle Productions and the guy who created and developed Stranger Adventures, taught me a lot of great concepts about how to build a long term show for the Internet. (I’ll be addressing some of them, like the need for multiple posts a day and using the web page to build a full environment for content, in future posts).

Since I’m reminiscing about all this right now, I might as well just keep going…!

First, I’m glad Eric Heisserer, who wrote the Ian Hollister script got his Emmy nod. The first time I met Eric and started talking about the show I knew right away he “got it.” A lot of the writers who came in had backgrounds in TV and Film — and getting them to start thinking like writers for short, first-person videos was like pulling teeth. Not Eric, though. He’s one of the smartest guys I know out here in La-La land — a great conceptual writer with a terrific work ethic. And let me be clear: just cause the guy knows his way around the Internet, doesn’t mean he’s any slouch when it comes to succeeding in traditional media. (Full disclosure: I count Eric as an amazing friend, and I am both delighted and envious of all his roaring success!)

Second, I think everyone did a great job on the shoot. As mentioned, we were a scrappy bunch, moving fast with what we had. Hal Long did a great job as the Director and DP. We rented out an abandoned hospital in central L.A., and Hal used the environment to great effect — creepy, but with enough light to make it all visible on the tiny, tiny screen that is the Internet.

Anne-Marie Mackay, who has helped so many careers in town it’s crazy, led the shoot with amazing grace and aplomb as the Executive Producer. I still feel bad she ended up on the headsets as the Script Supervisor… But as I said, we were roughing it! (When I wasn’t answering continuity issues about the weeklong plot, I was upstairs doing script re-writes and weaving in the puzzle/clue elements that arrived from Chris Tyler each morning!) Ann-Marie, who came from the world rock videos and commercials and sees the Internet as the new “It” knows how to pack a lot into small space, work with limited budgets on the fly and how to tap really talented people to get great work done. Watching her keep things moving was a great lesson every day.

And, of course, Joshua Gause, our amazing creative director, did an amazing job with his Flash team designing the web pages that housed the videos and email and all the Flash animations and puzzles…

And the Flash team, of course, and Amy and Donna Lee… And now clearly I’m gonna go on forever because I don’t have time to talk about how great everyone was. But it was a great experience and everyone was great.

Third, I remember when we were shooting Danny Bowles….

One day we had just wrapped up a shoot at Wacko’s in Los Feliz. As always, we were working with our micro-crew, and about to rush out to a new location to scout the next day’s work. As I jump in my Wrangler and rush up Vermont Avenue I pass another shoot going on… There are 20 star-wagons, countless grips, teamsters and so on… And the first thing that flashes in my head is, “What pussies…” It just seemed so much compared to the off-the-cuff and mobile crew I’d just been working with.

Right now features strike me as those old supercomputers from decades ago — monstrous things that fill an entire room and you couldn’t move if you wanted to. Not only in terms of equipment and crew sizes but aesthetics as well.

Most people think there are different “genres” you get to play with. But the truth is, Hollywood movies (and most TV shows) are kind of done. The blueprints are in place. You know what you’re shooting for any kind of movie, and the makers and the audience judge you according to how well you get near (or fail to get near) that target.

The Internet is wide open right now. Not just in terms of production values, but what the form and the content is. I believe that we’ve got a chance here to make things no one is going to see coming — and people are going to love it.

I’m not making any claims for Stranger Adventures being art, by the way. People were always coming up to me at the office and on the set saying, “You know, this show is pretty goofy.” And I’d say, “It’s a game show with a story attached. We can’t do that much. We don’t want to do that much. Think of it like the A-Team. Did it explore the human condition? No. But it delievered great network TV a lot of people liked. That’s what we’re doing — we’re delivering the right content for this kind of show.”

But as for the rest of the Internet, there’s a lot more to make, a lot more variety. A million people watching a show regularly would be a hit. That’s a niche audience — but a niche audience can support some amazingly compelling content.

That’s what I’m aiming for.

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