I was watching The Best of Top Gear the Sunday before last (a good alternative while awaiting a new series) and one of my favourite features was on. To put it simply, the presenters were doing a series of challenges, starting with buying a Porsche on a budget of £1500. They then had to drive it to Brighton (70 miles away), with points deducted for having to stop and open the bonnet (the cars weren’t in the best shape). The challenges then moved on to: spending whatever remained of the £1500 on improving the car, recording a lap time on a race track, the longest number 11 (wheel spin tyre tracks), getting responses to a personals ad featuring the car and finally, selling the car for as much money as possible.
It got me thinking that this sort of thing could easily be done online by ordinary people. Digital camcorders which offer good picture quality are now very affordable, home PCs are more than capable of capturing and editing these movies and then outputting them into a usable format, even bandwidth and web space have become cheap enough to mean anyone can afford to put it online. The rise of the online TV station must be imminent, and I’m not just talking about crappy digital channels designed purely to make money, or rip-offs of QVC. I think that ordinary people such as you and I will be producing content to stream or download, some may even get to daily or weekly shows. Something similar has been happening in the States for a while through public access TV, but the web can allow greater access to more people.
Robert Cringely wrote an article saying that Apple’s iTunes was allowing small and new bands to bypass the music industry and start selling straight to music lovers. Obviously the bands have had that option for a while simply by getting a website, but getting noticed in the sea of information floating around the net takes some doing, iTunes popularity opens many more doors and takes care of the technology. The TV feeds may need some sort of central hub, somewhere people can go to search all the available sites out there (there may be programs/TV channels already out there, but I’ve never heard of them). John Cleese has recently started offering shows from his own website, stating that it means he doesn’t have to work for other people. I think this could be another example of producers and consumers interacting directly, skipping the deliveryman (a.k.a. the TV companies).
It would be pretty easy and relatively inexpensive to make a show/series similar to the feature I mentioned above. A few friends with some knowledge of cars could happily make a similar style series (each task a separate video) and make it interactive with the site visitors (e.g. a poll for which car looks the best, etc). (They did another feature last night where one of them raced the other two to a town in Switzerland, he in a Ferarri, they using a plane and public transport, this is another feature that could be replicated easily and cheaply) Obviously TV presenters do make a difference, programs by boring people probably won’t work, unless the rest of the content is gripping (Jeremy Clarkson left Top Gear a few seasons back and while I persevered for a while, I eventually got bored and voted with my feet, as did many others. None of the alternative presenters made it to the new look series). Things like Our Trip to Spain probably wouldn’t go down particularly well, unless you attack it more as a tour guide, but things like How to Make a Battlebot from Ordinary DIY Parts, Building and Racing a Hairdryer-Powered Scooter and How to Make a Three Course Meal for Four People for $5 would probably be pretty good fun to watch. Find the right topic and someone who is engaging to watch and I think it would work. Hell, there must even be a market for Steve’s Guide to Model Railways or Edna’s Sowing Tips. Not all of it is going to be worth your time, and not all the ‘channels’ would survive, but people would vote with their feet and those that were good enough would survive and maybe even make long term series. You could even become your own full-blown channel by having a group of people (not necessarily friends) producing shows, maybe someone acting as a programme director, and transmitting the shows in set timeslots. I could also see activist groups using it as a medium to produce documentaries on their chosen topic too. It’s a relatively inexpensive, high impact format.
None of these shows would have the same production value of professionally produced content, but they could be more timely, more diverse and give ordinary people a real voice. The amount of effort involved to make any video is much higher than that of, for example, publishing a blog, and this will limit the field, but I’m looking forward to some crazy people doing some interesting things.