Blog Post

Pop17 Gets in an Ethical Flixwagon Fix

The blogosphere loves a good controversy, and one is currently brewing over Pop17‘s Sarah Austin’s financial relationship with mobile vidcasting service Flixwagon.

A recent TechCrunch post comparing mobile livecasting services that involved Austin and Flixwagon touched off the heated discussion. Austin’s relationship with Flixwagon was not disclosed in the story (neither was TechCrunch’s sponsorship of Pop17, though that is noted on Pop17’s site). But her relationship came to light in the comment section, with Austin writing:

“I stream with Flixwagon because they support my mobile livecast. I have to pay the bills and don’t see anything wrong with using their service for pay. If they were actually bad I wouldn’t use them. FW is great!”

Austin then wrote a post on her Tumblr saying:

“I find it very interesting to see how I have been criticized for working closely with Flixwagon to help them develop a better service. I consult for many companies who are looking to improve their service, platform and business strategy and I am not alone. Believe it or not, video bloggers often consult!”

She goes on to say that Pop17 is not sponsored by Flixwagon. We contacted both Flixwagon and Austin to find out the exact nature of their relationship. Austin sent us an email saying she was checking with Flixwagon to determine what she could and couldn’t say. Flixwagon had not responded as of this writing.

Pat Phalen, president of Cubic Telecom, wrote a post on his blog about a rumor he heard about Austin’s discussions with rival mobile livecaster Qik to switch to its service. Austin responded to Phalen’s post with the following:

“I told Qik that I would go with them if they offered me a little more money. btw, I don’t have a contract that says I have to be secretive about this, I just think it is better for business not to disclose that I stream with them for peanuts! Don’t tar and feather me for making money. I get paid by many people. You think I use Mogulus, Viddler or Rocketboom for free? How do you think I make money?”

If this all sounds familiar, it should. Austin isn’t the first videoblogger whose work has raised ethical questions. Amanda Congdon ignited her own controversy when she worked for ABC News and starred in a number of commercials for DuPont.

Like with so many of these things, the reaction seems to be a bigger issue than the issue. It wouldn’t have taken much for Austin to disclose her relationship with Flixwagon from the outset. Her audience could have taken that information into consideration and most of them probably wouldn’t have cared.

14 Responses to “Pop17 Gets in an Ethical Flixwagon Fix”

  1. How does Sarah getting paid for using a streaming service on a show about celebrity compare to Amanda Cogdon working for a news organization while doing faux-news stories for a chemical company?

    The two situations just aren’t analogous.

    The issues is not that you’re denying or hiding something. It’s just that your logic seems… well, illogical.

  2. I doubt any of this was staged, Shelley.

    I’ll beat a dead horse and then I’ll let this go.

    This type of coverage seems very “tabloid” to me.

    These are difficult economic times for even the most stable of industries, let alone our fledgling online video industry.

    It is enormously difficult to start something, fund it, risk time and money, and obtain sponsorship.

    I had to leave LiveStock – a promising Mogulus show I produced – because of the dismal prospect of ever seeing a return on my investment.

    When someone does get sponsorship, we should see this as a good sign – not attack it.

    How are we going to be able to work in online video if we discourgae the very kind of sponsorship we need?

    Let’s work together on our ecosystem.

    Chuck Boyce
    shameless plug:

  3. sg95m476

    Matt, I’ll regret if I need to stop reading NTV, because believe me Om is one of my heroes.

    How much money can we possibly be talking about here that Sarah’s recieving?

    I bet it’s not as much as some dinner’s I have paid for me by IT vendors back when I was a “internationally recognized database expert”.

    Does a vlogger have to mention every single partnership, meal, t-shirt, backpack?

    Go ahead and make a big fuss about this if you want, but it’s a distraction and it hurts a field that can’t even pay its practitioners enough to cover their expenses let alone their rents.

  4. sg95m476

    I don’t take issue with writing about this, Chris.

    I disagree with your characterization of the situation.

    There is nothing unethical about someone in a VERY tough field (if you even want to call it that) in a city with $2500 a month rents accepting sponsorship.

    Where is the “ethical fix”?


  5. Chris Albrecht

    Hi Chuck,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments, but I’d have to disagree. We have written countless posts on independent producers coming up with creative ways to make money. But in this instance, this question over ethics was already playing out in public and raised an interesting question. I think to deny or hide that would have been a disservice to our readers.

  6. sg95m476


    I love NTV on Om without exception, but this story just isn’t helpful to our “industry”. Sarah found someone to partner and support her. NTV should write a story about how that is good – not an “ethical fix”. If you want to cover ethics, why don’t you turn your focus to the people trying to “work” in this industry who are being exploited. That’s an ethical fix. Here’s a good place to start your research:

    Chuck Boyce
    2008 Microsoft Digital Media MVP

  7. Anyone who knows me knows I am fairly big on disclosure. Based on what I’ve read, though, it’s not clear to me Sarah Austin is violating any ethical standards here, though it is a gray area. If it were me, I’d disclose.

    If she’s badmouthing the other services and she’s getting paid by Flixwagon, then yes, that’s a clear conflict of interest and it should be disclosed immediately.

    Of course now that your secret is out, Sarah, I recommend you embrace it. Even make fun of it.

  8. Looks like a heated debate :)

    To clarify, Mogulus, as a policy does not pay users to use Mogulus – including Sarah.

    For full disclosure, we have a studio in our New York office which we make available to any serious producer in the New York area at no charge – Sarah as well as others produce their shows from there. We also offer promo banners to these producers on our website.

    We think Sarah’s show is a terrific use of our platform – and we thank her for using Mogulus as her live platform and for her useful feedback which helps us in our product development.

  9. Hi Chris, looks like I just missed you on your post. Unfortunately I cant disclose the terms of our deal due to our NDA thats typical with anyone, but I can say that for sure, without a doubt, I’m under no obligation to say nice things or even say anything at all about Flixwagon. That’s got nothing to do with this deal. I could write a blog post that slammed them into the ground if I really felt that way and that would be just fine. I also have several other consulting jobs, a variety of sponsorships and some other unusual but related opportunities that have come out of Pop17 but so far, Im still completely free to speak my mind and plan to continue to do so. :)