Hollywood still looking for online video hits

Busy day for online video today: not one but two “professional” video sites have launched — although one has no content to speak of yet, just an e-mail form and a press release. That one is 60frames.com, which according to the release was “incubated by leading Hollywood talent and literary agency United Talent Agency (UTA) and innovative Internet-based advertising agency Spot Runner” and has raised $3.5-million in funding.

As Liz Gannes describes it at NewTeeVee, 60frames — which has apparently signed filmmakers Joel and Ethan Cohen to an advisory board — looks to be more like an aggregation and advertising play, since it says consumers will “be able to view 60Frames’ original programming through top video portals, social network Web sites, and mobile and emerging broadband outlets.”

mydamnchannel.jpgThe site, which is being run by United Talent Agency exec Brent Weinstein, says that it will also help advertisers “create immersive online branding to better connect their company and products to targeted audiences.” Wow — I can hardly wait for that stuff. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Hopefully, 60frames has learned a lesson from the train wreck that is Bud.tv, and the failure of HBO’s This Just In, which I wrote about recently.

The second of the online video experiments is called MyDamnChannel.com, and sounds a bit more promising. It looks very similar to a site called FunnyorDie.com — the Will Farrell project that got much buzz for a hilarious series of videos starring his friend’s infant daughter as a foul-mouthed landlord (a video that has been watched a staggering 41 million times). MyDamnChannel even pays tribute to its predecessor in a parody of that video.

The new project is the brainchild of former MTV and CBS Radio executive Rob Barnett. The site has signed on comedian and Simpsons’ star Harry Shearer (who also writes for Huffington Post), musical genius Don Was, comedian Paul Reiser and filmmaker David Wain. Shearer has already contributed a funny clip in which he plays Dick Cheney (in a suit and very convincing prosthetic makeup) and sings a torch song about Scooter Libby.

Will these new sites succeed? I have no idea. But the site that wins will do two things: it will make it easy for people to effectively distribute its video, and it will be funny — and the second of those is by far the hardest.

Drudge the king-maker for online news

Via a post by my friend Paul Kedrosky I found out that the Drudge Report is responsible for one quarter — a whopping 25 per cent — of all inbound traffic to some of the leading British news sites, including The Guardian, the BBC, the Independent and the Telegraph. That’s a mind-boggling number.

It comes from a study of British online news sites by Neil Thurman, a researcher at City University in London. To put that Drudge figure in perspective, the site (according to Nielsen/NetRatings at least) accounted for more traffic than Google, Google News and Yahoo News combined.

Pretty impressive — even if Drudge does inflate its page views by forcing the site to reload every three minutes.


Martin Hofmann points out in the comments that the Drudge figure is based on a single month worth of traffic from more than two years ago.

Video: Arrington keynote at mesh 2007

As some of you may know, one of the highlights of mesh 2007 for me was the chance to sit down with my friend Mike Arrington from TechCrunch for a “keynote conversation” (as we call them at mesh) on the future of media. Thanks to the tireless efforts of video wizard Mark Mckay and the folks at mDialogue, there is a video of the entire keynote available at Google Video.

In the keynote, Mike talks about when he first realized TechCrunch.com could be a real business, why it’s less work to be first with a news story, what he thinks traditional media need to do to succeed online, why it pays for bloggers to get under his skin a little from time to time, and what he really thinks of Ted Murphy and the gang at PayPerPost.com.



Video: the bizarre stylings of Tay Zonday

Who is Tay Zonday? Who the heck knows. But in my eternal quest to bring you the Internet’s finest moments (among other things) I feel compelled to share with you this video of him singing his smash Web hit, Chocolate Rain, which as far as I can tell appears to be a cryptic song about racism set to an incredibly irritating and yet somehow catchy keyboard loop.

As with many things, from Lolcatz to the “All your base are belong to us” meme, the Chocolate Rain thing has been fueled by sites like 4chan.org, which exist purely to irritate the rest of the Internet in as many ways as possible. As for Tay, he’s got a weird kind of infantile geek thing going, like a cross between Michael Jackson and Urkel. And he makes weird faces. But for some reason, it has caught on — over 2 million people have watched the video.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EwTZ2xpQwpA&w=425&h=350]


K. Paul Mallasch on local journalism

After my recent posts on hyper-local journalism as well as NowPublic and the failure of Backfence, I got some comments from K. Paul Mallasch, a former Gannett journalist who runs a small, local “citizen journalism” or “networked journalism” site called MuncieFreePress.com in Muncie, Indiana. We exchanged emails about the failure of Backfence and about the right way to do local media, and I thought it was worthwhile excerpting some of his comments here (which he graciously agreed to let me do).

When it comes to local journalism and media sites, he says, there are two camps. One is:

“Those (like BackFence, NowPublic, etc.) who are trying to use the ‘big media’ (big business) approach to this problem – throw a lot of money at the problem, buy other properties, expand at a terrific rate, etc.”

