The standards by which we judge veterans of the web video world vary, but no one can deny that Veronica Belmont has been in the trenches since the beginning. Starting as an intern for CNET in 2004 before being promoted to host, Belmont moved onto roles both in front of and behind the camera at Mahalo, Sony, TWiT and eventually Revision3, where she hosted shows including the technology news series Tekzilla.
This week, Belmont announced that she would be leaving Revision3 to explore other projects, which seemed like a great opportunity to ask her what she’s learned from her years as a host and producer, and how the industry has evolved since she began working in the space.
Your origins are very much of the web. When you first started at CNET, what was your perception of the idea of “web video”?
When I came to CNET in 2004, YouTube wasn’t even a thing yet. Most of my experience with web video were short Flash clips floating around in the dark recesses of the internet. Anything over a minute tended to be laggy and horrible. But CNET was taking a lot of cues from it’s previous experience in the television world, which included very high production values. We were creating content that worked within the technical confines of early web TV, but would also look at home on a network.
What was the toughest part of diving into the web video world?
Personally, it was all completely new for me. My background was audio/radio production, so I was trying to take those skills and translate them into TV/video. Working on-camera was an even bigger transition, since I’d never done anything even remotely close to that. Fortunately, I had very good teachers at CNET, and I was talking about topics that I was personally interested in, which went a long way in making me more comfortable on-camera.
What’s the biggest thing you feel has changed since those early days?
Competition. There are so many people creating web content these days that it’s very difficult to break yourself away from the pack to attract the attention of your target audience. People have never had more choice when it comes to media these days, and web video is just one segment of that. It seems like everyone is trying new gimicks, but even having one video go viral doesn’t mean that they’ll stick around for the rest of your shows. You have to build a community.
Of all the shows you’ve gotten to create/host, what’s the one you remember most fondly?
Prizefight at CNET was one of my early favorites. I would pit two gadgets in the same category against one another in a cage match, of sorts. It always did well because the viewers LOVED disagreeing with my choice of winner, so the feedback was great (and sometimes horrifying). People take their gadgets very seriously.
More recently, Fact or Fictional was my favorite. We looked at the science and technology behind pop culture, like movies, TV shows, comic books, etc. I was able to interview so many incredible guests, and I never knew which way the conversation would go. I’d still like to do another show like that in the future.
Of all the shows you’ve gotten to create/host, what’s the one you wish you could do all over again?
Game On, for the TWiT Network. I loved working with that team, and I think if we had more time we could have done something truely awesome. [Game On ran from January to April 2012, but was canceled when it wasn't able to reach the necessary viewership numbers.]
A popular theory regarding digital vs. mainstream content is that we’re not far away from total convergence — but YouTube and web original content (that’s not on Netflix, (NFLX) anyway) currently struggle to penetrate the mass market. Is a dramatic change/event of some sort required for the playing field to truly become equal? And if so, what do you think that change/event might be?
It’s becoming easier and easier for people to watch web video from the comfort of their couch, which I think has been one of the main sticking points. There are so many different set top boxes right now, and I feel like only a few of them are integrating web video with their other offerings in the kind of way that makes it seamless for viewers to find and discover. When it becomes just as easy to find and watch Tekzilla as it is to watch Top Gear, then I think we’ll be seeing a bigger uptake.
What’s the biggest mistake you think people are making when it comes to creating content for the web today?
I think people underestimate their audience. Everyone says that the viewers don’t have the attention span to watch anything over 4 minutes or so, but I think the content has to deserve to be watched. Long-form content can survive in the web video world, and people will watch it.