On Tuesday I attended a panel at the SXSW Day Stage titled “Democratization of the Moving Image” featuring Andrew Baron (AB) and Amanda Congdon (AC) of rocketboom. I’ve been downloading the show ever since TiVo recommended it to me, and I love it, so it was great to get to see these two explain their philosophy, the development of the “show”, and what they think about it.
The description of the event — taken from the SXSW site — was “Videoblogs are dramatically changing the state of international online video promotion and distribution. From film and TV content to personal videos, this powerful visual medium is now in the hands of anyone. We will discuss how inexpensive tools (a high quality video camera and computer) and a massive amount of new distribution platforms (e.g. software, TV over IP, phones, video iPods, etc.) make it easy for a home-made video or professional sitcom or film to be distributed all over the world.”
Note that unless you see quotation marks, these are not exact quotations; this is my synopsis of the event.
AB: I’m Baron, this is Amanda, and this is rocketboom. We discovered all this stuff and we want to tell you all about it so that people can jump on it and start doing it themselves. It begins … we’re only here because of the time we live in. We just happen to be here at this time when it’s so cheap … [Andrew goes on to explain much of what he detailed in the earlier panel, posted here.]
[Amanda and another guy prepared a whiteboard before the show with Who, What, Where, When, etc. During the course of the event she would uncover each word and then explain their thoughts behind each one.]
AC: Who? We are personal filters. Filtering email, media, TV, etc. all the time, 24/7 … Constantly looking for information for the show; constantly being a filter and using ourselves to curate information
AB: The who part is so special because everyone has their own view; you find people that relate to those issues, and it gets involved with taste and all those issues
AB: What? Design. Design is not what it is, but design is our concept and that’s why it’s the what that’s what. We put so much emphasis on the look of the website itself. I am a teacher at Parson’s and design and interface design is where I’m coming at it. if people are going to come to your site you want them to be comfortable so that they keep coming back; if you are blasting ads at them, they won’t want to come back. if you have really crappy carpet and there’s no light in your room [this is an expansion of an analogy he made in the previous panel] it can feel uncomfortable and even if you’re not aware of it, it can affect you
AC: It’s the what and the where of your video blog. It’s where its home is. Where? Global. One of the things that excites us so much is that only 1/2 of our audience is from the US/Canada … the rest is from the rest of the world. We are so happy to have correspondents all over the world. we’re global in the sense in that we create international content. and of course our viewers are global. [to AB:] So, you wanna show the where? Where we actually shoot from? [The two display a photo of the rb HQ on the presentation screen.]
AB: Normally we record straight from the recorder into the computer; because the tools are so cheap and accessible — even when they’re of this caliber — oh, and we just launched rocketboom.jp, which really excites us to be able to get to the people in Japan. if you go to a website in Japanese, you probably won’t understand it because it’s going to be in Japanese.
AC: but video is universal!
AB: right, you can understand the moving images; also when you do things around the world, it’s on demand and the potential is so much greater, even if they only have one audience, it’s everyone out there
AC: it’s really the global community that you always hear everyone talking about. [to AB:] Should we do When?
AB: At the last panel I said that time is of the essence. from the time we begun, we looked around and said “hey video blog” and we could understand the implications, but we just jumped on it, and that speed is so important; I’ve studied philosophy in undergrad and this French guy [Verillio?] said that time is power; if you’re fighting a war, the side that has the information first is the side that’s going to win the war. in terms of business, if you have that info first then that is the advantage. in tech, anyone that is an avid tech enthusiast will tell you that is the center of technology. we think that one the biggest advantages is that big media can’t time-shift; they have a very hard time dealing with time shifting and changing etc. and that’s so important; like iTunes comes out with a new video and it’s like “can you handle that”? being first is a very important aspect with anything having to do with tech …
AC: and as far as a rb is concerned, the thing is the dailyness [?]; one of the things that makes it is the dailyness; because it becomes habitual; I don’t like the word habitual because it sounds negative, but it is habit-forming and I hope in a good way.
AB: this might not be news to you, but these are the concepts that are so important to us and we think they’re worth considering more in-depth
AC: of course, not every show would be best daily, but for us that’s one of the things that’s worked
AB: one of the big deals w/ blogs is the immediacy; you get upset if a blogger doesn’t post; people that have monthly or weekly shows are always talking about how to crank everything back up
AC: and that way you have to work a lot harder! which brings it to our next question: Why?
AB: we won’t get into existentialism! the Why is “consequence”. Something that is one of the neatest things about how rb has worked; unlike any other business plan, where you say ok in 2 years we want to be here, y’know because we have so much willingness to change that we are able to deal with consequences
AC: it’s kinda like the big ship idea; a larger ships takes a longer time to turn, but we turn quickly all the time; if we find a new format or a new story we try to do it really fast
AB: and some of the ideas that are consequences that are loaded with implies that it’s something you’re bringing on, something that sticks around and that you don’t ignore
AC: that’s not to say you shouldn’t have goals you just need to be able to be flexible enough to throw out the plan and go with a new plan; at least listen to a new plan
AB: this is obviously a big benefit to personal media; as soon as you get bought by a big media machine you won’t be able to do that; as much as I can I’d say it just means you need to be open to change
AC: okay, and lastly we have the How. INTERACTIVE! About 20% to 25% of our stories are created by our readers. Sometimes whole days are from user-created stories. sometimes I cut and paste directly from the emails. (Thanks, Jared!) It’s amazing how the community comes together; us participating, pretty much daily on the comments; we love getting video and also there’s something different about video blogs; when people call rb “internet TV” I get very offensive … offended. Although we borrowed from internet TV, it’s different; I have a relationship with my viewers that is more “bloggy” … and exiting and new … that interactivity w/ viewers is something special; when video blogs have that — that difference — it adds to the overall feeling of the show
AB: and in terms of interactivity; unlike a passive viewer; rb is designed for sitting up, active viewer … consequentialism … our whole format revolved around these concepts. it just happened that more than a few minutes, I don’t want to watch it on a little screen; our audience as a result of not being passive is more intelligent or more complex; you can do things that you can’t do on TV, you can treat them w/ respect
AC: it leads us to gear our show towards a different type of audience; for people that are smart; I think there are so many people that are smart so why does TV not recognize that? by not playing to the “least common denominator audience”, by treating our audience w/ respect … that that’s something kinda different
AB: and this is an important point to anyone considering doing a show on their own, you can have a niche on TV or traditional broadcast, they have to pick the one that’s going to get them the most money; here on the internet we have this new concept of niche; you can have a show that only has 1000 viewers, and that kinda thing allows you to get really into the personal media; this whole idea that you can just really just do your own interests. you don’t have to go to the Gap; you can get your own flavor of content and this is going to be the big thing in the future is that you can have this thing that speaks right to you.
AC: jumping to the correspondent page on our site to show you who’s involved [talk for a few minutes about happiness of super-powerful medium; correspondents send stuff from all over the world, audience always requests to be correspondents]
[they pull up web stats page; comically the same as my davidgagne.net web stats page]
AB: we get 130000 hits/day and then a month ago it doubled to about 250k/day [AB has trouble navigating stats page …]; you can see that we get a lot of traffic from dot.com pages; it’s a news story that’s happening all over the world; if you look at Google news you’ll see that rb is mentioned almost every day in the news; we were in the NYT something like “blog kills TV”
AC: if you would like us to reveal more …
[At this point the two take questions from the audience, but I had to catch my plane back to LA and couldn’t stay for the rest.]