I went over to see the Current.tv (INDtv) launch event in San Francisco last night. I was impressed with the scale of the event. The Embarcadero was blocked off and there were a good 3-5,000 people milling around. Not a bad showing.
Anyway, I showed up a bit late, but I did get to see Mos Def and a few of the bands do their thing. But towards the end of the first segment of the show, the announcers introduced a video promotion of the Current.tv and Google partnership. (The deal apparently involves Google displaying top search results during the programming schedule of Current’s cable network. Frankly, this information seems totally irrelevant to Current, but I’ll discuss that in a second.)
So the entire audience was pretty pumped up from the music and then this video comes on. The video basically showed a woman reading off some highlights of the top 10 most frequent searches on Google in a bunch of different categories (in an annoyingly chipper voice). Now, this felt all wrong to me as they started through the lists (I mean, the woman was highlighting names like Britney Spears, Banana Republic, Paris Hilton and a bunch of other items from these lists that wouldn’t naturally appeal to the counter-culture vibe of this event), but the reaction from the audience was quick and harsh. Most of the people began booing. If I was the guy or gal running this event from Google, I would have been pretty unhappy about the large number of cameras in the audience at that point (citizen’s media can cut both ways.)
Google deserved it. It was like they totally missed the point. Current was talking about empowering the people to contribute their own content and take back TV from corporate dominance, and there is Google (becoming an increasingly hated corporate dominator in their own right) happily reading off this pop-culture list of what MOST people are interested in. If I were to select the types of topics this group would be in to, the top ten Google searches would not be where I would start. It was something I would expect to see on MSNBC, not Ourmedia.org.
But this appears to be at the core of the problem with Current.tv in its current incarnation. They are taking citizen’s media, which is all about content abundance, and trying to grab the “best” chunks to broadcast on the artificially scarce bandwidth of a cable or satellite network. To me, this is just replacing the tyranny of a few guys in Hollywood for the tyranny of popular public opinion. I’m all for ranking content, but isn’t citizen’s media all about massive selection, everyone’s ability to contribute to the conversation, finding content that appeals to me and not necessarily everyone else?
Now, it’s one thing to say that they’ll rank content based on what is popular to help people decide what they want to watch, but it’s different if that’s the criteria you use to limit the content selection itself. This is still cutting the tail off; it’s just a different tail. But in many ways it’s also worse, because you’re denying a voice to those that don’t conform to what’s most popular, the very people you promised to give a voice to.
I think it’s a nice idea to put some popular content collected by this process on a TV network (it creates awareness among 19 million potential viewers), but if this TV network is the center of their business model (and $70 MM tell me that’s probably the case) Current better rethink their model. The result won’t be citizen’s media, it’ll be some bastard amalgamation of the old model (take what we give you) and the new model (take what you want), but with none of the benefits of either (production quality vs. limitless choice.) I predict that Current should expect a few more boos before they get it right.