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October 19, 2005

"Show" or Tell: Where's the Themed Content?

At the Converge South conference a couple of weeks ago, Amanda Congdon from Rocketbook delivered a presentation entitled "Themed Content for Videoblogs." Introducing her topic, she said "I'm dying for shows!"

What does she mean? I think she's talking about what a number of vlog-watchers are talking about. I hear this cropping up in online discussions and video conferences. And I confess, sometimes I'm the one bringing it up. My echo of Congdon's question, "Where are the shows?" usually comes after I try to explain to my friends why videoblogs are so great.

The conversations often go like this:

Me: Wow I watched more than 15 videoblogs last night.
Friend: Really? What were they about?
Me: Uuhhh...

Or sometimes, if I'm feeling ambitious, like this:

Friend: So what are all those video thingers you watch about?
Me: Well, see, in this one, this person sort of just talks about her life, like what she thinks about how many choices of shampoo are at the store, and she'll take her camera to the store and shoot herself talking about it.
Friend: You mean it's a show about shampoo?
Me: No, she talks about whatever's on her mind, it's different all the time.
Friend: You're kidding, right?

Some videobloggers don't want to discuss this subject. They hear a call for "shows" as a call for old, dead media. They see vlogs as a wholly unique and personal expression of free speech that should not be shackled with the conventional expectations of old media. "Hey man, I'm the media now, back off! You don't like it, then don't watch!"

The question at hand is, why are so many (the majority by my estimation) videoblogs not about any single thing or set of things? Or as wikipedia characterizes them, "personal?" They don't seem to have a theme or focus. They can't quite be described as being "about" something. (This includes my own vlog). In other words, they're not shows.

I concede that the folks who don't want them to be shows (for lack of a more imaginative term I'll call these good people "vlogging purists" in this post) make a compelling argument. It goes something like the following...

Videoblogging at its core is about The New Way. A new way of making media. A new way of distributing media. New paradigms, new approaches, new rules -- scratch that: no rules! We needn't limit our new selves with old expectations, which were created by our old nemesis, TV.

The categorization of "shows" by genre, subject, and content is mostly the result of generations of marketing and advertising trend-setting. Slicing communities into demographics, pigeonholing individuals as consumers, and creating expectations based on the dominating agenda: to sell us all something.

The purist argument insists that we don't want to be sold to anymore, and I happen to agree (mostly). So now this raises a fascinating question that the purists deserve an answer to: if there were no money at stake, what would media look like?

For the sake of fairness and simple intellectual curiosity, the vlogging purists deserve the space to find out what happens to media when the corporate interests (such as "audience size and attention span") no longer dominate.

If you don't have to maintain a Nielsen rating, if you won't lose your job when viewers get bored during sweeps, if you don't need to wrap it all up in 22 minutes between commercials and before the Seinfeld reruns come on -- if you don't have to worry about any of that, then why not shampoo?

Discovering this radical concept of newness is an organic process, and will take time. Old habits need to be examined, debunked, and discarded. New ways of framing content need the freedom to emerge over time. Not to put too fine a point on it: NO SHOWS!

This is an idea that does have appeal, and it has the potential of producing new genres and ways of seeing the world. In the meantime, I enjoy watching people work this out. It's not always Shakespeare, but it's something new and interesting and it should be allowed room to breathe.

But then what is there for Amanda Congdon, who still wants shows, but not the old kind of shows, she wants shows made by new creators for new audiences from a new point of view. She does, after all, participate in making one of her own.

Where are the vlogged sitcoms? Where is the vlogged murder mystery? It doesn't have to slavishly immitate Hollywood. In fact it would be better if it didn't, I'm ready for something subversive like The Blair Witch Vlog.

The podcasters seemed to figure this out fairly early on. Podcasting's infancy spawned "soundseeing tours" of the walk to the train station ("Now I'm walking past a fire hydrant.") I like these personal podcasts and I'm glad they're still around.

But it didn't seem long before the majority of the podcasters declared, "I'm passionate about something, I'm totally into macrame, I'm going to make a great Macracast!"

Is it somehow harder to do this with video? Is there something unique about spoken language, as opposed to moving images, that tends toward themed content?

I'm aware that there are some videoblogs that are more thematic. Rocketboom is an exercise in programmed content, even though they will often break the programming if the fancy strikes them. We can count on Minnesota Stories meeting a certain loosely held set of expectations. The Steve and Carol Show, while undeniably "personal," is still indeed mostly about Steve and Carol. Vlogs are not universally random rambles.

I'm simply wondering how and where more structure and production programming will appear.

And most importantly for the vlogging community, is there room for both approaches? Will the people who eventually create weekly installments of "Desperate Vlogwives" do so without trashing the Shampoocast? And will the vlogging purists understand that experiments in structured programming represent an expansion of territory, not a betrayal of principle?

