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February 16, 2007 / conceptbin

Telly

Nobody is solely in print media anymore. From smaller publishers, as well as the august halls of newspapers, there flow streaming videos, podcasts and blogs. Therefore, Vice magazine’s online television station, VBS.tv, looks like an interesting development. Of course, I shouldn’t call Vice a “magazine” – it is an all-encompassing media empire, unrestrained by any particular platform.

The physical print-edition of Vice remains for me an elusive object of desire, though. Always found by accident – last time I found a copy at a bus stop in Greenwich, before that in a shop window in Copenhagen – the printed Vice seems slightly out of my league. Too cool for me, it resides in the handbags of people who know tomorrow’s designers.

But now, we the uncool masses can join the community forum at VBS, and relish their quirky online TV programming, overseen by Spike Jonze, and soon to be heavily linked and commented on in blogs across the globe.

Professional as it is, VBS should still remind us that the big broadcasters are facing a radical transformation of the media landscape. It remains for them to figure out how to extend themselves online. Their problem is that the Web is a mass medium, but one where the audience can talk back, make their own materials, appropriate the products of the culture industry, pirate them, parody and generally make life unpredictable for the content-producers. There is plenty of work ahead there in figuring out how to fold user-generated content into mass-market programming, how to offer platforms for new audiovisual talent (FourDocs, and the excellent 3-minute Wonder series on Channel4, are an impressive example), or simply offer fast, hassle-free options to stream or download TV clips or shows.

This is in many ways the same problem that the music industry is facing. The BBC Money programme had a very interesting segment yesterday on traditional media companies and the challenges they face in how to capitalize on DIY TV production distributed via YouTube and social networking services. It is old news that musicians and bands are using social networking sites like MySpace to build an audience for their music, but that tends to be framed in the standard narrative of “I was a nobody, then went on MySpace, now I have a record deal,” with a photo of Lily Allen and The Arctic Monkeys, champagne and pound-signs.

But how do their songs then get onto the mp3 players of the target audience? The bad news comes when you give Lily and the other ex-nobodies a record deal, make lots of CDs, then market and distribute them in the standard way. That question, perhaps, can also be answered by asking what the perceived value of a song is, right now. Is it valuable as a commodity in itself, or is its real value as a reputation-forming, buzz-generating calling card for the musicians and their live shows, where downloaders part with their cash at the door with smiling faces?

So what happens to television if its content starts to behave like music?

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