Taking a disruptive path with video

OK GoLucas Grindley doesn’t like the Roanoke TimesCast very much. Regular readers know I do. Yesterday, I even gave it an award (which prompted Mr. Grindley’s response).

Lucas says:

For me, the TimesCast is an elaborate teaser fest. It’s a lot of effort to repackage the day’s news with what should be witty repartee. Except, it’s rarely witty. So what’s left is a nice looking, and superficial, video project.

For me, TimesCast isn’t funny or even witty. It’s goofy. Every time I pop over, usually just to link to it because I’m blogging about it, I get caught up watching it. It’s engaging. I can’t help myself. It has authentic personality. It is what works on the web. It is what people on the web seem to be saying they want.

Lucas makes a salient point in his comments:

But are lots of people watching the TimesCast every day?

Regardless of what I might think or the awards might say, if the section gets mounds of traffic, then that determines its success.

That is the most important question, and I would love for somebody from Roanoke to jump on one of our blogs and be completely transparent about TimesCast viewership. That would be a valuable service to those of us working hard to build great newspaper.com sites (BTW: I think Lucas is very much one of those people. I’ve only been reading his blog a few weeks, but he’s obviously one of the white hats in our industry, even though we disagree on TimesCast).

I think our disagreement is somewhat related to the Flash vs. Video debate of a couple of weeks ago. Since it’s my blog, I get to frame the debate a little bit (kind of hard not to do if I’m going to write about it), and how I see it is an argument over the definition of quality, and an argument over whether we respond to the audience or make some sort of journalistic ideal of quality paramount to what people seem to respond to.

One premise I must begin with, and regular readers probably already know this, is that my position in this debate is very much filtered through Clayton Christensen’s work (Innovator’s Dilemma and Innovator’s Solution). I define disruption and “jobs to do” along those lines.

I’ve also gotten over any Church of Journalism attitudes I used to have about giving people the castor oil they need rather than the candy they want. Castor oil only worked when people’s choices were limited. In the good old days, we could force people to buy a bunch of stuff they didn’t want because there was at least one thing in the newspaper they did want. Now, people have infinite choices, and more and more people are waking up to the power of those choices. If it means being a little less well informed, well, so be it. They would rather control their own relationship with media (see also, The Long Tail).

To paraphrase Dr. Phil: Would you rather be right, or would you rather have a relationship with your audience?

Where is the audience going? It’s not going toward quality, that’s for sure.

A lot of media people seem to totally misunderstand YouTube. They think that without the copyrighted material of big media, YouTube would have no audience. The only people I can imagine believing that are people who haven’t spent a lot of time on YouTube.

Take a look at the all-time most viewed YouTube videos. There isn’t a lot of ripped-from-TV video there. There are a couple of mash ups, such as this clip of two Israeli girls lipsynching to a Pixies song, which some would argue isn’t real user-generated content because it’s built on the backs of pros. I think that misses the point. People haven’t watched this video 11 million times because it’s just a fabulous song (which it is). The sisters are the stars here. And while the video is well cut, it isn’t exactly ready-for-MTV fare. It’s amateurish and goofy, but it is also engaging and full of personality. It’s authentic. Here’s a video of girls dancing that isn’t nearly as well done, but has been viewed more than seven million times. You can’t argue that the interest in these two videos is purient, because they don’t really show a lot. Besides, the most popular video is of a guy dancing. It’s now gotten more than 36 million views. On any given day lately, the ripped-from-TV stuff is quite popular (thanks largely to YouTube’s new partnership with CBS), but amateur video continues to draw in viewers. The most popular video of the past month is of a baby laughing (5.7 million views). If very smart marketers, such as Nike, can get it and produce hand-held videos (eight million views) for YouTube, why can’t newspapers learn a lesson and do something like TimesCast or what Bakersfield and IndyStar are doing with video?

This is disruption, people. This is building Toyota Corollas in the hope that some day you’ll be making a Lexus, even though tomorrow’s video Lexus may not necessarily look like today’s TV. We don’t know what the future holds, but we won’t be able to compete in the future if we aren’t building Corollas today.
Disruption is about coming in at the low end, being quick, nimble and good enough. Quality is fine — be as good as you can be — but don’t spend so much time perfecting your production that you are slow to post, or you post less than you should.