Most conversations I have about this with other vloggers end with the un-profound yet nevertheless probably true: "Time will tell."

Comments on ""Show" or Tell: Where's the Themed Content?"


Blogger chris weagel said ... (Sunday, October 23, 2005 1:38:00 PM) : 

let me forgo humility.

this is what we've been doing at human dog for quite a while.

some of the content is more "vloggy" (which is a stupid term) and some of it more themed.
Something important though, the laboratory videos ARE themed just as much as say, the Summer of V videos are. Just not in the same way.

Summer of V is a comedy series about a fat man named V. The lab's theme is MY personal investigations and thoughts.
Much like a lot of vloggers work.

part of the problem that many people who vlog have with "THEMED CONTENT", even people like me who make a good deal of it, is that MANY MANY MANY of people who will being making it, or have made it, have done little to distinguish themselves from the same tired dreck and shit already on TV and elsewhere.

It doesn't mean that no good can come from working in themed content, I should know.
but in all likelihood, a lot of it will be the same shit as before delivered over RSS. fine. I won't be watching.

I don't think a lot of what occured in podcasterland is good. It's basically slavish imitation of radio and specifically adam curry's show.
This isn't some law, as someone making a podcast can choose to make whatever the hell they want.
Many, though, have chosen this route.

Same with vlogs. And therin lies the concern. Most people will choose to make shit that looks and sounds like a lot of the shit that already exists.

Some won't. Some will try new things. But the attention and popularity -- and thus a potential for sustainability-- will in large part be determined by how closely people adhere to these predetermined modes of content.
I base that conclusion on what has happened with all the popularity and celebrity bullshit of the podcasters.

I hope I'm wrong, and to a good degree, as demonstrated by many-- works like yours for instance-- I'm being proven wrong.

And to Ms. Congdon, I'd recommend that there is a great deal of themed content already being produced, one just has to look for it.


Blogger Dave H. said ... (Tuesday, October 25, 2005 12:26:00 AM) : 

Chris, thanks for an excellent and thought-provoking comment post.

I appreciate you stopping by and joining me in the yakkity. I think your post deserves to be read, particularly in response to my post calling for themed shows. I hope people do.

One thing I would say about your fear that much (do you think "most?") of the "themed shows" we may see from vloggers will imitate the crap we see on TV:

I hope you're referring to the content of the programming, rather than the format.

While I agree format can be restricting, especially if it is structured simply to imitate TV and not for any functional purpose, just because a show is structured in 3 acts with opening and closing credits doesn't mean it is junk simply because the form is familiar to what we see on TV.

Likewise with other formats, like "talkshow format," "news report format," "variety comedy format," etc.

It's the content of TV I find so tedious and brain-numbing (lowest-donominator pandering for viewers, corporate dominance of information flow, predictable and vapid plots and story constraints, perpetuation of negative cultural trends and stereotypes, etc.). The "show format" shouldn't scare us away if the content it frames is innovative, authentic, guileless, beautiful, hilarious, or challenging. I don't hear you explicitly saying otherwise, but i thought i would throw in my cents for the heckuvit.

And I take your point about themes emerging over time from a point of view. Your Human-Dog experiments aren't really "about" anything specific, unless you say they are "about" Chris Weagel's interesting storytelling mind and point of view.

In that light the content definitely has a theme, and a welcome one at that.

Thanks again for your comments.


Blogger jadelr said ... (Sunday, November 13, 2005 7:24:00 AM) : 

we are doing a daily show...


Anonymous Matthew J said ... (Saturday, July 01, 2006 4:41:00 AM) : 

Everyone needs to do there own thing, and for some, that leads them to shows. Amanda wanted shows, so she did one. Some people don't want shows, so they just vlog whatever they feel like for that day. I guess some people hear Amanda call for shows and think she is telling people to stop personal vlogging and make shows. Not the case. I want there to be both. There needs to be both. The vlogging purists will help us remember why we vlog in the first place and vlogging experimenters will help push the limits.

As a side promotion, in addition to doing my personal vlogs, I sometimes do a themed show, my Glass Bottle Beverages. I sample a glass bottle soda and comment on tastes, smells, and other comments. I like doing both. It suits me. Cheers.


Blogger Mark Forman said ... (Friday, December 21, 2007 7:09:00 PM) : 

Gotta love these Webs-your post lives on and ringing with truth and passion in my ears. I so agree and will share with other vlogger/blogger/podcaster friends. Being true to self so important-only thing that matters really. Otherwise perform and get paid for it. Having said that if you can be true to yourself and get paid for it-wow, you're king of the heap.


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