The killer app isn’t “monkey see, monkey do”

“What should we do?” is a common question in my travels and meetings with broadcasters. “Do something,” is the best response I can give, and it’s not what people want to hear. Of course regular readers here will understand that, because I’ve written about our addiction to formulas and the safety we find therein. And “doing something” means stepping off the cliff and perhaps, OMG, experimenting.

Most broadcasters would rather wait and see what comes down the pike and then try to reproduce it. Such is the way of an industry that has, for years, specialized in copycat. A game show works, and suddenly everybody has game shows. A reality show works, and suddenly everybody has reality shows. A sexy ratings grabber works for local news in Cleveland and suddenly everybody is doing it. This is the sad and predictable method by which much of mass media works. (Movie sequels, “sellable” authors, etc.)

So now comes this new medium, and nobody knows what to do. We build websites. We define for ourselves what works and look for more of that around the web. Our instincts, training and experience require that we look at everything through our mass marketing glasses. Meanwhile, we’re missing the forest for the trees.

Let’s look for just a minute at the amazing success of youTube. The site exploded on the public scene when somebody uploaded a clip of the “Lazy Sunday” skit from Saturday Night Live last fall, and it was viewed by over two million people in a couple of weeks. The Washington Post reports that the site now has six million daily users and presents over 35,000 videos a day. YouTube is essentially a user-generated video site, but those numbers have caught the attention of the mainstream, and we’re about to see clone after clone being created. Why? It’s the numbers. It’s like mass media scouts are scanning the horizon and shouting back to the tribe, “There! There’s the audience we’ve been losing.”

Meanwhile, there are reports that youTube is raising as much as $25 million in venture money. Why? It’s the numbers. Is youTube the new Amazon, the new eBay, or the new mySpace? This is a VERY tricky question, because with money comes old school rules, and if there ever was an anti-establishment site, it’s youTube. Remember that this site was built for user-contributed videos. The deep pockets that are drooling over it could give a rat’s ass about such. They want those numbers to present their OWN videos, and that’s a problem. The same users who made youTube “successful” could just as easily turn their allegiance elsewhere.

And while everybody’s looking at the youTube “model” (what is it anyway?), they’re not out there exploring and experimenting on their own. Yet this is exactly what needs to be done — especially at the local level.


  1. Isn’t it the new Napster? It’s only a matter of time before all of those copyright violations get noticed, but unlike Napster, there’s enough content beyond that to survive.

  2. Oh so true. In media, Research & Development still means mostly Nielsen number crunching.

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