Coming Into Focus

It was inevitable that sooner or later online video would evolve beyond inane soap-boxing and lip-syncing into something more polished. Indeed, two years after three 20-something launched YouTube from their garage, "professionally" produced online video is starting to catch on with both users and the media.

YouTube may take all the credit for the online video boom, but Rocketboom was the first online video series to attract a significant audience, and was a pioneer of video blogging, a format like a blog but composed of video entries. While many resemble video diaries, Rocketboom is a Web-based newscast.

The show's host from October 2004 to June 2006 was Amanda Congdon, who became synonymous with Rocketboom. In fact, she's widely regarded as online video's first celebrity. Her good looks, animated delivery, and jumbled assortment of odd but mostly tech-related news items won the show many fans as well as media coverage in Wired, the Associated Press, BusinessWeek and other national news outlets.

The site's popularity peaked at around 300,000 daily uniques after Congdon was interviewed on CNN last June. She left the show shortly after, and many fans went with her. Today, Congdon is attempting to cross over to traditional media, planning a series with HBO, while writing and hosting a video blog on

Rocketboom has competition in Diggnation, also a techie-oriented show from founder Kevin Rose. More of a talk-show and a lot longer than Rocketboom, Diggnation, a product of Rose's TV network Revision3, has around 250,000 weekly viewers and is one of the most-subscribed podcasts on iTunes.

Surprisingly, YouTube hasn't been a major source of original Web TV content. Of the few shows so far, none received more attention than lonelygirl15, a compilation of mysterious video entries from "Bree," a beautiful 16-year-old girl raised and home-schooled by strict, religious parents.

The high production value of lonelygirl15's clips caused fans to wonder if Bree's story was true, or if it was some sort of marketing gimmick. Last September, three fans traced the IP address of an e-mail from "Bree" back to Creative Artists Agency in Hollywood. Bree turned out to be the actress Jessica Rose. Since the show's outing, lonelygirl's audience has nosedived.

"The Burg," another Web series, is written, directed, produced, and performed by amateurs. The sitcom follows the lives of under-employed 20-somethings from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Unlike some video producers, those from "The Burg" aim to break into network television.

Anachronistic thinking? Not yet, but as Web programming improves it will become an increasingly credible alternative to TV. While the Burg creators and most other video producers are independent, the future likely belongs to the Web video network. As with any new medium, consolidation will prove a turning point. The industry also has yet to develop an advertising format that makes sense for everyone.

Nevertheless, online video is growing: eMarketer pegs Web video spending at $775 million this year, an increase of 89 percent over 2006 - though still only about 4 percent of the $19.5 billion expected from online advertising this year.

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