Technology

Justin.tv's New Reality


Web star Justin Kan plans to launch new real-life video blogs on the site. The first: "iJustine"

It's past noon, and Justin Kan is still exhausted. The 23-year-old star of video blog Justin.tv has been awake until around 6 a.m., busy moving into his new apartment. Of course, thousands of dedicated fans of Justin.tv probably already know this. Every breathing moment of Justin's life—except, perhaps, the rare intimate one—has been broadcast live on the Web since Mar. 19, thanks to the cameras positioned around Kan's apartment and fitted to his ubiquitous cap.

In some ways, Kan's fatigue is the camera's fault. His landlord decided to evict him for turning the San Francisco apartment he shared with his buddies and fellow collaborators into a full-time reality television network. The pranks that fans pulled, such as repeatedly calling the fire department and reporting a bogus stabbing at Justin's address, didn't generate any goodwill either. "I understand the landlord's perspective completely," says Kan, adding "We have been four guys living in a two-bedroom apartment for the past five or six months. We have always been meaning to move."

But the question on some fans' minds is whether the move to a new apartment might be a sign of something more. Is Kan planning to move on? Kan and his cohorts—most of them friends from Yale—have redesigned the site to enable users to submit and publish their own live "lifecasts." Each week for the next several weeks, they plan to launch a new reality-video blog on their site. The first will feature "iJustine," a video blogger (vlogger) named Justine Ezarik who already has a Web following, BusinessWeek.com has learned. Also on tap are a political vlog and a sports vlog. Eventually, they hope to open it to all comers.

Having Too Much Fun

Kan doesn't plan to pass the torch to users entirely —yet. But he sees an exit strategy in giving viewers a chance to broadcast their lives in real time on the site. With more people posting, he says, it's only natural that his vlog will grow less popular. Eventually, he believes, he will be able to put the camera down and few will care. "I'm hoping, on our platform, I will be eclipsed by people who are more charismatic than I am," says Kan.

That doesn't mean that Kan's counting the days to his exit. He insists he is having too much fun with his lifecast, which draws roughly 40,000 unique visitors a month, according to Quantcast statistics. Besides, he can't be sure these loyal Justin watchers will translate so well into voyeurs of other strangers' lives, or at least not immediately. He can, however, count on plenty of them being willing to put their lives on display.

While it may surprise those who zealously guard their privacy, thousands of people are dreaming of becoming their own live, reality television show. Just ask Chris Yeh, the CEO of Ustream. Yeh's Web site, which allows users to broadcast their daily doings live, has drawn 10,000 video bloggers since its launch in March. And though few are willing to take the camera with them into the bathroom, as Kan often does, they are willing to expose large portions of their private lives for public consumption. "It is the classic American desire for self-expression and attention," says Yeh. "Americans have been raised with this idea of putting themselves out there."

From the Web to TV

The stunning popularity of companies like Twitter is clear proof of this exhibitionist streak. Using text messages, Twitter allows people to share details about mundane items—such as what they are eating—with other users. Then again, twittering about lunch fare isn't as much an invasion of privacy as taking a camera on a date (see BusinessWeek.com, 5/7/07, "The Banality of Personal Life and Where Twitter Comes In").

The hope among some lifecasters is that, if they attract enough viewers, they'll be able to exploit that popularity to attract advertisers, sell products, or possibly launch a career on TV. It's happened before with Web celebrities such as Amanda Congdon (see BusinessWeek.com, 11/14/06, "From Rocketboom to ABC"). Yeh says some Ustream users simply want to connect with a community, while others merely want to broadcast special moments, such as weddings, graduations, and even Sunday Mass, to family, friends, and neighbors who can't be there.

Of course, many just want the ego trip. Picture it. Thousands, maybe even millions, of people watching your every mundane move. "Having people that interested, and almost obsessed sometimes, it's cool," says Kan, on his way to the bank. After that it's off to get some food, attend some publicity events and then, finally, get some well-deserved sleep—all before a live, online audience.

Holahan is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York.

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