Tiny Tube

Tiny television is what I see when I sift through the news from the cable industry convention that just departed San Francisco. It’s a selective perception given the industry’s size and ambitions. But it’s exciting to hear big players talk about short segments, delivered via mobile devices — themes we’ve heard before and which offer potential entry points for mini media content producers. For example, former vice president Al Gore talked about his new — is television even the right word? — network called Current. The San Francisco Chronicle reporter (my employer) wrote that Current “plans to air short-form, fast-paced segments and snippets called –pods” rather than shows. Tailored for the short attention span, they will be anywhere from 15 seconds to five minutes long.” The article quotes Current programming chief David Neuman : “This is an audience of media grazers, and we decided to create a network that didn’t fight that but facilitated that.” All true and good, but here’s another guess as to why Current is focused on short stuff. The same article alludes to the fact that cable providers control the “carriage” or delivery of shows through wires to homes — and the fact that they generally like to own a piece of the content that flows through their pipes. The Chronicle quotes John Higgins, business editor for Broadcasting and Cable Magazine as saying: “The odds of any stand-alone network getting carriage are long.” So here’s a surmise. If a new stand-alone network launches shorts, distributed via the Web, that reach people at their desks, it can create a grassroots audience that will give it more clout when it comes to negotiating for carriage to the living room. And don’t forget the handheld devices — which may become end markets for shorts — because industry heavyweights haven’t. On one panel discussion Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts suggested that the Sony Playstation Portable will be used to store and replay video clips. There’s going to be a very huge proportion of viewers that isn’t watching (TV programming) live,” Roberts is quoted as saying. And doubtless you’ve heard that Google announced that it will begin archiving home-made video clips through Google Video, calling it an experiment in video blogging according to a ZDNet report. It is relatively easy for hobbyists or aspiring professionals to produce video shorts. Systems to archive and search these clips exist. The Web can distribute them broadly. Handheld devices may extend their reach. So production is a done deal. The challenge for serious mini media producers is how to get paid for these short, or how to use them to get attention and land funding for more shorts or longer pieces.

Tom Abate
Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media