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TWEBIVISION BLOG

The senior thesis course of Hofstra University’s School of Communication TV Production major comes down to the full production of a television pilot. The shows range between 30 minutes to an hour and the class runs about 5-7 shows a semester. [Some examples here.] Last week the students were given a task that was different than the productions that they are used to in the class. As an experimental program in advancing the curriculum, Dr. Gershon and I added a social media exercise called the Media Awareness Campaign.

The goal of the project was to split the class into two equal parts (about 15 students per team) and were asked to produce a media campaign commercial that is somewhat a PSA and somewhat an informative video about the Long Island Lighthouse Project. Their task was to research the subject, pick a point of view and discover what the general concerns of the issue were and what the people of Long Island thought about the situation. (In case you are not from the region, or unfamiliar with the issue, here is a explanation from one of my former students.)  The students were not given much information about the topic, but urged to do research and utilized social media in order to support their stance and specifically, to affect someone’s opinion. The object of the assignment was not to change someone’s mind, but just cause the audience to consider the issue in a different way.

The intent that Dr. Gershon and I had at the beginning of the project was to show the students an alternative style to television producing. If anyone was to work in a cable live-to-tape show scenerio – like The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Countdown with Keith Olbermann, The O’Reilly Factor and even late night shows – they would have to produce run-and-gun packages like this on a daily basis. Over the course of the 3 hours the class had to create their videos, at first there was frustration and anger toward the project. The students felt several gut reactions including the thought they were being watched as a social experiment [we were not, but afterward I realized what a good idea that could have been] or they were involved in a proxy fight with the Broadcast Journalism department on who can do a better job reporting [again, no, and not a good idea politically either]. The intent was to introduce the class to different and new forms of television production.

The idea was born out of several conversations I had been having with alums that date back to 2001 graduation dates who are working in the industry. A very close friend of mine who works for NBC News who’d rather remain unnamed because he is still working for the company had recently revealed some very interesting facts about the state of television production today. He said that:

Companies aren’t paying for expensive edit rooms and craft editors but employing these dj’s [digital journalists] that know a good deal about everything but aren’t great in anything and making everyone cut on desktop edits with headphones…

…I think I would have embraced this movement more if I was in college now knowing what I do.

So that was the intent: to have the students see that. As the night when on, their production sides kicked in and they finished researching, scripting, camera blocking and directing the short pieces. The pieces are at a destination site and Video 1 is Pro, Video 2 is Con.

After the class was finished, the class watched both segments and I explained from my point of view the importance of the exercise. I told both teams they did an excellent job and the videos would be both put on a website to be voted upon by the online audience (the results are up now and the Con opinion won). Then I explained the theory behind it. Channeling Kirk Mastin and his speech at BEA last year I quizzed the class on the importance of having the knowledge of a tv major.

I asked this question of the class: If you were to come across an event and you had a camera on you but you noticed other people had cameras as well, which way do you point your camera? Several students immediately knew the answer: You point it at the crowd for reactions. Every amateur can shoot an event, but a professional shoots the reactions (read: Susan Boyle viral clip). Then I asked, if you were asked to research peoples opinions online for a video, where do you find the reactions. Many answered: blogs. I said that’s right, but there are still reactions to the blogs that are fairly more opinionated and more immediate and visceral and those are the comments. That’s where the audience online lives. The commenters are the audience that in many ways the TV industry is aiming their stories towards.

I felt it was important for the class to have this experience and they were all asked to write a comment about it and sent it to Dr. Gershon with how the project could be done better next year. Most of them had the same comment: They felt the project was important but also felt that they needed more time (agreed) and should have had the social media/research part explained to them in a more detailed manner (again, agreed).

My friend will be coming in to talk to the class after their Spring break to discuss the ways that television is going. As I’ve written many times before about its co-existance on the web within television production, I also mean the process of producing utilizing not only Internet research, but the online community that comes along with the topics that are researched no matter what they are whether it be the Long Island Lighthouse, healthcare, drugs in high schools or whatever. The way social media impacts television is immense and should be thought about in most television production curriculums.

Although, this is my gut opinion and this is a blog so it is very easy for to have this point of view. As I’ll repeat again, this is not only an excellent time for a student to be learning television production and theory, but also an excellent time to be a teacher of the subject.

Last week I attended the Academy Screening for the nominees of the 2010 Streamy Awards. The event was a bi-coastal event for the members of the IAWTV (which I am now happily a part of) and not only showed the clips of the nominees in a group setting, but also offered an amazing interview with Rob Barnett, the CEO of MyDamnChannel. Jamison Tilsner, one of the founders of the IAWTV and now COO of Tubefilter, interviewed Mr. Barnett about starting the web channel, the shows on it, the new world of “branded entertainment” and monetizing web content.

