Preaching to the converged

I used to run a web company whose unique selling point was ‘convergence’: the hot new idea that everyone in TV was talking about. ‘Convergence’ meant that, pretty soon, there’d be no difference between TV and internet: you’d watch it all through a single entertainment console in the corner of your room.   

It didn’t quite happen fast enough for our little company and I jumped ship to concentrate on my writing career. But today I think about convergence a lot. Because it’s finally here.

Viewers have been deserting TV for the internet in droves over the last decade, but broadband is how most TV broadcasters are hoping to win them back.

In truth, it’s not about getting people who now spend most of their life staring at laptop screens back to staring at TV screens. What broadcasters are doing is putting their TV content onto those laptop screens and, in some cases, making up whole new content especially for those laptop screens.

The broadcasters want to keep the billions they get from their advertisers, but these dinosaurs may just be too big and cumbersome to survive the meteor hit of convergence.

The recent Writers’ Guild strike in the US brought it home to us even more: the future of TV is not on TV. It’s on the internet. Convergence has finally happened. It’s there on YouTube and BBC’s iPlayer and every US network offering its TV content through its websites. You can stream video content now and it even looks half decent when you run it full screen on your laptop.

The strike was about securing a stake in the Klondike rush for convergence. The producers know that everythingwill be broadcast on the internet soon. But they wanted writers to think that there was no money to be made from internet broadcast of writers’ work (despite telling their shareholders they’d be making shitloads).

So the smart writers are now getting their content out there on the net and sidestepping the traditional routes to broadcast, i.e. waiting for some clueless, coked-up trustafarian with a TV job to greenlight your creativity.

New York Magazine recently drew attention to the fact that the funniest web videos are no longer webcam mishaps but real productions, scripted and filmed especially for an internet audience by the likes of Chelsea Peretti, Clark and Micheal, David Wain. Productions like  the superb Derek and Simon Show

These are ideas that can be shot on a very low budget and lend themselves to  5-10 minute episodes. The template is there and works equally well for drama  (see new online drama, Sofia’s Diary, that Danny Stack‘s been writing).

I don’t know about you, but I’m one writer who’s getting very excited about the idea of becoming a writer-netcaster, and I’m mentally rewriting that half-hour drama series of mine into 5-minute webisodes.

We live in an age where filming, editing and broadcasting has never been so easy and cheap to do.

The real success stories of the next decade are going to be those writers who have the guts to become broadcasters.

Camping it up

So anyway, I spent a large part of last weekend at the Podcamp UK (un)Conference in Birmingham  where podcasters from   all over Europe came together to talk all manner of things to do with podcasting.

As with most things I attempt, my podcasting has involved me running blindly into a darkened room without turning the lights on and then attempting to cook an omelette, only later to find out I’m in the bathroom, not the kitchen.

In short, I tend to screw the manual and try to wing it on instinct. Which pretty much explains the wildly varying sound quality on offer at my Shooting People podcast.

The first thing that hit me was, this was not like any other conference I’d been to (which is why they call it an unconference, I suppose). From the outset it seemed chaotic and disorganised. People were invited to make up the programme for the day and while delegates came to the front and announced what they’d like to learn about, other delegates, and organisers, were talking amongst themselves.

Now this is one of my pet hates. I was the guy at uni whose eyed rolled over in their sockets if you whispered something to me while the lecturer was talking. I don’t like it. It’s fucking rude.

Not only were people talking amongst themselves, half the audience were tapping away at laptops.

Now, I think when it comes to living one’s life online, I leave most of my friends in the Bronze Age. Most of the people I know aren’t even on MSN. One guy doesn’t even have an email address. But this PodCamp lot made me  feel like I was wearing a smoking jacket and spats. These were people whose laptops were literally an extension of their bodies and they talked about metrics, and white labelling and friendship inflation and, er… poking. And none of them mean what I thought they meant.

Is there anything more intrinsically ironic than a round table discussion about Social Networking when half of the people in the discussion are surfing on their laptops? (Answers in an instant message, please).

So for the first few hours I felt old in a way I have never felt before.  But then I decided it was a learning curve and I should start learning. I was in a room full of professionals who could teach me not only the basics but also give me tips for taking it all to the next level.

Paul Parkinson of Podcast User Magazine gave an excellent Audio 101 lecture, in which I discovered exactly how to sort out my sound issues and make the podcast more listenable (the main problem was all down to Audacity’s aptly named LAME encoder, which should be avoided at all costs. The clue was in the name, I suppose).

And throughout the other sessions I had new thoughts about changing the format and the possibility of marketing it and maybe making it pay for itself.

The strangest fact that came up was that the Chris Moyles podcast recently doubled its listeners after changing its name from a ‘podcast’ to a ‘free download’. So it’s obvious that the vast majority of people out there still don’t know what a podcast is (clue: it’s just a free download) and are frightened by the word.

I learned a hell of a lot, and the Shooting People podcasts, sorry, free downloads, will be changing   as a result, but the other great thing about the weekend was that Jurgen Wolff was in attendance (he’d told me about it, in fact) and we managed to interview each other for   our respective podcasts (how utterly postmodern, said my flatmate).

So I will be making a guest appearance on his, talking about how brilliant   Shooting People is, and he’ll be the subject of a forthcoming Shooters podcast   talking about his new book Your Writing Coach and his superb creativity   exercises.

I have to give a big thank you to the Podcamp UK organisers for providing   such a brilliant and totally FREE conference for everyone. I made some great   contacts and learned so much, and I’ll definitely be attending the next one.

I think all of the sessions were filmed and you can view them here.

The quality isn’t that great but you get a feel for the event and might learn   some interesting things.