This is an amazing time for the entertainment industry. The transition to digital media has opened up scores of possibilities for almost anyone to become a “star” at some level. Of late I have become fascinated with the development of web enabled TV and how it could empower independent media in new ways.
In a previous post I pointed out that it will be crucial to independent artists to be present and available on sites of the obvious leaders in the web to TV transition. Those leaders being the web portals who are creating “channels” (youtube, roku, netflix) that will be featured on web enabled TV’s and set top boxes. At the same time though, the challenge will be how to stand out from the crowd on those web to TV portals just as much as it now is on the web. But those portals are in reality just vast data storage libraries and the web audience is used to having to search and search and search for content that they want to watch while the TV audience is not.
From that line of reasoning came the realization that the indie world needs it’s own cable TV channel. Think about it, how many people in the TV audience don’t already surf the web? Quite a few, the majority actually and for most it is by choice. If I look at myself as an example I see me using the computer for one set of activities and the TV for something different. While I will pick through hundreds of videos on the computer in order to find 3-10 minute clips I actually want to watch I won’t do that on TV. The TV audience may enjoy the interactive aspects of web to TV technology, especially social media capabilities, but I don’t think that it will really help media discovery any more than the web already does except for perhaps increasing the total “potential” audience.
With TV I want to put on a channel and watch for at least a half hour to 2hrs to all day (depending on the programming). TV (and radio) have always been the engines of discovery for many people in terms of finding new music or video. They never had to search through vast libraries in order to find something to watch, the channels and their on air personalities did that for them. I think that independent media needs this kind of channel on TV to bring back good old fashioned discovery the way it used to be (on MTV for example).
I think that the same is going to be true of web to TV programming audience. The audience is going to want channels to watch. Channels with actual shows and films and a timeline they can tune into every day, all day. With that in mind I started thinking about how difficult it might be to set up such a channel. One that would be essentially indistinguishable from any other cable network. In the end it seemed to be much easier than I thought it would be so I set up a model of such a channel and write this blog explaining it. Here is a link to my mock TV channel in case you want to open it in another window while you read the rest of this piece.
I set the channel page up like most cable networks have their websites. It features a player and links to channel specific shows as well as general featured videos and upcoming movies. The player itself is live and it contains a stream that is a few hours long and has music videos, a talk show, a game show, a concert and a movie. It isn’t exactly the way I would want it but it illustrates the points I wanted to make.
The first thing I thought about was content. It takes a LOT of content to fill up 24 hours of air time, much more than most indie producers can generate. In addition it takes a lot of time to edit a pre-recorded show and even more time to get all of the necessary permissions to show other people’s work (music videos, film trailers, etc) in a pre-recorded show. However there is sooooo much content out there, hundreds of thousands of hours on various web video hosts that artists are happy to allow you to share and embed on your site for the exposure it gives them that it seemed like there should be a way to utilize the content without all of the work of a pre-produced show.
I started thinking about using a Flash based player to stream shows through the channel. It makes sense because the videos used play from right where their owners have them hosted and so no specific permissions are needed. I searched around and found a program from embedr.com which is at least in the ballpark of what I want. It allows you to use the url or embed codes of videos to create a playlist that you can put on your website.
I loaded the playlist with several music videos, then a few commercials, after all to keep it free to viewers such a channel will have to be supported by advertising (just like TV). Then I added one of my own talk shows, then a concert I taped, then a game show from blip.tv then a feature film from youtube. I kept putting two commercials (from classic commercials search on youtube) in between each show and within a half hour I had a stream of content that pretty much mirrors what you would find on any TV channel.
To actually set up the channel you would have to get a web host, and set up the site. I think that something like a blog would work best. Then you simply upload each new days programming as a single entry each morning and it plays all day. In addition you would have to get real video advertising to put between shows and some money to advertise the channel to build a viewer base. But it really is that simple.
To take it to TV you would have to also create widgets for the services you wanted to appear on like Roku or Yahoo!. Right now I think Yahoo! has the best thing going in web to TV. They have their service set up like channels via their widgets and I think that their channels distribute to TiVo as well as the top 4 TV manufacturers products. Google is building GoogleTV around search and, as I said, I think what the viewers are going to want it channels…
I’m going to be experimenting a bit in the next week or so with a new show format and with some ideas on how to make the channel profitable for independent filmmakers through shared revenue from the advertising. I think this is a really cool project and I welcome any comments or suggestions. In the meantime check out the channel page and watch the show stream and see what you think.