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One of the most interesting things about Internet TV is that it isn't bound by old-fashioned TV formulas of time or frequency or repetition, or by the astronomical economics of modern TV production. The founders of the megapopular site (about megapopular Web items), Digg recently started a new company called Revision3 and tapped former PC Magazine chief Jim Louderback to head it up. The company drummed up almost $9 million in VC funding, and is now at about 30 employees. I visited with Revision3 last September, shortly after they hired Louderback, in its Spartan warehouse building in the back channel of South San Francisco. When I visited again recently, the place had transformed--back in September, its studios were just about to undergo construction. It was a huge white, empty room come to life only in Louderback's head (and probably some architectural blueprints). Now, it's a full-on studio, with a greenroom, a set construction facility, and an eclectic series of show sets and a sound-proof control room. The company spent about $500,000 to build the studios, Louderback said.
These guys have come up with their own original programming ideas, mostly around the world of technology but branching beyond that very quickly. Shows include cult hits like "Diggnation" (with Digg founder Kevin Rose and Alex Albrecht drinking 40-ounce beers and waxing on the top topics on Digg), "Internet Superstar" (with Martin Sargent and his sidekick character talking to various and semifamous Internet mavens), and "Techzilla" (a dive into technology, products, and tips). All of these shows are edgy and different and irreverent.
These shows are, to use Louderback's words, "as long as they need to be." Users, he said, sometimes want quick-hit programs; sometimes they like to feel part of a community of viewers and on-air talent, and "hang out" for a while watching. Revision3's shows can run up to 20 minutes or longer, and Louderback said that people do indeed hang on till the end. One of the more popular shows, "Diggnation," gets about 250,000 viewers per episode.
People watch Internet TV from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. (this is the longer-form, chilling-out stuff), Louderback said, but now people are tuning in on their lunch hour at work (from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., generally). And among 18- to 30-year-old men, Friday and Saturday nights from midnight until the wee hours of the morning doing ... well, let's just leave it to speculation.
Louderback pointed to things like TiVo that have released us from time constraints, but even for that, you still have to be in your living room. That won't go away, he said, but the Web is ushering in a new broadcast experience, one that is more authentic and social, one where there might be only a couple hundred thousand people "just hanging out."
(click to view video interview with Revision3 CEO, Jim Louderback)
All of this is pushing broadcasters to rethink what matters. Take the recent Masters Tournament, Louderback pointed out, where CBS set up some cameras at the Amen Corner, and you could watch the golfers play that spot on Thursday and Friday ... this is "different than a produced event." It's OK, he said, to reach smaller and smaller groups of people.
This is possible because on the Web, the economics are completely different. A scripted show like Lost costs about $2 million per hour to produce, Louderback pointed out. A nonscripted show like MythBusters is about $300,000 per hour. The shows that Revision3 does cost roughly $30,000. As you might imagine, this puts development into far more hands, and causes the major entertainment companies a few sleepless nights.
Photo illustrations by Sek Leung