Robert Scoble’s News (Pt. 2)

As previously mentioned, I intend to use this blog entry to talk about the recent history of how media has spread throughout the Internet, and the conclusions that are being drawn from this recent history. That’s a very ambitious goal, and I want to take pains to lay out my reasoning in a clear and lucid matter. Hopefully, I will come close to achieving my aim.

First, of course, I need to answer the question of who I am to be qualified to approach the subject. In fact, I am not, but that fact in itself “qualifies me by proxy” in a sense. There are any number of people with more advanced educations and decades of first-hand experiences who are predicting an almost unlimited future for video-based blogging. All I have to qualify me to comment on the subject is the reality that I am a consumer of it. I am perhaps a bit more of a consumer than many of the “experts” making the predictions. So, in the guise of a consumer, I am perhaps equally qualified.

So, what is “vlogging?” Not even the experts can agree, judging from the vocal bedlam that was TWiT Episode 57. About the only consensus reached was that it is the video equivalent of podcasting, with all the same variations. Ok, fine. Yet, I have to credit Leo LaPorte, whose background is largely radio, for pointing out what I think is a critical difference. Radio (and podcasts) is something you can enjoy while doing other things. Video, whatever its actual content, doesn’t usually have that trait. You have to stop what you’re doing and watch the screen. In other words, video forces the consumer into a more passive state by its very nature.

A good example of this effect is DL.TV. The video content is intentionally boring and dull usually, in part to conserve bandwidth and rendering time. Yet, as soon as they start doing something interesting, I have to stop and watch. Video, by its very nature, forces the consumer into a less interactive state. That has somuie potentially negative connotations for monetizing video on the Internet. I am old enough to at least remember the big promises about how television would radically improve human life, but we are still fumbling with the most effective way to employ video. That makes a nice transition to my next topic: the content we can expect to see in Internet video.

Yes, technology has progressed to the stage where anyone with a laptop and a webcam can, in principle, put up a video for the world to see. That doesn’t mean the world will want to. That’s essentially the same problem we face with podcasting. There’s so much garbage out there that finding the few gems is nearly impossible. For all that we bemoan the major television networks, they do serve as aggregators and filters of content. They also perform as monetizing engines. Perhaps it is these three functions that the start-up company that Robert joined aspires to perform. Surely their investors are aware of the competition already out there. Ziff-Davis alone is no minor challenge, Then, there is Leo LaPorte and his TWiT group, the Engadget team, the Mobile-tech Review group, and so on and so on. Just how much tech do the venture capitalists think is out there?

Actually, the real question should be: How much tech news do venture capitalists believe can be consumed? I remember when TechTV announced it was going to full-time operation, and can you guess what my reaction was? I immediately knew TechTV was in real trouble. It’s one thing to produce two or three hours of programming a day, but 12? Yes, tech is popular, but only to a point. I’ve heard the story of how TechTV felt they had to go market-to-market begging for a channel. In actuality, though, they had at least one channel wherever Time-Warner provided cable service. No, the truth is closer to a simple statement that only so many people are interested enough in tech to watch videos about it regularly. The percentage may be high on the “silicone coast,” but I fear the rest of the country is a bit more grounded in the here-and-now. Given the selection of tech-oriented audio and video programming already available on the Internet, I’m not at all certain there is sufficient demand to sustain another major tech news aggregator long-term.

There’s one other aspect of vlogging I haven’t yet heard anyone address, the different technical skills required for vlogging vs. podcasting. The novelty of grungy video is going to wear thin very quickly. People are used to decent quality video, and accomplishing that on the ‘Net is not trivial. It requires post-production computing to convert the raw video to the video format of choice. If you are like DL.TV, you have to crank out several formats, and that can take a day of computing. Video also takes a higher technical awareness in even creating the raw video. Things like camera angle and lighting really do matter. Among other things, those details immediately tell the audience whether or not you are even worth watching.

In short, I think the realities involved in video aren’t going to lend themselves well to vlogging. Yeah, anyone can do it, but few will get it right. Moreover, I believe the tech/gadget news market is already pinned to the wall. A quick look at my RSS feed list attests to that!




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