K. Paul says that his site and some others that have had some success, such as Baristanet, are a very different kind of model — a more grassroots, ground-up model that lets the community determine what a site will be about:

“Me, H20town, Baristanet, iBattleboro, and others fall into the other camp, I think. We don’t really have a business plan per se. I joked a while back that I follow the Craig Newmark school of business customer service, customer service, customer service.”

Mallasch also says that he thinks print — perhaps counter-intuitively — is one additional tactic that hyper-local sites can use to nab audiences:

“One of my short term goals to increase cash flow is to start-up a print component (free, weekly tabloid reverse-reverse published from website content.) There’s another 5 to 10 years worth of (big) revenue in print … at least.”

“One of the things that stands out about BackFence is that they vehemently insisted they were an ‘online only’ product [but] print will bring much needed revenue as well as serve as a marketing vehicle for MuncieFreePress.com.”

K. Paul also says that he wants to raise money from the site, but primarily to compensate his contributors:

“As a case in point, over the weekend, I received a batch of photos from a volunteer firefighter in one of the communities I cover… Anyway, he’s volunteered to ‘take assignments’ and is supplying me with a lot of great content.

And he’s just one. I want to pay him (and the others) for their efforts. (If NowPublic were smart, this would be number one on their plate – it would take them way ahead of others out here…)”

Mallasch also says that while “a corporate approach will probably be one of the first to ‘succeed’ on paper (and get mentioned in big media), people like me and the hundreds of others who are taking the grassroots approach will still be around, I think.”

Thanks for your thoughts, K. Paul — much food for thought in there.

Web 2.0 and blogs meet the theatre

I don’t do this often, but my Globe and Mail colleague Simon Houpt — who is based in New York — had a great piece today about the blurring of the lines that is going on between the Web, theatre, video and so on. He writes: “Here’s some advice for aspiring playwrights: Forget theatre school. Just start a blog.” Then he goes on to talk about several plays that use the Web and what you might call a “crowdsourcing” model:

“My First Time is an 80-minute collection of stories about first-time sexual experiences, performed by an eager-to-please quartet of two men and two women…

My First Time isn’t so much written as it is constructed from stories written by real people. The stories can be read on MyFirstTime.com, a website started in 1998 that now boasts 40,000 entries (no pun intended).”

Simon also mentions other productions, such as the WYSIWYG Talent Show, which he says “yanked bloggers out from behind their computer screens, made them change out of their pyjamas, and put them onstage at a downtown venue to bring their voice into the real (aka non-virtual) world.”

Nice story — read the whole thing.

It’s not “citizen journalism”

Scott Karp of Publishing 2.0 writes about the NowPublic financing and takes issue with the terms “citizen journalism” (which I admit is a terrible term) and “crowdsourcing” (which I actually kind of like). He says that what is going on at NowPublic is just journalism, period — or perhaps “networked journalism,” which Jeff Jarvis suggested as an alternative here.


My mesh friend Jeff Howe — who coined the term “crowdsourcing” — has a post in response to Scott’s, in which he effectively agrees that it’s really just journalism, extended to new sources.

Does hyper-local make sense online?

I wanted to take a more in-depth look at some of the things that NowPublic.com CEO Leonard Brody said about the local “citizen journalism” model during our interview about NowPublic’s financing and the failure of Backfence, which I posted about here. He said some similar things to Liz Gannes, who also spoke to him about the NowPublic deal for GigaOm.

In talking about Backfence and its “hyper-local” model, Brody said that as far as he is concerned hyper-local doesn’t work as an online model for younger readers:

“For people 35 and under, hyper-local doesn’t mean anything any more,” he said. “Local weather, news and that kind of thing is a commodity, and there’s lots of places you can get it.

We’ve moved from that to hyper-personal news… younger users check their Facebook feed way more times a day than they check CNN.”

Is that why Backfence didn’t work? And why do sites like Baristanet.com continue to prosper? Co-founder Mark Potts takes a look at the failure of Backfence and the lessons that can be learned here. And check the comments at PaidContent for some other thoughts, from Joe Duck and K. Paul Mallasch among others (K. Paul has his own local site, MuncieFreePress.com)

Brody did say during our interview, however, that hyper-local might make sense for print publications as a business model. And Howard Owens looks more at that side of the equation, and says that hyper-local isn’t really about weather or politics — it’s about people. Whether local newspapers can execute a strategy based on that remains to be seen.

One way to do that is to buy hyper-local citizen journalism efforts, which is what McClatchy did when it bought FresnoFamous, and what Fisher Communications recently did with Pegasus News. And for a great in-depth look at Gannett Newspapers’ makeover and its experiments with hyper-local and citizen journalism, check out Jeff “Crowdsourcing” Howe’s recent piece in Wired.


When it comes to local journalism, Jeff Jarvis says that he agrees with Rafat Ali of PaidContent, who argues that what Brody really means by “local doesn’t matter” is that “local is hard as hell.”

Exclusive: NowPublic turns down takeover bids

NowPublic.com — the “citizen journalism” site based in Vancouver — has turned down takeover bids from two major media entities (both based outside of North America) and closed a $10.6-million financing round with a series of U.S. and Canadian venture funds. I wrote a news story about it for the Globe and Mail

Update: TechCrunch has the news about the financing (but not the acquisition offers), and there is also some coverage at VentureBeat and at GigaOm, where Liz Gannes also talked to Leonard Brody.

