Jason Calacanis, Internet entrepreneur and “L.A.'s brash tech superstar,” thinks the future of the web is streaming video and he's willing to put his money where his mouth is. Literally, since his mouth is on “This Week In Startups,” one of the shows featured on streaming video network ThisWeekIn.com. The Mahalo.com founder teamed up with actor and web series creator, Kevin Pollack, and a group of investors including Sky Dayton (founder of Earthlink and Boingo) and Matt Coffin (founder of LowerMyBills.com) and put $300,000 into expanding the network.
“The long term vision is to have 30 shows that each have a natural audience of between 10,000 and a million people,” Calacanis explains. “Maybe they have on average 100,000 views each which means we could have 3 or 4 million people a week watching these shows pretty easily I think. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if in 2 or 3 years we're sitting here and each of the shows has a quarter or half a million people watching on a daily basis and now you're looking at a network that has 10 million people watching and that starts to look a lot like cable TV and that's a real business.”
With the recent announcement of GoogleTV, it's easy to envision a future where mainstream entertainment and online content converge. Imagine being able to search through not only cable programming on your TV, but also through video content on YouTube and streaming networks like This Week In from the comfort of your couch and the viewing pleasure and clarity of your home entertainment system. Calacanis understands that the overhead costs involved in creating quality web series pales in comparison to that of mainstream television and seems to see the opportunity presented by allowing web series to run alongside the mainstream content we are used to.
The CEO of This Week In, Mark Jeffrey (author, podcast pioneer, and former CTO of Mahalo) is especially excited about the standard GoogleTV is setting. “For us it's incredibly good news because that means now that we are that much closer to having This Week In content appear on the living room television set and that's ultimately the goal. To be on par with cable channels and regular TV. The difference between a video podcast and a television show is blurring really fast and that process is going to happen now a lot faster than I thought it would.”
Says Calacanis, “The quality level of most web video is very low. They don't use proper microphones or lighting or cameras and people don't prepare and that would be the same kinds of things people would say about blogs early on. They weren't spell checked, they didn't have proper grammar, the sites looked terrible, they had bizarre names like 'blahblahblah.blogspot.com' and essentially that's the state of web video as well. It's very amateurish, and it's unwatchable in some cases.”
“In other cases you have people who understand how to use these things and have good technique,” he continues. “They have personality and timing. What web video lacks in professionalism today it could easily add, but what TV lacks today in terms of authenticity is kind of harder to add. If the person who's hosting a show on television doesn't really have their heart in it but they have perfect delivery and the person on the web maybe doesn't have the perfect delivery but has passion for the subject and knowledge, I would pick the person with the most knowledge and passion for the subject and I think most people would too. Television doesn't give you much of a choice, you get one type of thing and whether it has substance or not is debatable.”
Whereas mainstream programming dilutes its message with broad topical content that appeals to the masses, Calacanis thinks that providing targeted shows to specific audiences brings about more relevant and loyal viewership, in addition to a more effective advertising model.
“We don't have to reach a huge audience, we have to connect deeply with niche audiences, and they in turn respond deeply to the advertising message in it,” he says. “If you get the right 10,000 people who are into the iPad or Android or the right 25,000 people who are into video games those could be very big spenders on specific products.”
So how does CEO Mark Jeffrey plan to utilize the recent investment to make This Week In stand out from competing streaming web networks? Jeffrey explains:
“There've been a lot of people who have tried this before and there's been a lot of failures, to be completely blunt and honest. There's also been a few success stories, like Leo Laporte being one obviously, Revision3 being a second one. There are now people doing full shows online, but in order to make money at this you have to keep your costs low. Because we're operating like an Internet company and not an entertainment company our psychology and the way we do things is a lot different. I think that's one big advantage we have over traditional network television. We can basically reinvent how a television network operates. We're going to move conservatively but quickly. We understand upfront who the advertisers are and who is going to watch the show.”
There's been a buzz around the Interwebz regarding Calacanis' use of the name “This Week In” for the network when pal Leo Laporte had “This Week In Tech” and “This Week in Google” on his TwiT Netcast Network, but when asked directly if there was any drama there between them about it or if it was just a lot of noise about nothing, Calacanis said:
“The name was available, ThisWeekIn.com. I asked Leo if I could do 'This Week In Startups.' He said no problem. I don't own the This Week In name… there's many more shows out there named 'This Week In' other than the two or three he does. I think people like to see a fight, I don't think there's some kind of fight between Leo and I. I think maybe Leo was caught off guard by how fast I was moving in terms of building out the network and maybe that was a little — I don't want to say 'scary to him' — but a reason for concern. I offered him, if he wanted the domain name he could have it. He said no so I bought it. If it was going to be a problem I would have had him take that and I would gotten 'The Week In' or 'Weekly,' a different domain for a weekly program. A weekly roundup just seems to be the right number, thus 60 Minutes is weekly. I think it's a little bit of a tempest in a teacup.”
Another distinction between the two networks would be in the type of content they feature. Says Calacanis, “We could potentially trip over each other but I think our network will be mostly non-technical information and his network will be almost solely technical in nature. We're going to have 10% of our shows be tech and he'll have about 95% of his shows to be about tech. We're going to go after the categories that we went after with Weblogs Inc. which was movies, television, parenting, financial, travel, video games, maybe gadgets or music.”
With networks like This Week In beginning to sprout up and more high profile entertainment industry players trickling into the online video space, one could imagine that more advertising dollars and better production value is inevitable. Some might argue that web video will never be able to compete with what we see on prime time TV, however I think both will benefit from sharing the limelight. As a host on the This Week In network, I'm excited to be along for the ride.