The Unavoidable Future of Entertainment

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Anyone interested in the future of television, or more accurately, the post televisual future of web distributed original video content, would do well to check out Channel 101. We’ve reviewed the site before on Technolotics, but I think its worthy of a more in depth look, as it seems to be currently flying under the radar.

While sites like Youtube and Guba, may or may not have a future primarily as redistributors of broadcast content, they’ve done little to foster the creation of original work. In fact, by restricting the length and size of files which can be uploaded (ostensibly to reduce copyright infringement), YouTube have diminished their chances of becoming a hotbed of original content. Google video, although bravely eschewing any restrictions on the length of uploaded content (whilst foolishly restricting video quality to an extremely low bit rate), does little to foster the community creation or pooling of talent needed to inspire the development of original shows and films. Note, it’s far from clear that it was ever Google’s intention to become a generator of new IP, so Google Video shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a failure – however, judging from the inability of Orkut to develop beyond a cookie cutter (and rather primitive) social network, it’s not certain that Google ‘gets’ web2.0.
Finally, Apple’s iTunes store, whilst encouraging the success of individual (usually pre-existing) IPTV shows like Diggnation, TWIT, and Tikibar TV, has and will continue to see itself primarily as a marketplace for network television in portable (DRM’d Mpeg4) formats.

To Channel 101. What is it, and what makes it important? 101 is far from your everyday nascent net-tv channel. Despite the name, the site is primarily the web distribution element of a monthly LA film festival, where participants primarily from LA (though the contest is open to anyone), of greatly varying talent and experience, submit brief (5 minute max) pilots, the best of which are selected to compete by the sites founders, and subsequently killed or given life as returning shows, according to the whims of a live audience. Audiences selected pilots are then titled ‘Prime Time’ shows, and return to compete again. Here’s how the sites creators explain the process. The system is entirely democratic, as even initially rejected pilots can be submitted to the festival (with the likelihood of audience derision), should the creator chose to call ‘a Chauncey’. The clincher is, all videos that make it to the festival are subsequently made available to download, with full RSS support – so unpopular pilots and cancelled shows can have a second life as downloadable hits.

It’s not so much that Channel 101’s show are good – as with broadcast television the majority are unwatchable – but the format provides an incentive in terms of exposure, creative cross pollination, and the excitement and pressure of a live event, for the creation of top quality shows; and top quality is the only description for some of Channel 101’s most successful offerings. Shows like the hilariously deadpan, and subliminally confrontational ‘House of Cosbys‘, or the disturbing and original fusion of CG animation and pantomime that make up ‘Twiggers Holiday‘; are original and brave in a way that network television (either side of the Atlantic) hasn’t been since David Lynch’s eponymous ‘Twin Peaks‘ back in 1991. The channel has attracted some major talent (see below), and helped foster a couple of interesting careers – Rob Schrab, the writter and star of ‘Twigger’s Holiday’ (and a co-founder of Channel 101), has gone on to co-write ‘Monster House‘ the latest Robert Zemekis produced potential summer blockbuster.

I’m not suggesting Channel 101 itself will ever be a major player in internet video creation (although I wouldn’t rule such success out), or that it’s model will become typical, but it certainly represents one methodology with creative, and perhaps as importantly, financial potential. The site currently subsists on Merchandise and DVD sales, but could easily be modified to a subscription first model (ala the delayed public release of Revision 3‘s Diggnation), , or to include advertising. My hunch is that something like 101 is big enough to keep its creative momentum going, while in the long run vidcast / vodcast / IPTV shows without an affiliation will disappear due to view / creator apathy, and the low signal to noise ratio of casual YouTube and Google Video style services.

Channel 101 Points of Note:

1) Intersects with real world creative and audience community
2) Each show is an actual vidcast – with RSS feed and iTunes listing
3) 100% original IP
4) Regularly scheduled content updates
5) Not Web 2.0 – Not a community driven web presence in the traditional sense
6) Blurs the line between short films, and regular series
7) Shows are freely distributed – but not under a creative commons or similar licence.

Channel 101 Highlights:

* House of Cosbys (hosted offsite since Cosby lawsuit)
* Chad Vader
* Twiggers Holiday

Celebrity Appearances:

* Drew Carey
* Jack Black
* Sarah Silverman
* Jimmy Kimmel (I hear he’s sleeping with someone talented)
* Cute blonde from Scrubs

Notable Creative Geniuses

* Rob Schrab
* Justin Roiland

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