Mr. Bartnett explained his reasons for starting MyDamnChannel from a very interesting point of view. Barnett, who was once the production executive for VH1 and MTV expressed his sentiments about making the channel extend from the base of corporate frustration. (I can relate, I left Viacom for teaching several years ago.) Barnett wanted to create an entity that

takes the layer of bullshit out of the system and brings the idea of making a product down to conversation that could be launched five minutes later.

This idea was shocking for content producers in the early days of web television. While something this bold seemed shocking to a corporate elite, on the independent side, content creators of early web television like “We Need Girlfriends” or “Dorm Life” did not know about the “bullshit layer” required in making television.

In the story of “We Need Girlfriends,” Steve Tsapelas entered that “bullshit layer” when WNG was picked up for development by CBS. The show has been in process of being “up-converted” to television broadcast for several years now. The process is what Barnett would call “being ‘noted’ to death.” In the world of web television that Barnett helped create, the notes take place after the project airs, not long before it.

Jamison asked Mr. Barnett about some aspects of web based television and its differences to traditional television. His answers support many of the thoughts that I have already spoken about. Barnett explained that web content is consumed in the way a pop song would be: “people seem to like stuff in the under 5 minute zone.” On top of that, Barnett explains, MyDamnChannel and other web television channels

have to be careful not to lose that concept of ‘cool’ that MTV had years ago. If you make the product [web show] for you, you keep that concept of ‘cool’.

When Jamison asked Barnett about the possibility of web shows being on the television, here’s what Barnett had to say about the future of the new medium that I completely agree with:

We are 18-24 months from the web being on flat screen TVs in our home – But – If it ends up on TV, it will go through months of meetings. All [web television] needs is one [show] to make it and you’ll see a lot more following it.

You can see my small rant on that same opinion here.

From the first time I met Jamison Tilsner I learned of his interest in monetizing web content. Barnett is accustomed to the aspect of money making web projects. For one thing, MyDamnChannel hosts a show called “Easy to Assemble” starring Illeana Douglas and a slew of other celebrities like Justine Bateman, Tom Arnold, Tim Meadows among many. The show is supported by – and produced in – IKEA. This type of web based entertainment is coined as “branded entertainment” and is sponsored by companies interested in web content, entertainment and expansion of brand awareness with a new audience.

Corporations are afraid that the web community is too smart and cynical to buy into the exploitations of the independent content creator. But now, ad agencies are creating divisions of branded entertainment. On the web, the viewership is EXACTLY based on the people who click on [the show].

Barnett’s MyDamnChannel hosts a lot of new web based content and branded entertainment. This idea is not new, BMW films attempted this years ago with an artistic base that was not really understood in the late 90s/early 00s. Today, MyDamnChannel hosts independent shows like “Wainy Days”, “You Suck at Photoshop” and “Harry Shearer” and branded entertainment like “Easy to Assemble” and “Back on Topps.”

After the interview we watched the Streamy Nominations and I later got up and thanked Mr. Barnett for his support of web television and the excellent interview. As more creatives realize that content can be made without the “bullshit layer” and more for the audience who wants to see it, the stronger the story will be. Eventually, there will be a show that will create the design for the shows that will work on all screens together and share creativity and stories and possibly even be profitable.

Last year was my first year at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in Las Vegas, or NAB everyone knows it. While in Vegas, I also presented at a panel titled “Teaching Television Production in the Age of YouTube” at the Broadcast Education Association Convention that immediately follows NAB. The panel’s topic stemmed from the course I had created at Hofstra and was very well attended. Even Dr. Herbert Zettl himself attended (and sat directly in front of me [I was tense to say the least]). While I was at the NAB convention, I took notice of some interesting booths as well as some of the web based television incorporations to many “traditional” booths. I visited online video solutions like Brightcove, Endavo and several others and talked to them about how the NAB is accepting broadband television into its idea of “Broadcasting”.

This year, NAB is held April 10th – 15th at the Las Vegas Convention Center and there will be an interesting Conference within the Convention called the Broader-casting Conference with a portion called Destination Broadband. Ten years ago, if you told anyone attending the convention that in 2010 there would be a conference discussing Broadband television, they might have scoffed. As technology updates, as does the way television is delivered and many companies, educators, content creators and distributors should know about it.

I’m looking forward to seeing what is going to be at Destination Broadband and the Broader-casting Conference. If anyone is interested, I’ve been given the opportunity to give out free access (would be $150) to the two conferences. If you are interested, click here and use the code A913 when registering. (Or register at NAB with the same code.) If you go, you will see the keynote address, info sessions and get access to the theater portions.

