Desktop Video – Not Yet… Maybe Not Ever

I was reading an entry from Aaron Barhardt’s blog TVBarn. Aaron is the TV critic from the Kansas City Star, though his influence and insight are more than you would expect from a market that size.

What Wired doesn’t seem to get is that the ability for people to produce high-quality video at home for little money will mean they won’t have to live in media capitals like New York, L.A. or Vancouver, where their outlooks are shaped, inevitably, by the cultures of those two media- and creative-saturated communities. And by creative I mean “creative.”

That fit in nicely with an off-the-cuff remark from my boss that, one day, something like Rocketboom might replace today’s ‘big media’.1

It’s certainly possible, but I think a lot of people who fondly look forward to the new golden age of simple and fast video miss the point that even with most of the cost and bother removed (and, make no mistake, most of the cost and bother of video production has already been removed), it is still time consuming while demanding creativity and organization.

Desktop video production has become cheap, but only if you place no value on your time!

A few weeks ago I got together with a group to make a short film for a contest. We all volunteered, but we weren’t all neophytes. Four of the principal players work in the media. Our talented, but game, support crew had almost no experience.

If I were a professional producer, looking to make this movie as a commercial project, this Saturday afternoon’s work would have cost thousands! And, to be honest, there was still a lot of unfinished work between what we did and something people would actually watch. There would have been more cost in polishing what we did.

Don’t count the big media out yet. We may be slower because of our size, but it is easier for us to re-purpose already existing material, or slice and dice what we have to produce additional material, than it is for someone in Kansas City to put together watchable video. We have economies of scale.

That’s not to say some mom and pop producers will succeed. They will. But, most of them won’t and most of what will be produced will be unwatchable or barely watchable. Take a look at the well meaning people who produce on your local public acess channel on cable.

The reason there’s so much garbage on TV isn’t because producers aren’t trying hard enough to produce better stuff. It’s because producing good TV is very difficult, time consuming and demanding of talent. Having 200 or 300 or 1,000 channels makes it much more difficult to aggregate that talent in one place.

1I consider my little TV station to be big media, so you can see the line for ‘big’ isn’t drawn too critically to size. Maybe instead of big, I should say conventionally structured.

Anything’s possible

Late last week, my friend Harold told me he was taking this week off and that if I took a day off, we’d go to “The City” (Since I was a little child “The City” meant Manhattan which was treated differently than other parts of New York City).

Fine. I asked for, and received, Tuesday off.

But, what to do in The City? We talked about The Lower East Side (I am a knockoff watch whore and am looking for a new faux Breitling), getting tickets at TKTS and seeing a Broadway show, the Ansel Adams exhibit at MOMA and going to see David Letterman.

I have been a Letterman fan since the first time I saw him on The Tonight Show. When his late show began on NBC, I got on my knees and begged our program director at WGRZ in Buffalo to run it (which she eventually did).

Click to see the inscription from Dave

Around 20 years ago, Helaine and I went and saw a taping at 30 Rock. A friend who worked at NBC at the time got us into the studio early, where we shmoozed with Biff Henderson.

Letterman came out before the show and walked into the audience, looking for questions. Being right in front, we were tough to avoid. He called on Helaine and then answered her question, “What kind of makeup do you wear? My fiancee is on TV and his doesn’t look as good.”

When the show started, he made reference to the question and asked me what station I was on. Andrea Martin was on the show, but I don’t remember much more.

Of course, Letterman tickets are tough to come by, especially in the summer when his target audience is … at will, so to speak. So, I emailed my friend Mel at CBS. “They hate us,” he replied, making no bones about the Letterman staff’s relationship with the rest of CBS.

Next, an email to Aaron Barnhart at the Kansas City Star and Aaron has been a Letterman fan forever, and I figured he was connected. Anyway, I had just done a favor for him, so he was into me.

No pull.

But, Aaron suggested I go to the CBS website and put myself on the standby list. What the hell? It was late, the dog was chowing down, I had nothing better to do.

This afternoon the message appeared on my cellphone. Mitch at Late Night was calling, telling me they had a cancellation and I was invited. Assured seats, no standby. How cool is this?

All I had to do was answer a trivia question to establish my Letterman bonafides. First, how often did I watch? I told him 2-3 times a week (any more and too much Dave starts sneaking into my performance). My question, “Who is Alan Kalter?”

Damn! Alex, I’ll take staff announcers for $500.

So, Harold arrives at 10:00am. We”ll drive to Stamford and catch Metro North to Grand Central. And, we’re going to see Letterman.