Ever want to watch Alice Cooper host The Muppet Show or catch up on old episodes of HBO series Tales From the Crypt, but didn’t know where to find them? Maybe you just want to zone out for a few hours watching nostalgic old black-and-white TV shows like The Twilight Zone or documentaries on big-wave surfing from the 1970s?
If any of this seems appealing to you, it might be worth checking out Network Awesome, a virtual TV station with four to six hours of old TV programming each day that’s nostalgic, entertaining, informative — and thrown together by a team of dedicated curators.
The site launched in early January as the brainchild of Berlin-based electronic musician Jason Forrest and his partner Greg Sadetsky, who does most of the coding for the site. Since launch it has mostly relied on word-of-mouth to grow its daily viewer base, but viewers are catching on, with the site posting record traffic last Friday.
Network Awesome’s mission statement can generally be summed up by the following video:
“We love TV, but it can be better. TV can be fun. TV can be exciting. We want more. Every day we host hours of good TV — the best shows of the past, with a new flavor. Just turn it on and enjoy new programs every day.”
The selection of content curated day-to-day can best be described as “eclectic.” Today, for instance, Network Awesome’s programming includes a documentary about Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, an old episode of Groucho Marx’s You Bet Your Life, an episode of Speed Racer, a flashback of ABC’s 20/20 from 1981, a film adaptation of Jules Verne fiction and an episode of The Twilight Zone. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to which programs or picked or how they’re stitched together, but that’s part of what makes Network Awesome work.
The main purpose of Network Awesome is to surface content that is otherwise difficult for nostalgic fans to find online, according to Forrest. “There’s a missing gap for media between the establishment of [Viacom-owned] TV Land and what we watched as kids. It fell into a black hole and you can’t find it in syndication,” he said in a phone interview. “By and large, there’s a large group of people that aren’t being served by what’s on TV, and there’s a great need for someone to curate this content.”
Rather than pirating videos for Network Awesome, the site relies on huge stores of content uploaded to fully public sites like YouTube. Forrest notes that there are about 125 episodes of The Twilight Zone and 230 episodes of The Muppet Show available to online viewers on Google’s online video site — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
But is it legal? Much of the content displayed on the site is of questionable copyright status, lurking in a legal gray area due to the age of the clips and questions of digital ownership. But since none of the content is actually hosted by Network Awesome — the site primarily relies on the YouTube API to queue up and deliver videos to its viewers — it is generally shielded from claims of copyright infringement from rights holders.
For now, most of Network Awesome’s programming comes from YouTube, but Forrest is on the lookout for original programming from creators that want to have their content put next to some of the older, better-known content. The site is currently working on three original programs that it mixes in with the long-tail videos it finds online.
While Network Awesome isn’t currently making money off the programming it’s curating, the site is looking at new ways to make money from its curation model. Forrest said one way it could make money is to syndicate its curated lineup to third-party programmers or distributors. It’s also looking to add a sales person to explore sponsorship and other advertising opportunities. In the meantime, though, the site remains a hobby for Forrest, who continues to do most of the curating.
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