If you go, let me know, because I will be there. I’m presenting once again at BEA this year. My panel is called “Pedagogy and Production the Age of YouTube, Revisited” and it’s at 9am on Saturday, April 17th. To keep up with NAB, you can keep checking their website at www.nabshow.com.

Esquire Magazine’s December 2009 issue presented what they called “the Augmented Reality” issue. Really it was an issue of their periodical with special barcode-like squares sporadically added to the magazine’s pages. When held up to a user’s computer camera, the magazine becomes interactive on the monitor. I brought this topic up to my new media course while amidst our long discussion of convergence culture. We were talking about how television, newspapers and magazines, things that fearful and ignorant people say “are dying”, are actually going to adapt and change to the new culture. Well this issue seemed like a good place to start the explore a “you”-based trend because Esquire has decided to utilize the web camera with video integration and have you interact with magazine. (Esquire’s explanation here and Mr. Magazine’s blog on the topic here.)

Screen shot of Augmented text

Screen shot from the issue

It seems as if the magazine is with you in the mirror because the camera acts as a reflection of you holding the issue up to the monitor. It uses the camera for you. But why you? Because YOU are what is important. It’s because convergent culture is about you, the “royal” You. Meaning everyone, me, them and us included.

The success of YouTube over the course of the last several years have shown advertisers and savvy marketers that the products to be sold cannot be sold without You on board; without You in the plan.

This isn’t about me, this is about us, but us is referred to as You. All of You.

In the video The History of YouTube, the narrator explains that what Google bought when they purchased YouTube wasn’t just a website and “they weren’t buying a company, they were buying a community” and “if you were a YouTube user, Google was buying You“. This is a very powerful and moving statement and it almost seemed glossed over and accepted. I had shown this video twice before, acknowledging the different parts of this video and now it seemed important to explain what the YOU in YouTube was creating a trend in marketing.

Lately, a few trends in marketing have been pushing You much stronger than before. Yahoo!’s new “Anthem” advertisement is about you, the HTC ads are about you, the Flip Camera advertisement is especially about YOU.

But it’s more than that… because You are part of the product. In all three of these commercials, there is no other word than “You” in reference to people in these commercials. And what’s more interesting is the usage of the copy in these commercials. In the Yahoo! ad, the use of “consume” and the imagery of the kid eating ice cream are attached in Your mind, but when thought about, you realize that they are referring to purchasing a product. (And “flirting” showing children.. interesting metaphor for adult online dating.)

It’s something to think about as consumers though, how you are accepting technology and culture and experiencing a life where your collective unconscious includes the acceptance of a machines and YOU together. The camera, the device, the you. This is not only an interesting thought, but an interesting visual, especially in the follow-up HTC commercial.

What point of view are You being seen from? The answer is your phone. Which is slowly become inseparable… from you.

Why does this matter? It will hopefully make you think about how technology will interact with you in the future and how products that are adapting to the new technologies. The Esquire Magazine Augment Reality is not new. The idea of interacting technologies has been around for awhile. The question will be, what will be? What about IPTV and converged television technologies? What about magazines that ONLY have the graphic barcode-like squares and you have to read the magazine through your cell-phone’s camera? Either way… It will involve You.

This trend will be ongoing for awhile while marketers and advertisers figure out how to bring all of their products directly to You.

One of my students asked today why we still need to go out and do things if all of this will be accessible to You at all times.

Because none of YOU will want to be this:

This new semester has presented me with new ideas of how web television works. After my successful research presentation at BEA in April, my research has been guided towards the pedagogical sense of web television. Not just in how to teach web television production, but also how to make our students media literate about television’s co-existence on the Internet. The week that just passed offered events that have opened great teaching examples.

I always predictably start the story the same way: several years ago, a group of very talented and creative guys made a web tv show called We Need Girlfriends. After the completion of their series, CBS and Sony were curious as to how the show would do on traditional television. Without going into to many repeat details, the guys are still rewriting the pilot for CBS. Anyway, in the time since, thousands of web television shows have been produced by hundreds of creators ranging from small independent production companies to major corporations. Shows like The Guild and Dorm Life encouraged the small creator to create independent content and web channels like Crackle showed how big corporations like Sony were beginning to understand the frontier. Interesting hybrid shows and one-off specials like Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog became fun projects for creatives during times of industry unrest (in Dr. Horrible’s case, it was the writer’s strike). YouTube and Blip.tv started offering easy advertising plans to their creators for money to be made.

