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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.

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