I WANT MY PBS!
Friday, February 17, 2006
After the last post, I realized we just offered the audience a lot of praise for July '64, but it's not something they can now go watch. Given the digital distribution nature of today's world, the inability to see this terrific film is... well, ridiculous. On every level. First, because it offers no value sitting on a shelf somewhere. Second, because it's so much better than 99% offered on our 500 channel universe. Third because the documentary, itself, is the best of an emerging digital genre that combines cinematic simplicity (the story is generated less by images than the voices of people who lived the tale) with equal measures of smart juxtoposition (archival footage) and smart editing.
Most frustrating is the internet offers the distribution platforms to get this seen. Atom Films & iFilm, for instance have been around since the dial-up dark ages. But here's what makes the inability to see it as interesting as it is irritating. Check out Revver.com, a site where video producers from around the globe can upload their content... and earn revenues. Given how seamless the designers have made Revver for producers of content to show it as well as for audiences to see it, now the site just needs better material. For my taste, a lot is American's Funniest Home Video-reject caliber, about as compelling as credits for an infomertial. With worse production values.
On the other hand, the basic framework of Revver is brilliant. It offers three things critical to evolve digital distribution: easy streaming, tagging (see Delicious) and a marketing model (in this case, ads that are automatically coded and patched-in by the site, itself, to play at the end of each video). It has the promise of providing content-users and content producers a highly useable interface to trade their work.
And that's what makes it interesting. Think about the possibilities of a genuinely networked world. Not the network model of giant media conglomerates. But a constantly evolving networks of users who find each other and pollinate, nurture, and share content. In such a world, aggregators (the middle-men) actually become even more important. Sites like Revver may be doing a second-rate job of attracting great content, but they've done a terrific job of building platforms for producers and audiences to share that content. And while we don't need a monopoly of media outlets who will decide what is best for the audience (as the record industry tried to suggest was their role while fighting Napster), brands who recognize their market value as a combination of brokers and interface designers are critical.
Which is where brand organizations like PBS have a place, a resonant brand being exactly that - brokers and interface creators. PBS, as one great media brand, already has the content. They also have the other important piece. Audience. Think about it. Twenty years ago, MTV became a brand by tapping into a collective ritual. Music videos. Such media became associated with a generation. Youth. Well, that doesn't preclude other generations, or at least sub-cultures within it, from having their own rituals around media.
In the last five years, PBS has seemed to be on a hyper-aggressive marketing kick to galvanize a Baby Boomer following. The process isn't always heartening. From my perspective, it has produced its own portfolio of noxiousness: namely deadly dull programs like Antique Road Show, too many forums featuring positive thinking gurus or concerts featuring ancient Pat Boone boy groups and their off-rhythm fans whooping it up in the aisles, and a Friday night lineup that almost gives the periodic dead air (or pixels) on sites like Revver a good name.
Indugle me a rant. For someone who loved Bill Moyers, can the sincerity of liberals be as off-putting as the sincerity of the right? Yes! Just watch the sad remains of Now in a post-Bill Moyers era, followed by the Journal Editorial Panel - a group of stiff necked pontificators like Paul Gigot and Dororthy Rabinowitz basically doing a botoxed vanilla version of "that's what I'm talking about" concerning the dangers of liberals. Actually, it looks like Paul and Dotty are headed out to other pastures (God bless Rupert Murdoch - he's usually a fox but not this time around - as these guys will only bore his slice-bloody-and-dice audience). Now if only David Brancaccio would only do something surprising for impatient clods like me - ex. get a buzz cut, take up smoking cigarettes on-air, or just get angry.
Anyway, between non-ficture features like Nova, Frontline or Independent Lens, and a bunch of superb British dramas, PBS really offers must-see television that's broadly relevant, proudly adult, and (other than our taxes and donations) free. Why shouldn't that content have a place on the web? Money? If the tech-smart but content-deficient folks at Revver can create a business model, why can't PBS?
PS: For another video site, try Devil Ducky. Whether you want smart or saucy, the work is usually compelling. On the other hand, unlike Revver's amateur-auteur flavor, Devil Ducky basically takes the best of the ad and television shorts world and puts it online. It's not the user-generated content promised by the web. And the truth is, Revver has a few promising gems. Some of it sweet, other wonderfully silly, what struck me was the editor's picks were frequently no worse or better than the audience's top rated choices. Maybe Revver could hire someone from their audience to curate content. Or someone, yikes, from public television!