Current.TV Relaunches as

October 22, 2007

What started out as an online community for aspiring and up-and-coming filmmakers to gain exposure and network with each other by creating videos on topical issues has evolved into a broader, user-generated approach to current events for tech savvy 18- to 34-year-olds.

Robin Sloan, Current’s online-product strategist, attributed the site’s new identity to a larger gap that still can be filled in news reaching the young/college demo. “If you look at CNN on TV, the median age is 50 or 60,” she said. “There are plenty of places where young people don’t feel the content is interesting or relevant to them.”

Spotty traffic
The new also could help the network make some waves in traffic, which has been spotty in the past year. Current.TV averaged 151,000 unique visits a month from September 2006 to September 2007, according to ComScore, obviously a far cry from the 26 million who regularly visit but a number that could be expanded significantly through a content channel on Facebook, which will launch later this month.

Not that the TV channel is being marginalized in the wake of the new web remodel. “Seventy percent of our TV viewers have their laptops open while they’re watching, so we can present them with much more information so they don’t have to go to Google,” said Joanne Dale Earl, president-new media at Current. “More than 30% of our viewers purchased something they saw on Current, so we saw that as a way to build a brand extension online.”

Enter Current’s unique ad model. Since its inception, Current has been accepting VCAMs, or viewer-created ad messages, in which major brands ranging from Mountain Dew to Toyota to Sony hold viewer contests to see who can craft the best commercials around their products. Although 30% of all VCAMs make it on-air, Mr. Sloan said they’ve become even larger traffic generators online.

“We know people think of and enjoy them as content, but VCAMs are also what get us traction online,” Mr. Sloan said. “Now we can program them into the home-page stream to give them greater exposure. Everything you do here is fair game for TV.”

No banner ads
As a result, the site does not accept banner ads, nor does it follow the traditional news-pyramid model on its home page. For example, a Nokia contest for the best user-generated images can reside next to a story on the latest developments in Burma or stem-cell research.

“It’s not that young people dislike ads and advertising,” Ms. Earl said. “On Current, it just might take the form of a VCAM or different kinds of ad units, like a personalized network or a topic page. We can work with sponsors on creating a tent pole with sponsorship opportunities against our core applications.”

L’Oreal recently partnered with Current.TV to sponsor its own page of male-themed videos to promote a line of men’s hair-treatment products. Not only did the marketer reach a targeted, coveted audience of young men, Ms. Earl said, the goal was to help L’Oreal learn about the consumer base for future campaigns through the feedback the user-generated ads drew online.

What next?
As the new unspools, Ms. Earl and Mr. Sloan are already thinking about the next places to take the user-generated model that’s already evolved in its short two-year history.

“It’s perfect for mobile, especially since we own all the content,” Ms. Earl said. “It’s a very specific community, so a lot of the traffic will come from organic marketing. Wherever the demo is, we want to be there.”


Networks Start to Offer TV on the Web

October 22, 2007

Music and TV were lazily paddling their canoes down Prosperity Creek when Music suddenly heard a deafening roar ahead. “Help! What’s happening?” cried Music — but it was too late. The canoe tumbled over the Internet Falls, knocking Music upside-down into the churning vortex.

TV, following at a short distance, was determined to avoid Music’s fate. “I shall go with the current and not fight it,” vowed TV. And with only seconds to spare, TV threw every shred of brainpower and muscle into avoiding its doom.

End of Chapter 1.

Now, nobody knows how that story will turn out. But everybody knows that fewer people are watching network TV with every passing year. This year, the networks have mounted their first counterattack. In addition to short mini-videos for the short-attention-span generation, they’re putting full-length free on-demand episodes online. ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and CW are all in the game, with surprisingly pleasant results.

In general, you can catch the four or five most recent episodes of a show online, starting the morning after broadcast.

Techies, of course, have something much better. Using free BitTorrent technology, they can find and illegally download almost any episode of any recent TV show to their computers. (Just don’t get caught. Some Internet providers are starting to shut off the service of BitTorrent fans.)

You can also buy TV shows at Apple’s iTunes store, for $2 an episode without ads. But this approach, too, sticks in the craw of some networks; NBC, for example, has chafed at Apple’s terms, and its shows may disappear from iTunes in December. So what’s it like to watch TV on the networks’ Web sites?

If you have the required fast Internet connection, the picture and sound quality are excellent. It’s all on-demand, too; you can start playing the shows whenever you feel like it. (According to ABC’s research, 77 percent of online viewers are catching an episode that they missed on TV.)