Also, don’t miss the importance of being authentic and full of personality. That’s something TimesCast gets, and why I like it so much. TimesCast was almost certainly inspired by RocketBoom and the examples set by YouTube. People obviously want a sense that they’re dealing with real people. Look at the soaring popularity of American Idol as a big media example. Blogging’s continuing boom (does anybody still believe it’s just a fad?) is another example. Or consider OK Go, who’s recent success can be attributed to its intelligent use of inexpensive video production and YouTube. If you haven’t seen it, watch The Treadmill Video, or “A Million Ways,” the video that started it all for OK Go (probably the most imitated video on YouTube). Here is a band with big-label backing using very disruptive techniques to sell records and build relationships with fans. Investigate, newspaper people, and learn.

The web isn’t television, nor is it newspapers. We make a mistake if we try to apply the standards of either world to web publishing.

The lessons of disruption: Start at the low end, be good enough, be nimble (learn from your customers/audience/people — what are the jobs they’re trying to get done?). That is the approach, I think, newspapers should take with video.

(OK Go! Photo by David L. Coen)

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  • http://www.collegemediainnovation.org/blog Bryan Murley

    Amen to all that. I suspect it’s going to be a hard lesson to learn, and may take a generational shift and a few more quarters of readership declines before that type of attitude sinks in.

  • http://www.lucasgrindley.com Lucas Grindley

    I don’t really question the idea behind the TimesCast. More, I question the execution by its talent. Sorry, gang.

    The idea is to tease folks into the real news by letting them know about stories in an entertaining way. I’m all for that.

    Roanoke has designed a great player that does the job. The video is well done.

    I’m just not all that entertained. Apparently, Howard is. So maybe there are enough Howards to justify continuing the TimesCast just the way it is.

    But it seems even Howard’s argument implies that the TimesCast is only “good enough,” not really good.

    Wonder what Howard would improve, if he had three wishes.

  • http://nostankyou.com Snake

    Even if the TimesCast gets just 10 viewers today. I may get 11 tomorrow and then 100 next month, then 1000.

    I just hope they keep going once the newness and the fun wears off. It’s kinda like writing a column – the first bunch are easy, but it keeps getting harder and harder to face that chore.

    Who will keep it fresh? And by that I don’t mean who will keep it “goofy.”

    You know who does a great job day after day, week after week? Its Kevin and Olivia on Attack of the Show. http://g4tv.com/aots

    They are intelligent, they know what they are talking about, they are playful, sometimes crude, but they are having fun.

    I think having two hosts is essential to keeping a newscast fresh – imagine if the TimesCast people could play off each other – ad libbing – their clip intros.

    It will be interesting to see how the TimesCast evolves. For now, I think they have a great idea.
    I would much rather watch them, than the slick chick at NaplesNews.com.

    I agree with your summation. Newspapers need to get some video – any video – online ASAP.

    BTW: How do you feel about video created by non-profits that usually appear on the cable channels?
    Like this: http://www.thenewsenterprise.com/content/current/video/videos/communityvideo.html
    I doubt that anyone would watch 15 minutes, but I wonder if they repackaged the United Way Cafe to a two or three minute deal?

  • http://www.nlbelardes.com n.l. belardes

    Keep writing about this topic. With every angle you approach, more people will see the wisdom of what you’re saying.

    On a side note: I once saw the Pixies perform with the Sugarcubes and U2. It was the greatest bill I’ve ever seen.

  • http://tojou.blogspot.com/ Mindy McAdams

    Seth has already been “completely transparent about TimesCast viewership” — read this blog post about it.

  • http://www.howardowens.com/ Howard Owens

    Lucas, not to be disrespectful, but I suspect that your comment about “good enough” implies that you don’t understand the definition of “good enough.”
    The only thing I can suggest is read Christensen.

    Of course there’s room for improvement — isn’t there always? Not to insult the current talent on the show, but better talent would be start. Next, better writing, so that the comedy is funny, and three … I don’t think I have a third, one of the very important things they do that would be part of a production I might do is promote other stuff.

    Snake, I’ll circle back and look at your links.

    Thanks, Nick. And thanks for the reminder about the Seth interview, Mindy. I wonder if Seth has an update?

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