About a decade ago I had the opportunity to work with a client who was in the planning stages of rolling out a new cable network.
The primary problem the client was struggling with was: "if we decide to start a new cable network, where will we find content we can broadcast?" Most of the conversations from the planning meetings sounded like, "what existing television programs can we buy the rights to very cheaply and make advertising revenue from?" There was almost a palatable sense of desperation to find some lost gem of TV past that viewing audiences would be willing to watch and would generate enough ad revenue to make the process worthwhile. In the end the company was never formed. In my opinion, this wasn't a bad thing.
Anybody who followed the cable explosion of the early 1980s will recall that cable channels and companies bloomed all over the broadcasting landscape. This growth brought forward new breakthroughs in entertainment like MTV and HBO, but it also spurred the growth of cable stations like NYC's infamous "Channel J" and local access channels that spawned pseudo-talk shows covering topics from Star Wars fandom to knitting.
Now, 25 years later we're going through a similar revolution. We're reading more and more about Video On Demand becoming the rage in traditional television broadcasting space, as well as seeing rapid growth in broadband video broadcasts and wireless downloads of video content.
So this begs the question: if the demand for content is growing rapidly, where is all that new content going to come from?"
The short answer is "from whoever wants to create it."
If you step into the way back machine and return to the 1980s, the creation of video content was in the domain of professionals. A set-up of an Electronic News Gathering (ENG) camera and a couple of Sony uMatic tape decks on which to do basic editing cost at least $25,000. Forget adding special effects or even titles. The reality was that quality video was far outside of the average person's budget or ability.
Add to that the lack of media channels that an independent video producer could use to share their visions with an audience and you had a pretty closed system (although we felt lucky getting the coveted 2:30-3:00am slot from time to time!).
Today, Windows XP ships with video editing software that trumps anything that was available when I was struggling to make meaningful documentaries. Toss in a $1,000 for a nice digital camera and you have a video editing suite that rivals those costing about $300,000 20 years ago.
Once you have content you have access to the people. If you can't find a site that will run your in-depth documentary on the making of yak cheese, you can always fire up yakcheeseworld.com (which is still available!) and share it with your audience that way.
This new accessibility means that "mainstream" isn't a relevant distinction anymore. Traditional broadcast models taught us to approach programming using a mass market filter. In that world, more eyeballs meant more revenue. Thus, create something that reaches the greatest number of viewers and you have a hit. Yet, in the real world we're not all the same person with the same interests. And if the production and broadcast costs are low enough, what's the level of viewership required to reach a healthy ROI?
New web channels are appearing daily that cater to diverse video viewing audiences like independent music fans,
sailing enthusiasts and currency traders. These sites generally include an ecommerce angle as well.
Others like Jibjab, Homestar Runner and Odd Todd started as online cartoons and have become cult favorites, managing to make ends meet through donations and merchandise sales.
There are other sites and technologies that have started jockeying for position as providers of quality online video content, including Maven.net, NubaTV.com, VitalStream.com and Watznew.com. While each takes a different approach, each is looking to either become a portal or the technology behind a portal going forward.
Even advertising is being homegrown. Perhaps the most famous example is George Masters' tribute ad to the Apple iPod. Seemingly, this inspired a whole spate of iPod spoofs, such as this one for the iPod Flea, the not so cutting edge iPod Nano and this home grown version exploring the social dangers of iPod use. Also of interest is this real ad for TKMaxx that steals liberally from the iPod commercials and this spot for a multi-pocketed jacket, which shamelessly borrows as well.
File it under creativity or too much free time but it suffices to say that if some advertisers turned to their customers to create their future ads, it might just make their agencies wary.
The bottom line is that there are plenty of creative people all around the world who now have access to media development tools never before available. They have direct access to new broadcast channels never before available. It's only a matter of time before one of these upstarts sets the traditional television broadcast world on its ear.
With over 14 years in the areas of interactive communication, training and marketing, Rob Graham is an in-demand speaker on topics of rich media advertising, online training and online marketing.