But what about companies that are still trying to grasp the new territory of web television? What of them? Some television channels and their content are helplessly attached to the traditional medium and are exclusive to television only. This week showed an interesting development of monetizing content in an online world. It all started at 9:50pm on Sunday night.

Sunday night is when Kanye West grabbed the mic from Taylor Swift at the VMAs. That’s MTV’s Video Music Awards, the show that no one has talked about in years was the most talked about show all week. A show helplessly attached to the television broadcast. Between Kanye’s rudeness, Lady Gaga’s wierdness, Pink’s trapezeness, there was much to talk about, but only Kanye’s act became viral. Within one hour of Kanye’s video-bomb of Taylor Swift’s award, there was nearly 300,000 tweets and thousands Facebook status updates about it. At 10:08pm, MTV.com had a copy of the clip online and at 10:10, so did YouTube and AOL. But who had the clips the next day? Only MTV. Exclusively.

One of my students in my Intro to New Media course asked me who regulates the internet if the government doesn’t. I asked it back to the class and they were able to parse through the information and realize that corporations had control over the content online. The bigger the corporation, the more control. When it comes to YouTube (Google owned) and MTV (Viacom owned) you’re looking at a pretty big control system.

I push my students to ask questions about the content they are watching and reading. I encourage them to be skeptics with a dash of cynicism in hopes they will become media literate by the end of the semester. I began the questioning of this event with a question on how shows generate revenue. The class discussed three types of television programs encouraging a type of modern revenue system. The first is the traditional type of television show that intends on keeping the show on traditional broadcast and cablecast outlets; how do they make money? The answer easily found was product placement and shows like The Apprentice and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition are basically 44 minute entertainment commercials (entermercials?). Also, shows like 30 Rock and the dearly missed Arrested Development [take note of where AD lives now] would insert product placement in a very smart way to make the show even more enjoyable.

Then there are shows that encourage viewers to explore online (or even online at the same time as the show’s broadcast on television) additional content. Television shows like Scrubs and The Office offer additional programming online in both supplemental and original form. And the third type of television is exclusive web-based television. [I’ll be leaving hybrid shows like Tosh.0 for another discussion.] I’ve discussed (and created a course) based on this type of television. The web-television product of the independent is easily studied and in many cases, you can even contact the creator and ask them what their intentions were for monetizing their content. Figuring out how web-television is monetized within a bigger corporation is tougher to figure out and in many cases we are left to speculate on our own.

When I asked the class what they felt about Kanye’s outburst and greedy mic grab, more than half the students already felt the notion that it may have been staged. MTV stage an event? What would give anyone that idea? Maybe we should ask Eminem. Remember, this is a channel that perfected the “Scripted Reality” show. What was different about the West/Swift event on Sunday and Bruno’s butt in Eminem’s face from a few months ago was that Taylor Swift was most definitely not in on this event even if Kanye could have been. And no one is talking either way.

What becomes interesting is the forceful removal of the clip from ANY other outlet. If you want to see the video, you must see it at MTV.com. And you MUST endure an advertisement to see it. What we are potentially looking at is a potential future plan for MTV Networks: create “most talked-about moments” and restrict those “moments” to your site and add an unavoidable advertisement to the clip. The question is there to be asked. And I asked Shelly Palmer of MediaBytes who opened a dialogue about whether it matters if MTV keeps the clip off YouTube and owns the exclusive viewing. I asked him if my skeptical thought is plausible and his response was:

My sources at Viacom say their strategy worked perfectly. Traffic to MTV.com is huge and bloggers are taking down dead links to YT content and linking to the clip on mtv.com. The question people are asking is, “Why doesn’t Viacom get it?” Wow, is that the wrong question. The question should be, “In 2009, can you make money with exclusive content that is highly sought after by conveniently packaging it with appropriate metadata and attempting to control access?” If the answer is yes, then Viacom really “gets it.” If the answer is no, well, you know the rest.

I think the answer is yes. I think Viacom does get it. MTV since its birth almost 30 years ago has always understood culture and audiences and formed how the audience receives television. This might just be their plan. We won’t really know until the next event when suspiciously another “talked-about moment” causes 300,000 tweets and Viacom funnels the viewers once again. If that happens, the next question will be: How many times can they pull that off without losing the trust of the audience?

I asked the students about the idea of staged moments and monetizing after the fact online and they gave me a very interesting response: As long as it is good and entertaining and enjoyable, they will still watch it no matter how unreal it may be.

That’s a strategy to explore.

