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Brains Behind the Beauty: Web Video Follows TV Model, With a Twist

Mar 9, 2008  •  Post A Comment

When online television network Revision3’s “Pop Siren” premieres March 10, it will follow a familiar formula: The hosts are female and they’re good-looking.
Sure, they’re smart, too, but that they’re easy on the eyes is a time-honored programming strategy that has long worked for local television broadcasters and national news networks.
The online video world is starting to emulate the traditional TV world, where the majority of on-air talent are women and the majority of executives are men. But, like most things Internet video-related, there are twists.
Most of the high-profile female hosts in the online video world—Jessica Corbin, Lindsay Campbell, Sarah Lane, Kirsten Sanford, Veronica Belmont, Cali Lewis—are noted experts in their fields. Ms. Sanford has a Ph.D. in neurophysiology, Ms. Lewis has been coding Web pages since she was 14 and Ms. Belmont previously worked as a producer at CNET TV.
“In order to be successful in the new-media world, you need a fundamental understanding of the content you are presenting, which is not always a requirement for success in traditional media,” said Jim Louderback, CEO of Revision 3.
“Pop Siren” is a half-hour weekly series that looks at trends in technology, science, culture and lifestyle. The show’s hosts include Ms. Lane, who is also a producer and head of programming and production at Revision3; Ms. Corbin, a former TechTV host; and Ms. Sanford, who is also the creator and star of online show “Food Science” and podcast “This Week in Science.” The show also will include segments from show producers Heather Frank and Neha Tiwari.
Revision3’s existing shows, such as “Diggnation” and “Tekzilla,” attract an audience that is 93% men. “Pop Siren” is the network’s effort to reach more women, as well as more “geek guys.” Launch advertisers include GoDaddy and Netflix, and Revision3 is in talks with potential new advertisers, Mr. Louderback said.
While some of the most popular online shows are hosted by men, such as “Ask a Ninja,” “This Week in Technology” and “Diggnation,” women are quickly rising in popularity and prominence online.
That’s no surprise, said Jordan Levin, CEO of digital production studio and talent shop Generate and the former CEO of The WB. “On local television there is a strong drive to get ratings on local news, and in this early stage of Web video there is a strong desire to amass views. It’s the oldest rule in the book: Attractive women giving you information is the best way to get both sexes to tune in.”
Online producers have found that women prefer to watch intelligent women, and so do men, said Alex Lindsay, chief architect of Pixel Corps, an online video production shop in San Francisco.
A key difference in the online world is that most hosts also write their shows.
Take Kirsten Sanford. She writes both the “Pop Siren” segment and the scripts for “Food Science.” She’s also an entrepreneur who is paid on a contract basis or via revenue-sharing for her online video work and has creative control over her shows. She’s not an employee, unlike most reporters and anchors for local TV stations or national news networks.
“We are seeing a lot more women realize they can create content that is stuff they are interested in, even more so than in television, because it is so much easier to start doing a podcast,” Ms. Sanford said.
Another key difference in the new-media world is the level of upkeep and interaction required from the host. Ms. Sanford said she is a regular on social networking sites and services MySpace, Pownce, Twitter and Facebook. “If people feel there is a communication going on, there is much more loyalty,” she said.
Cali Lewis, who created and stars in “GeekBriefTV,” said she still tries to answer virtually every e-mail she receives about the show. Each episode draws about 200,000 downloads, she said. “I spend a huge portion of my time talking to anyone who writes,” she said. That’s a big difference from the TV world, where it can be tough even to find an e-mail address for an anchor or reporter, much less get a response.
But that hyper-connectedness, although useful now, is not a scalable model, said Sarah Szalavitz, director of content development at Veoh Networks and producer of the Web show “ZapRoot.” “It’s early and these people are pioneers, but remember that Google was the 11th search engine,” she said.
Many of the women in online video are entrepreneurs, like Ms. Lewis. She started “GeekBriefTV” in 2005 with her husband, who shoots the show. Then she partnered with online video aggregator PodShow, which distributes and sells ads for the show and also pays Ms. Lewis a fee to produce it. Advertisers have included Hewlett-Packard, GoDaddy and Nokia.
Veronica Belmont, the face and talent behind the popular geek-culture Web show “Mahalo Daily,” is an employee of the show. But she also maintains a regular blog at www.veronicabelmont.com and is an online brand in her own right.
Like the others, Ms. Belmont writes her shows. “When people see women on camera, they assume we don’t know what we are talking about in technology, and they think, ‘Someone must be writing her script,’” she said.
Amanda Congdon, who was the first video blogger to break out when she starred in “Rocketboom” starting in 2004, also writes her own material. She co-wrote “Rocketboom,” but when she made the leap to ABCNews.com in 2006, she began writing her own segments. She’s no longer writing for ABCNews.com but is currently developing the content for a new daily video blog she plans to launch in a few months.
Then there’s Irina Slutsky, who developed the show “GeekEntertainment TV” with producer Eddie Codel. With blond hair and an ample bosom, she’ll sometimes play the “dumb blond” stereotype. But she pulls it off because she actually knows what she’s talking about. “The bottom line is people are going to watch what’s entertaining,” she said.
Mr. Louderback agrees. “We want to put smart people on-air on these video shows that the audience connects with. They don’t have to be female, they don’t have to be attractive, but they do have to be smart, knowledgeable and know what they are talking about.”

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