There are some ads, and you can’t skip over them. Fortunately, compared with regular TV, the online ads are scarce indeed. At each break, you generally have to watch only one 30-second commercial — and there’s nothing to stop you from checking your e-mail messages or while it plays.

And then there’s Joost.

Joost (“juiced,” get it?) is the latest brainchild of the two Scandinavian entrepreneurs who first rocked the record industry with Kazaa (free music for all!) and then the phone industry with Skype (free phone calls for all!). Joost gives your Mac or PC on-demand access to more than 150,000 episodes of TV shows and Web videos (free TV for all!). And last week, Joost threw open its doors; you no longer need a private invitation to download its player software from

Here it is, then: your Fall 2007 Guide to Online TV, starring Joost, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

JOOST 1.0 BETA Joost is a great concept. The social-networking aspects are especially promising: you can type-chat with other viewers, send links to good shows, and so on.

In some shows, ads play before or during an episode (maximum length: 60 seconds); in others, small ads pop up in the corner of the screen something like those transparent network logos.

Joost’s video quality ranges from O.K. to blotchy. The software is beautiful, but its unlabeled controls are confusing. And Joost’s central organizing concept, “channels,” is also bewildering; although the shows play on demand, they’re also part of a lineup, and you’re often told that certain shows are “Coming Up”—although you can make your own channels, too.

Finally, there’s an awful lot of junk on Joost. Some of the shows are recognizable series from CBS, MTV, VH1, Paramount Pictures, CNN and Comedy Central, like “CSI” variations, “Kid Nation” and a lot of cartoons. But there’s also a lot of Web-video filler. The channels include Audi TV, Australian Food TV and the Circus Channel.

And then there are ones you’ve never heard of.

ABC ABC offers 17 of its most popular series online: “Dancing With the Stars,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Lost,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Ugly Betty” and so on. If you have a high-powered computer, you can even watch six of them in high definition, which looks sensational.

Each show has about four ad breaks, indicated by a tick mark on the show’s scroll bar. You must watch one ad before viewing any other segment of the show. Once you’ve paid those dues, you can freely jump around in the new segment, rewind and so on. Each show is sponsored by a single national advertiser, and the ads are often interactive. (ABC shows are also available at Over all, ABC really has its online act together.

CBS This network’s offerings include a generous 22 series, including “Survivor,” “Big Brother,” some episodes of “CSI,” “How I Met Your Mother” and a couple of soaps. There’s no whole-show scroll bar, so you can’t skip to the last section without slogging through the first, second and third.

CBS is also the most liberal distributor of shows on the Internet. You can find much the same stuff on iTunes, Joost, AOL and so on.

NBC An ad or two appears at the beginning of each episode, at the end and at the regular commercial breaks in the middle.

Unfortunately, the selection isn’t great. Only 13 series await, including “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Heroes,” although NBC says that more are coming. And you can’t shrink the NBC player’s window down and park it in a corner of your screen so you can watch while you crunch numbers, as you can with its rivals.

FOX Fox’s effort is labeled “beta,” and it shows; I ran into glitches on both Mac and Windows computers. Still, everything plays fine: the most recent three episodes each of “The Simpsons,” “24” and 13 other shows are here. Fox uses the same tick-mark scroll bar as ABC. But an ad also appears before the show, and ads appear in the browser window beside the “TV screen.”

Speaking of NBC and Fox: stay tuned for When it opens later this month, it will offer full episodes from these networks and others.

Over all, it’s great to see the arrival of online TV episodes that are crisp, clear, current, legal and free. But there are three reasons this development may not make much difference in the big picture.

First, the selection is puny. Each network offers only a fraction of its list, and for a window of only a few weeks. As long as the networks refuse to offer a better-stocked catalog — and a more permanent one — the world will flock to any service that does, like BitTorrent.

Second, you can’t download shows; you can only watch them streamed in real time. You can’t save them, put them on your iPod or burn them to DVD. (There’s hope on this point, however: this month, NBC will begin testing free episodes that you can download to your laptop to watch within a week.)

Finally — and this is the big one — almost nobody wants to watch TV on a computer screen.

Oh, sure, there are various wired and wireless ways to get the computer’s image onto your TV in the living room. But they’re clumsy, expensive and, for most people, not worth the bother. After all these years of pundits assuring us that the TV and the Internet would one day merge, it still hasn’t happened.

In other words, free online episodes are a reasonable attempt by the TV networks to avoid being swamped by the Internet. But will it be enough to keep TV’s head above water? That chapter has yet to be written.

Source: New York Times