We’ll have to do a little departure from my five-part “Lunching in LA” series today because my lunch date fell through yesterday. But I do have some interesting stories from my evening mingling the last two nights.
Tuesday night it was drinks at The Standard Downtown with Julie Daman and Sarah Atwood of Almost There, and last night Zadi Diaz and Steve Woolf from JETSET joined me and fellow fomer Gothamist network editor Jason Toney for dinner at the Vermont Restaurant in Silver Lake. Both meetings yielded tricks and tips from people who are producing video content for online distribution.
While the rain scared everyone away from the scenic rooftop bar at The Standard, the ground floor lounge of the Andre Balasz property was more than swanky enough to make me wish I’d ironed my shirt. It was no surprise that Julie and Sarah would know from trendy places to meet, since along with Sandra DeNise and Phoebe Ventouras they host the popular Hollywood scene podcast Nontourage, which is where you can also find their mini-sitcom about working in the biz, Almost There.
It turns out that Julie and I went to school together in New York, confirming my suspicion that I wasn’t the only former film student who saw a great opportunity unfolding online. Julie managed to turn her experience at NYU into work on shows like Spin City, Scrubs and eventually HBO’s Entourage (which, incidentally, stars another old acquaintance of mine from Manhattan). “My true love is sitcom,” gushed Julie.
When Sarah called one afternoon to declare that she was coming over to Julie’s place and that they were going to write a script, Almost There was born. Now they both work on the show and the podcast full-time.
Sarah pointed out the difficulty in working in longer formats online in terms of gaining large audiences. The medium is dominated by “spectacle” content under three minutes, as opposed to scripted shows. Hence, they started producing promo shorts as well as video from their visits to the Vloggies and CES.
Another problem in expanding the audience for your content are the technical barriers — after friends and family had trouble figuring out how to watch their sitcom, they decided they needed a “how to” page.
In their opinion, everyone’s waiting for the “must see” show or shows that finally gets America to plug in whatever boxes and cables it will take to make the jump from the web to the home television set. That promises to be the watershed event signaling that convergence of Internet media and traditional cable and broadcast media.
Once again, the future seems to hold a convergence of old media and new media. Julie said that on their visit to NATPE it was apparent that broadband was the topic of the day; as LisaNova’s move to MADtv and UTA brokering the rich deal for Ask a Ninja demonstrates, Hollywood is beginning to step onto web video’s turf.
Of course, the entertainment industry is ultimately about making money, and what’s making it particularly difficult to do that online is that advertisers are still wary of how to gauge results online. Julie, Sarah and I agree that the easiest metric to report to advertisers would be show downloads, and that they could be considered equivalent to ‘starts’ in ratings parlance. But in my conversation with Zadi and Steve the next evening over great eats at the Vermont made clear, what web metrics lack is the kind of detailed demographic data that’s been provided by Nielsen to television broadcasters for years.
JETSET is a teen culture show, and just one of the many projects that Smashface Productions is involved with. Just as Julie and Sarah learned by experience that a different medium — podcasting and vlogging — brings a different audience, JETSET’s appeal to a younger crowd means that the show is being watched in ways that Zadi and Steve didn’t anticipate. Steve recently posted that JETSET’s numbers indicate that as much as 65% of their audience is watching the show on portable devices.
That presents a couple of issues. First, JETSET is dedicated not just to speaking to their audience, but to interacting with it — and while it’s easy to distribute the show to phones using ShoZu, getting people from their phones to the web site and wiki is much more difficult. And as Zadi pointed out over dinner, it’s very difficult to format a show both for tiny screens and for the big screen. What looks good on a cellphone might not look great via the Apple TV, and vice versa.
Ultimately, everyone could agree that online video was following a very similar trajectory to that of blogging. People started doing it for fun; as the format became popular, people began trying to figure out ways to keep doing it and get paid; some static arose as the core community tried to maintain their privileged position as the originators; but eventually the barriers between other forms of writing and blogging disappeared, and it all just became writing.
With networks spending scads of promotional dollars to stream stuff online, and vloggers beginning to make a living, a lot of the alternately dire or enthusiastic rhetoric should die down and everyone can just get to work.