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Web Video: Bad Is the New Good

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Bad is the new good. That seems to be the consensus of a handful of media executives trying to wrap their minds around this Web video thing. Where’s the control? How do we monetize it? When did low quality become high quality? How do you connect cheese to a carburetor?

WebProNews publisher Rich Ord attended the “Innovative Video for the Internet” session at VON and sent back his notes. This is what became of them.

Television is based on formulas to reach a broad audience – lowest common denominators serve as the foundation; highest paying sponsors provide the free content to the highest number of viewers possible – simple, brilliant, and it works for TV.

Formulas are why there are 317 CSIs and a new incarnation of the New Kids On The Block every 5 years or so. The TV industry has had 60 years to figure it out and pull it down to a nearly perfect science.

But since October 12, 2005, as Advanced Media Ventures Group’s Shelly Palmer pointed out, the video on the Net industry has changed. That’s the day video came to the iPod. The year 2005 may also have been the first time you ever heard of YouTube. And with both of them came the death of the old formula, and the TV industry is trying desperately to find a new one.

And they’re doing it backwards.

Big media is focusing on how to bring their content online, like a new millennium version of a broadcast. But, television is courting its own replacement.

The replacement is fragmented, distracted, impatient, greedy, distempered, and unlimited. How do you formulize that?

“Fragmentation has always been the enemy of broadcast. But we have people that want what they want,” said Palmer.

“I think it is about using television to push people to the Web,” said Michael Hirschorn, Executive VP, Original Programming and Production, VH1.

That’s right for now. But what happens when the Web becomes TV? What will happen then? VH1 has been actively creating podcasts and is quite ahead of the game with their show “Web Junk,” where the most popular user-generated videos are reviewed weekly.

“Our sponsors are begging for ideas that are multi-platform,” he said.

But he admits they’ve tried to distance themselves by making fun of user-generated content. The concept of unpolished, amateur raw footage in short doses is as foreign as reality TV was when “The Real World” was such an unexpected hit.

The thinking then was, it takes actors to make good characters. The thinking now is that it takes expensive productions to make good content. But the next generation of couch potatoes is telling them otherwise. Keep it short. Keep it stupid. Entertain me for free without bugging me about who paid for it – just make sure it’s still paid for.

“Let’s not be politically correct about user generated content. Lets call it useless crap!” complained Palmer.

Useless because it can’t be controlled. Useless because if they want bad quality, they can give it to themselves. Useless because advertisers want attention too. But here they are, media sellers, who are telling advertisers that 30 seconds is just too long.

“I think 30′s are dead in broadband video,” said Sandy Malcolm, executive producer for CNN.com video. “We are telling our advertisers not to shove a 30 second spot on web video viewers.”

So now what? Back to subliminals?

“One of the things we’ve done well with on TV is to celebrate the trashiest and messed up stuff,” said Hirschorn.

Because it worked for Jerry Springer, too. They’re saying bad is the new good, but wasn’t good bad all along? Never mind, that’s too subjective. They mean poor quality video, poor acting, poor monetizing.

The session at VON devolved into a pile of questions with no clear answers (much like this article).

Wouldn’t GM rather have 100,00 leads than 5 million viewers?

Surebut brand awareness is good too.

Maybe we could build a community and build a brand around it?

Sure, as long as you have good content.

My least favorite overused phrase is ‘content is king’. That is only true if you are producing the Super Bowl.

Yeah, but, this isn’t broadcasting. This is more flies-to-honey than fishing. Search engine marketers get that.

How did the online video game World Survivor get 7 million subscribers paying $14 per month?

Content.

Maybe brand builds the Internet rather than the Internet builds the brand. Star Trek fan sites are better than the official site.

That’s because it focuses on content. It’s pure.

People seem to have an appetite for raw footage.

That’s because it’s real. They’re tired of being tricked.

An audience member revisits the 30-second spot question:

Is a 10-second spot too long as well? I don’t want to leave here without knowing how long is too long.

“The people who need to tell you that are your Web video viewers. They will tell you what they’ll tolerate and won’t tolerate. None of us can speculate, and it will be different for different brands.”

In other words, we’re still figuring out the formula.

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