Rise of the Independent Niche Networks


Remember when cable television was still new and exciting, with crazy new niche networks popping up all the time? “A whole network with nothing but cooking shows — it’s madness!”

Well, Bruce Springsteen might have to change the lyrics to his song, “57 Channels (and nothing on)” now that anyone can roll their own network. Two recent additions to the Web include Will Hearst’s Fora.tv and the new online version of “DVD Magazine” Specialten, Specialten.tv.

Fora is being promoted as “the thinking person’s YouTube,” and will feature wonky political and cultural content from partners like C-Span and Cody’s Books. Current popular programs include discussions with author Neil Gaiman, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina and, my favorite, schlocky screenwriter Joe Eszterhaus. I’m not such a fan of the pop-up player window, but do like the web-specific features like discussion forums, relevant links, transcripts and (eventually) community tagging.

If you’re less of a policy nerd and more of a hipster art snob, then Specialten.tv is for you. The original Specialten DVD magazine collected artsy short films and music videos from the likes of Obey and DJ Shadow, and the new web network features the same classy content like director Michel Gondry solving a Rubik’s Cube with his feet. Links allow you to skip, share or tag whatever you’re watching. The content is served from YouTube, but the fullscreen flash player feels like a regular TV channel (at least when it’s not caching).

Both sites feature content that would be highly unlikely to achieve much mainstream popularity, but that’s part of their appeal. And unlike starting a cable network, there are no carriers to haggle with. Both sites prove that all you need is some content and a player and you’re in business. Now let’s see if it’s a profitable one.


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