Technology

From Rocketboom to ABC


Video blogger Amanda Congdon is the latest "cewebrity" to jump to mainstream media; an industry is forming to help others follow her lead

Internet celebrity Amanda Congdon just finished broadcasting her cross-country relocation from New York to L.A. on the World Wide Web. Now she is making another move—this one from online to on air. The former host of Rocketboom, one of the most popular video blogs on the Web, with roughly 211,000 daily viewers, has a new gig as a contributor for Disney's (DIS) ABC network.

Congdon will regularly appear on the network's 24-hour digital channel ABC News Now and occasionally appear as a correspondent on the network's TV news broadcasts. She will also host a weekly video blog, or "vlog," on abcnews.com focusing on topics such as new media, politics, and the environment. "She certainly has the eyes and ears of a great many people who may have only trafficked in Internet information," says Michael Clemente, executive producer of ABC News Digital Media. "I would love to see her talking to [Illinois Senator] Barack Obama, new people with new products, and all sorts of things."

In addition, Congdon is developing a comedy for Time Warner's (TWX) HBO, which itself has plans to beef up online programming (see BusinessWeek.com, 11/2/06, "HBO's Bold Broadband Plans"). Congdon will star in the show, which will appear both online and on air in different forms. The subject matter has yet to be determined.

Talent Search

The new ABC role may make Congdon the first video blogger to make the jump to a major network. For the 25-year-old actress, the new job sounds like a dream. "What really excites me is the concept of bridging the gap between old and new media," says Congdon. "I am just so excited that these networks are open enough to let me do all these different projects."

Congdon, however, is not the first "cewebrity" to parlay fame on the Web into a real-world job. Joe Eigo, a 26-year-old martial artist and gymnast, was relatively unknown until he uploaded video clips of his acrobatic fighting style to the Internet. Since then, Eigo's clips have been downloaded millions of times and he was scouted to join Jackie Chan's stunt team. He also landed an appearance in the movie Around the World in 80 Days. Several other online video personalities have used their notoriety to sign with prominent talent agencies and further careers in comedy, media, and entertainment (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/30/06, "Don't I Know You from the Internet?").

In fact, major movie and TV studios are increasingly looking to the Web for new talent for both on- and offline projects. IQ Films and Steelyard Pictures used Yahoo's (YHOO) Jumpcut.com to conduct an online casting call for their latest movie, The Power of Few.

Agencies on the Lookout

Dina Kaplan is chief operating officer and cofounder of blip.tv, which features Congdon's AmandaAcrossAmerica blog. Kaplan says she is regularly approached by traditional media outlets that see her online vlog hosting site as a place to mine new talent. "We have had meetings with a bunch of Hollywood agencies," says Kaplan. "They see us as a farm team for them."

Talent agencies also see the Net's potential. United Talent Agency, which represents actors including Vince Vaughn, has created a Digital Media Dept. to bring online stars into traditional media. UTA counts video blogger Hosea "Ze" Frank, host of The Show with Ze Frank, and Kent Nichols, co-creator of the Ask a Ninja video blog, among its clients.

Music companies are also looking online for new talent. This month, Music Nation will start letting musicians upload music videos to its site as part of a record deal contest with Epic Records. Universal and EMI also plan to sponsor online star searches (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/30/06, "American E-Idol").

Looking to Profit Online

In many cases, traditional media companies are more interested in keeping Internet stars online than putting them on air. The idea is reaching a new and, in many cases, younger audience. "When you have conversations with traditional platforms, often the biggest interest is not to leverage whatever buzz you have online to move to a traditional platform," says Frank. "They are trying to figure out how to make this model work in the online space."

Traditional media have a big incentive to court Internet stars. Online advertising is expected to grow to $25.2 billion in 2010, consuming 8.9% of all advertising spending, says research firm eMarketer. That's up from $15.9 billion—or roughly 5.7% of total ad spending—this year.

ABC has been particularly deliberate about expanding on the Web. While other news programs, such as those at CBS (CBS) and NBC (GE), have Web simulcasts and video blogs, ABC News has a 15-minute daily newscast just for Internet audiences. Most major networks have also been moving their new programs online to create more buzz and wrap in new audiences (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/11/06, "Click Here to Catch Up on CSI"). ABC is no exception, making episodes of such shows as Lost, Grey's Anatomy, and Desperate Housewives available free online.

Awards and Advertisers

Kaplan has no qualms sharing talent such as Congdon with TV. As more people become famous for vlogs, more people are likely to begin producing better blogs to attract mainstream media attention. The better their blogs, the more audiences and advertisers will want to associate themselves with online content and brokers like blip.tv.

To help market their talent, PodTech, blip.tv, Yahoo Video, Intel (INTC), Guba, Revver, and others helped arrange the first ever "Vloggies," an Oscar-like black-tie ceremony for video bloggers. The awards were handed out on Nov. 4 in San Francisco. Winning top honors were Ask a Ninja, Frank, and the crew that develops Alive in Baghdad, a series of video blogs by Iraqis.

As vlogs have become more mainstream, advertisers have also begun taking notice. They have experimented with ads on videos shown on user-generated video site Revver. They are also working with companies such as AOL and News Corp.'s (NWS) MySpace to incorporate advertising on user-generated video sites.

The Copyright Effect

However, these deals have been slow to take off because of concerns about the kinds of content on user-generated video sites. The difficulty of filtering copyrighted material from millions of user-produced videos has also given some advertisers pause, according to Metacafe CEO Arik Czerniak. To allay those concerns, Metacafe has begun paying users for licenses and uses both human video reviewers and technology to ferret out copyrighted content. MySpace has also begun aggressively removing copyrighted content (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/31/06, "Music Downloading's New Deal").

With sites moving to make user-generated content safer for advertisers, online celebrities and their videos are likely to become even more appealing for major networks and others. That means more cewebrities could turn into genuine celebrities. "The first time I ever put a video on the Net, I didn't know it would have such a great effect," says Eigo. "Now I know it can make dreams come true."


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