Virginia Hefferman, writer of The Medium for the NY Times, wrote an article on television on the web. She ponders on what television will look like on the web and profiles Next New Networks‘ original content. At the end of last semester, one of my students approached me and asked about an interactive game on YouTube. It was a revenge video against Chris Brown where the user can interact with the metadata of the video to move the story (and score) along. It’s made by Barely Digital, a subset of Next New Networks, who pride themselves on “funny tech videos”. This type of production fills a void and completes the thought of how television will co-exist on the web.

Heffermann uses the term “mid-tail” which I had never heard before and I Googled it to find where the term comes from and it seems to be a pretty recent term that Hefferman did not coin, but she uses very well. The blog MDF(smash) [an amazing blog by the way] who is attached to Next New Networks explains that the term is pretty recent and that the new form of television won’t replace television, but gives an idea of what is alternative to re-purposed broadcast television on the web.

AdAge refers to the new term [June 8, 2009] as

” so-called midtail content, which fills a niche somewhere between studio-produced and user-generated fare, that’s exploded.”

Exploded is correct. In order to fill the need of the audience, independent content creators have been creating quality original content that is exclusive to the web. Since I started this research with We Need Girlfriends (a midtail production), thousands of “new media studio” creations have been uploaded.

This is definitely something to keep track of and watch. (Keep an eye on TubeMogul statistics as well.) In the next coming months I will hopefully have my pedagogical theory on web television production that I presented at BEA this year be published and professors across the country can guide their students to make successful New Media Studio productions.

A repost of a Gawker Defamer article on change written by Cajun Boy… This is in the most blunt way, what I am trying to say.

The End of Television as We Know It

The last day of 65i, Television for the Web, was yesterday. Here’s an abstract of what I told the students:

We’ve gone through a lot this semester and honestly, I think that this particular class received the best outcome to this study. With YouTube and iPod Video under 5 years old, the University Academe in Schools of Communication across the country have yet to pick this study up as a mainstream topic. We went through webisodes, codecs and compression, distribution and websites, viral content, advertising and the most important topic of storyline and a guest speaker that defines Web Television, Jamison Tilsner. We conclude this semester with the results of the Streamys, the first ever awards show for web-based television.

We are experiencing an amazing time in history. It resembles 1949, when the first Emmy Awards were given out at the Hollywood Athletic Club. It would be another 6 years after that when the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences would be formed. Due to accelerated culture and profiteering, the International Academy of Web Television has already been formed. The Academy is made up of industry professionals and insiders who have pioneered the new landscape of television, yet they contain not one Academic.

This, in the coming years, will most likely change along with the landscape of the industry.

How many of you watched the Streamys? They were held live this year at the Wadsworth Theater in Los Angeles. The show was live directed with an audience of about 2500 people. The quality? Well, it was not the Emmys, but it was the first Streamys and it was televised ONLY on the web.

But what really entertained me was the irony of it all. The first TWO awards of the FIRST EVER web television awards were given to…. drumroll please… William Shatner (for The Shatner Project) and Neil Patrick Harris (for Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog). Two icons of TELEVISION for two separate generations of television viewers. The majority of the rest of the winners were commercial television and film stars and creators.

So what does this mean? Well, until web television has created a Cheers, a M*A*S*H or an ER, web television IS television on the web. Your degrees are safe. The quality shows won the awards this first year. Over 50,000 entries and the television shows or shows related to television won the awards.

You should be so happy to be a television student at this time. The future is gleaming with opportunity in multiple fields!

While I was watching Bladerunner earlier tonight I started thinking about what the audience was thinking about the future in the late 70s and early 80s. While I thought about their visions of the dystopia, I thought about the story and realized that the story isn’t fictional but the settings are: new buildings everywhere, flying cars, replicants…

In a time where thoughts of the accelerated future were omnipresent, is seemed that this was a very possible future. This story COULD possibly occur.

Cut to reality. 10 years before Bladerunner takes place, the world has gone broke.  Instead of flying cars we have a neverending war and a former president who Seth Meyers said, “broke the world”.

The dystopian vision of the future of the film is not in OUR near future. We have our own dystopian present.

This of course brought me to the thought of the Internet’s visual content. Everyday, loads of new content is being created for the web. So much of this content is entertaining, laughable, dramatic and even truthful, but is any of it BELIEVABLE?

This new frontier needs a story that is Believable. A story that sets the landscape.

At some point there will be a Bladerunner or a Taxi or a Cheers.  Something believable to our time and present.

The new outlet will truly take hold. If done right, the “call to arms” for new content will set the standard for the content on the web. It will give the Streamys a guideline. It will give the burgeoning Academy a strong foothold.

Its coming soon. Will you be the one to produce it?

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