It’s one of the larger — and possibly the largest — Series A financings of any citizen journalism site (OhMyNews.com of South Korea did an $11-million led by Softbank at one point, but that was a Series B financing). The round was led by Rho Ventures out of New York, along with previous seed investors Brightspark and Growthworks out of Toronto. NowPublic said that after a road show with about 20 venture funds, it wound up with nine term sheets or expressions of financing interest.

nowpublic.jpgThe deal is a major vote of confidence not just in NowPublic, but in the idea of “crowdsourced” journalism or “citizen reporters,” and stands in sharp contrast to the recent closure of Backfence.com, a high-profile citizen-journalism project that had half a dozen local sites.

I talked on Friday with CEO Leonard Brody, who co-founded the company two years ago with Michael Tippett and Michael Meyers, and he said NowPublic is now the largest citizen reporting venture in the world, with more than 100,000 members in 140 countries and 3,800 cities.

Brody said that the company considered the acquisition offers, but “made decision that we felt we could grow this thing” and that it was just too early to sell. The NowPublic CEO said the company is focused on its plan to “build the largest news agency in the world” and that he is convinced they are building what will become “a billion-dollar company.”

NowPublic has 20 staff employees in all, with offices in Vancouver and New York and several employees each in Germany, Hungary and Slovenia. Unlike OhMyNews.com, which has about 50,000 members, NowPublic does not have any professional editors on staff, although a former CTV reporter plays the role of “Actual News Guy” in helping select stories.

NowPublic has also expanded its previous content-sharing deal with Associated Press. Under the original arrangement, AP’s foreign bureaus could have access to NowPublic photos and news reports, and Brody said that relationship has been expanded to include the wire service’s U.S. bureaus.

Brody said the money would be used to expand operations, beef up NowPublic’s technology — including adding more mobile features such as automatic GPS geo-location — and that the company is also looking at compensating members who submit eyewitness news reports, photos and video.

Compensating members of a “crowdsourcing” effort such as NowPublic or even a video-sharing site such as YouTube has been a major source of debate over the past year or so. While Brody said he doesn’t think most members submitting things to the site are motivated primarily by money, NowPublic is thinking about ways of compensating them, monetary and otherwise.

Some NowPublic members have already done deals with AP as a result of items they submitted to the site: a member from Oman who posted photos of a storm later sold his shots to Associated Press and they were used by Yahoo News, Forbes magazine and several other breaking news sites.

Of the Backfence.com closure, Brody said it was “a sad day for citizen journalism — they were pioneers.” But he said that NowPublic has a much different model from Backfence, which focused on “hyper-local” reporting, while the Vancouver site is targeting a global market. Interestingly, Brody said he didn’t see hyper-local journalism as a very good business model, at least not for younger Web users.

“For people 35 and under, hyper-local doesn’t mean anything any more,” he said. “Local weather, news and that kind of thing is a commodity, and there’s lots of places you can get it. We’ve moved from that to hyper-personal news… younger users check their Facebook feed way more times a day than they check CNN.”

Congratulations to the team at NowPublic on closing the deal. It will be interesting to see what kinds of uses they can put that $10.6-million to over the next year or so.

Jason wants a velvet rope on his blog

I can’t tell if Jason Calacanis is just trolling for some Techmeme reaction on a weekend (which he has certainly gotten in spades) or in a grump because he’s been sick, but his post about Facebook bankruptcy and closing off comments is a doozy. I’ll leave the Facebook part to Fred Wilson and others to respond to, except to say that it seems pretty simple to me: don’t want as many requests for things? Then don’t friend so many people.

The Facebook thing doesn’t bother me that much — like Fred, the Web and blogs are more important to me than some closed system, however appealing. And that’s why I find the part about Jason closing his blog to comments more troubling, for reasons I have expressed before, including a recent post about Joel Spolsky’s take on comments and one about Marc Andreessen also deciding to close comments.


Like Scott Rafer, I am more than a little disturbed by Jason’s comment that:

“If you don’t have a blog – which takes 10 minutes to setup – then maybe you’re not worthy of commenting, or others reading your comments.”

A comment typed in haste, perhaps — but that sounds pretty elitist to me. Yes, it’s easy to start a blog, but not everyone has the time or the inclination. By preventing those people from commenting, it’s true that you avoid the idiots as Jason says, but you also miss some thoughtful contributions as well, as Fred Wilson has also pointed out.


Jason says that his response to the elitism charge is:

“I’m 100% available to the entire world by SMS, email, AIM, Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, Twitter, and blog post. If someone want to reach me they can — that negates your whole elitist argument.

It is not my job to give people the platform, it’s their job to take it… It’s not elitism, it’s a meritocracy.”

Fair enough. But by building barriers, such as the “invitation-only” comments that Jason seems to admire, I think we are sending the wrong message to those who are still trying to wrap their heads around the whole blogging thing.