Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Public TV in Bite-Size Chunks

WYBE-TV in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is migrating from its conventional television schedule of public television programs to a Current TV-style mix of five-minute videos, according to a recent article at philly.com (the online arm of the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper).

If you're not familiar with the nationwide cable channel Current TV, check it out. Basically, Current encourages people to create their own short nonfiction videos and upload them to the Current website, where visitors to the website vote on the best videos. The "video essays" with the best scores end up being broadcast on the Current cable channel in rotation with other short pieces. Think "MTV fed by YouTube content" with a professional edge (and even magazines are flirting with this approach). Here's how Current describes themselves:
Since its inception in 2005, Emmy award-winning Current TV has been the world's leading peer-to-peer news and information network. Current is the only 24/7 cable and satellite television network and Internet site produced and programmed in collaboration with its audience. Current connects young adults with what is going on in their world, from their perspective, in their own voices.

With the launch of Current.com, the first fully integrated web and TV platform users can participate in shaping an ongoing stream of news and information that is compelling, authentic and relevant to them.

Current pioneered the television industry's leading model of interactive viewer created content (VC2). Comprising roughly one-third of Current's on-air broadcast, this content is submitted via short-form, non-fiction video "pods". Viewer Created Ad Messages (VCAMs) are also open to viewer's participation.

Current's programming ranges from daily pop culture coverage to political satire in "SuperNews," unprecedented music journalism in "The Current Fix," and unique insights into global stories through Vanguard and Citizen Journalism.

Current is now viewed in the U.S. and U.K. in more than 51 million households through distribution partners Comcast (Channel 107 nationwide), Time Warner (nationwide), DirecTV (channel 366 nationwide), Dish Network (channel 196 nationwide), Sky (channel 193) and Virgin Media Cable (channel 155).
-current.com, May 27, 2008

Which brings us back to WYBE's new direction. Now, instead of dedicating large chunks of their television (and webcast) time to long-form programming (in a redefinition of long-form to mean "longer than 5 - 15 minutes"), WYBE is implementing a way to broadcast 5-minute-long videos created by the community, independent producers, other organizations, and WYBE itself. What sets it apart from Current is how WYBE is concentrating on its local Philadelpha audience and wrapping these "short-form bites" around other traditional public television programming (such as PBS shows and other distributed programs).

"The new model is risky for WYBE," but appealing to viewers raised on iPods and YouTube, [Sylvia] Strobel added. If it works, "I expect it will be adopted by public television stations across the country."

The early version of the new lineup - available at www.mindtv.org, a Web site for the station's nonprofit parent, Independence Public Media of Philadelphia Inc. - is a grab-bag of museum-exhibit tours and Christian rappers, tattooed performance artists, and a green-building primer by local corporate landlord Liberty Property Trust.

These programs supplement, and will partly replace, WYBE's current broadcast lineup of PBS, foreign and locally produced programs, though some of the most popular - including BBC news reports and Korean soap operas - will continue. WYBE says its audience is too small to measure through Nielsen's and other rating services; it estimates the highest-rated shows draw a few thousand viewers.

Once the station has collected enough five-minute segments, Blumenthal says, a majority of WYBE's current programming, including local music and documentary and travel shows, will end or migrate into five-minute segments.

The station is aiming for a marriage of the often-frustrated community-TV ideal of locally produced original programming and the convenience and short-attention-span exuberance of free digital media-on-demand.

"We want people who are new to media-making to feel comfortable making a five-minute program to start out," said WYBE project manager Kimberly Kunda.
-Philly Now, April 28, 2008

Will this short-video focus lead to schedule (and attention) fragmentation, or will it make the variety of information easier to digest? Here's what Howard Blumenthal, CEO of Mind (short for "Media INDependence") TV, said on his blog:

About fifteen years ago, I started wondering why there was no Sesame Street for grown-ups: a safe place to learn, a television format filled with all sorts of ideas.

In the pre-YouTube, pre-Current TV era of 2005, Philadelphia’s independent public TV station, WYBE, was in search of a new business model. We began to research the potential of short-form programs, the wisdom of viewer-generated content, and the potential of combining television with the internet.

So what, exactly, are we doing? Locally and globally, we’re using television and media as a way to share ideas, to learn from one another, and to make the world a better place.

Time will tell how well WYBE fares with their revolutionary approach: focusing on the community by using content created by its consumers. The length of time to tell that story, however, may be a five-minute video -- with more viewers and more community impact than a traditional hour-long show.

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