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It was all so amateurish, in a good way

Mark 2006 as the year of the grainy shot, the cheesy premise and the rise of Net-tainment.

January 07, 2007|Richard Rushfield | Times Staff Writer

THIS week's Web Scout was to start '07 with an atomic bang: a column detailing the swirling intrigue and recrimination surrounding New Media's highest-profile divorce (stay tuned). However, as deadline approached, it became clear that the tangle of allegations required more investigative spadework than time allowed, and so I fell shamelessly back on the oldest, most reliable of saws in the column writer's toolbox: Predictions 2007.

Fortunately, turning to the question of "Where the heck are these Internets going?," it became evident that I had stumbled into a blessedly volatile and uncertain subject.

Online 2006 was the year of Lonelygirl, exploding Diet Coke bottles and yawning kitten videos. The world spent its days at the office mesmerized by the site of anything weird, quirky, cute or aggressively obnoxious that could be documented by a very cheap video camera. Trooping across our laptops was a parade of human oddities and low-cost stunts unearthed in the darkest reaches of YouTube and forwarded by friends equally desperate to avoid work.

And as the carnival grew, it became the year when the amateurs attempted to turn pro; the portals were crowded with video bloggers (real, fictional, meta, or some hybrid of all) attempting to become the Jack Parr, Jay Leno, Jack Kerouac or "Law & Order" of the online world.

But now, with the commercial possibilities of online entertainment out of the box, the looming question is: Are the major producers (the networks, studios, Jerry Bruckheimer) going to continue to cede this space to amateurs, or will 2007 be the turning point, the year the Internet becomes a mere colony of Big Entertainment?

Will we, two years hence, look back at the 2006 fantasia as a quaint prenatal stage before professionalized people figured out how to really give us what we want? Or will the future hold merely an arms race, as webcam kids attempt to push the medium to ever-increasing heights of spectacle? Can these heroes of the New Age compete with Big Entertainment once it enters the fray -- or perhaps the question to ask is, can Jerry Bruckheimer compete with yawning kittens, exploding soda bottles and teenage girls spilling their secrets?

What the experts foresee

I turned to some people who, unlike a mere finger-pointing journalist, might actually know something about these issues: a few of the Web savants and watchers whose eggs and bacon are gathered by knowing their way around the big issues of the future:

Steven Starr, chief executive of Revver, a video hosting-ad serving firm favored by many at the forefront of the new entertainers (including the Lonelygirl team and the Diet Coke-and-Mentos guys), replied to my desperate query in an e-mail. While acknowledging that the big boys are pouring in, Starr remains a cockeyed optimist about the ability of the little guys to retain their piece of the niche. He wrote of 2007, "We'll see majors jump in full force with branded content and marketing dollars, and the wily online creator community compete directly with twists on genre and format that can only happen online. LonelyGirl15, ZeFrank, AskANinja and others form the vanguard of a nascent art form quite distinct from radio, TV and film as we've known them. Expect lots of surprises and major talent emerging from the creative diaspora."

Jason Calacanis, co-founder of Weblogs Inc., a network of blogs purchased by AOL, and currently an "entrepreneur in action" at Sequoia Capital, sees the amateur-created space being co-opted by the majors this year. He wrote, "The thing that will change is that the major content producers will start making more Web-based videos. For example, there is no reason that 'SNL' couldn't do a daily news report. If they did it would be 1M viewers a day -- easily. In fact, that one spin out might make more money than 'SNL' does. That will be the big change: professional produced amateur content. Ironic huh? :-)" (Yes, he used an emoticon.)

Gregg Spiridellis, half of the JibJab partnership responsible for some of the Web's greatest, and most ingeniously produced, animated viral hits, including the massively circulated campaign '04 "This Land" video, wrote: "User generated content will continue to flood the Web in 2007 and, given the sheer volume of it, a few gems will emerge. However, it's clear that the traditional media companies are already making an impact. Today, 7 of the 10 most viewed videos on YouTube for the past month are network / studio content. I guess people can't get enough of Donald calling Rosie a fat pig! The big trend in 2007 will be the emergence of a new class of content -- not amateur and not overproduced studio fare -- but rather the product of talented creators with access to prosumer production equipment creating new formats of entertainment. At JibJab we're as focused on innovating storytelling for the medium as we are on the production and distribution technologies that make it all possible."

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