TV on the Web

Television is coming to the Web, in streaming gobs from big producers, in smaller bubbles from grassroots creators, and we’ll sort it all out — including how small producers get paid — eventually. That was my takeaway from a Cybersalon in Berkeley last night that I attended with my eldest son, Julius.

Panelist Bradley Horowitz, director of media and desktop search for Yahoo, talked about his firm thinking and behaving like a media company, striking deals with TV producers large and small to channel content to whatever audience may find it of interest. He referenced the Long Tail concept popularized in a Wired magazine article and ongoing blog. “We talk about the Long Tail because that’s really what’s of interest to us,” he said. He mentioned a deal Yahoo struck with the Santa Monica animation studio JibJab as an example of how small producers can expand their distribution. He emphasized the importance of metadata, tagging video files so their content can be found. Tagging plus Mini Media content plus distribution (as in Yahoo) equals new business model. “There may be a better way to way to reach micro audiences who care about your content,” he said

Horowitz was joined by Kim Spencer, executive director of LinkTV, a San Francisco operation that serves up documentaries and foreign news broadcasts through satellite TV and streaming video over the Web. This is tail-end of the tail content, political and public affairs material with a political bent. Kim said 21 million homes get LinkTV via satellite and “5 million Americans watch more than an hour a week.” From what I gleaned Link TV is foundation and donation supported, and I think Kim said it actually has to pay the satellite vendors for carriage.

When I asked about how producers, meaning small producers, will get paid for TV over the Web, the panelists mentioned advertising, donations, and direct payment through subscription or pay-per-view, presumably some form of micropayment.

Interactivity didn’t come up much, and it would have been good to discuss since it seems to me what is novel about the Web is the feedback loop, but time was short and we never got there. There were three other speakers. I would summarize their remarks thus: Co-host Jeff Ubois talked about the copyrights that hamstring producers who would like to use, re-release, or merely archive TV and movie footage, using the Civil Rights documentary, Eyes on the Prize, as a poster child for the problem. Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer Wendy Seltzer argued against the requirement, soon to take effect, that digital TV broadcasts include a broadcast flag as some sort of anti-piracy measure. And a woman with a consultant firm (Perspective Media Group?) talked about the trouble big media have in merely knowing, much less licensing what’s in their archives, but shame on me I failed to get her name.

Cybersalon co-host Sylvia Paull asked my soon-to-be sixteen year old son Julius what he though of TV rushing to the Web, and he drew applause when he said it was a bad idea that would only keep people glued to the tube instead of having conversations. I’ll have to remember that next time I find him locked in his room with the monitor aglow.

Tom Abate
If you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media.