Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Vidcon Thoughts: Today's Cutting Edge is Tomorrow's Stone Age

I'm mid-way through the first day of Vidcon, the YouTube content creator's conference being held this year at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles.  This second annual event is an opportunity for content creators of all types share experiences and gain a sense of how to succeed in this rapidly changing field.  At six years old, YouTube, and the online video world, is still fairly new - but the evolution of the content and the audience has been huge.  The challenge content creators face is staying ahead of the curve  - when the curve is constantly changing.

Jim Louderback, CEO of Revision3, an Internet Television network that creates, produces and distributes web television, presented his views on where television has been - and where it's going.  Revision3, like the media conglomerates,bundles a variety of niche programming under their umbrella, building a central brand identity and standard to help build audiences for the individual video products, and the overall Revision3 brand.

The questions relating to building an audience are on everyone's mind here.  As some of my friends here have pointed out, those are tricky questions.  While some successful YouTube personalities offer advice based on their experience - the rapid growth of YouTube has changed the nature of how producers go about marketing their channels. What worked in 2007 may be completely unrealistic in 2011 - the media world has changed that much.  The best that Vidcon attendees (and YouTubers in general) can do it absorb as many of those stores as possible, learn and brainstorm with their fellow YouTubers, and try to understand and design a catered approach for their specific audience.

But that's the challenge- and the excitement - of creating in the YouTube community.  At six years old, this is still brand-new.  Every channel - every brand - is unique.  Every pathway to success is new.  What's possible today in promoting with social media wasn't even possible when YouTube began.  Stats weren't available to the extent they are today.   The channel-building strategies shared at Vidcon three years from now will be so far removed from today's stories, this will seem like the stone age.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Build Content and They Will Come: Mike Lidskin and Twirl Radio

Mike Lidskin, whom I featured in my recent vlog, Greg and I visit Twirl Radio , began Twirl Radio in Sacramento, California about ten years ago, after taking a course at Access Sacramento, an outlet for public access television and radio programming.   At first, the program was just on cable radio (a radio service that came through the local cable television cable provider) and a very limited (several mile radius) broadcast.  When the broadcast element was suspended, his program - and all the others at Access Sacramento, were reduced to near obscurity - as many people didn't realize that such a thing as Cable Radio existed.

His persistance and hard work began to pay off, audience-wise, when Access Sacramento began to offer content online. Through his website,, a worldwide audience can listen live to his program every Saturday night, Pacific Time, from 4-6pm.  At the moment, he believes, he has more listeners worldwide then in Sacramento itself.  After ten years and more than 500 shows, he's developed a solid connection with the indie rock world.  He provides a unique insight and support to several regional music scenes, providing for some musicians unique exposure that might not have been possible otherwise. His audience today, while certainly not huge by radio standards, is constantly growing and makes itself known through interaction with Mike on Facebook during the weekly broadcast.

There were times early on, Mike says, that his only audience may have been his computer left connected to Twirl at home - but he nevertheless continued to develop his craft (what today we would somewhat less elegantly call his "brand"), and was recently named Producer of the Year by his colleagues at Access Sacramento.   Last year, he was asked to join, an internet radio network in the U.K., and offers that program once a week to a British Audience as well (check his website for podcast info).

Whether you're creating content as a hobby, or for business, it's worthwhile remembering that one thing never changes regardless of technology: quality and persistance.   Mike's advice to individuals trying to build a presence online: "First, do what you love. That's the right reason for starting any creative venture. If you truly love what you're doing, listeners and viewers will come. And make sure you treat each viewer and listener like your only one.   If you do that, you'll never be alone in your venture."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why I Flipped to the iPhone

I shot my very first vlog in January, 2010, with a professional DV camera I owned.  Of course, that wasn't practical to use on a regular basis, so I turned to right away and bought the Flip Ultra HD, a simple "point-and-shoot" camera I felt I could take with me anywhere.  The quality, for a camera of its price, was exceptional, and I thought it could serve me well for quite a long time.  I even bought a second recharger and a couple of extra batteries.
Screen capture of Greg and I at Fort Point, shot with the iPhone 
Unfortunately, the Flip never lived up to expectations.  I actually returned the very first Flip I was sent - it simply wouldn't hold a charge.  I didn't think much of it at the time, and Amazon's return/replacement policy is quite generous.  In fact, a new camera was on it's way before I put the old one in the mail.  As I soon discovered, the new camera had battery problems of its own.  While I could charge it, the battery never would last as long as promised - though the camera could hold up to two hours of footage, it would be a near miracle for a single battery to allow for even an hour's worth of recording.  This, even as other tech devices advertised longer and longer battery lives.

After about sixth months of constant use, my  Flip stopped working.  At the time, I still liked the video quality over competitor's cameras, and had my supply of Flip accessories, so I decided to buy the same (albiet white) Flip Ultra HD, which by then had be cut in price nearly 50% from my first purchase.

While the new Flip was the same model, I would expect that some of the battery issues would have been alleviated over time.  That wasn't the case.  This camera suffered from the same battery life and charging issues as it's predecessor.  Though I could take it with me, I couldn't count on it for long term ease-of-use, and found that my vlogs in-the-field began to taper off.  Not surprisingly, Cisco announced that it would discontinue the Flip brand.

When I bought my iPad, I decided to begin using it for my office-based vlogs. I found that the quality - when the lighting was fairly good, was quite high.  It still wasn't practical for other types of vlogs, but I loved the fact that I could shoot - apply some simple editing on the iPad's iMovie app, and upload - all without exporting from the iPad.  It was a major improvement from the cumbersome transfer-convert-import-edit process necessary with video from the Flip.

Here's a vlog from this year's road trip - shot entirely with my iPhone 4

When the time came for this year's Road Trip, I was concerned.  I knew the Flip wasn't up to the task - it wouldn't hold a charge long enough for our day-long adventures.  I considered bringing along a package of batteries (the rechargeable batteries can be replaced with standard alkalines), but, once again, the entire process seemed too cumbersome.

I decided to give the HD camera on my iPhone 4 a try - and it met almost all of expectations.  As you can see in the vlogs, the video quality is exceptional, and the audio quality is at least as good as the Flip.  It's not perfect, of course - it isn't a dedicated camera.  The contrast isn't ideal.  It's sometimes hard to aim at myself if I'm vlogging, hold steady, and it's microphone is sometimes too sensitive to touch.  If I'm not careful when I begin shooting, the camera may think that I'm shooting vertically (high and narrow), and my entire image will be sideways.    The positives, however, are considerable.  The battery lasts a long time - I generally have no concerns that it will last during a particular shoot (and supplementary battery chargers are easily available).  When we left each location on our road trip, I plugged the phone back into the car outlet, and charged on the road.

Greg Checks out an outhouse in Bodie - iPhone video
The pathway to posting to YouTube was much faster.  For simple one-shot vlogs, I could upload directly from my iPhone, using the iMovie application.   For more complicated vlogs, I hooked the phone into my laptop, downloaded footage into iPhoto, do a quick conversion through Mpeg Streamclip (it seems that the iPhone Quicktime isn't perfectly compatible with Final Cut Pro), and could begin editing right away.  

I won't be abandoning a dedicated camera for some vlogging projects.  These phone cameras are, after all, limited in their capabilities.   For most situations, I'll be sticking happily with the iPhone.

More of my recent iPhone-shot vlogs are available on my vlog,

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Subversive Filmmaker: Why YouTubers Should Think Beyond YouTube

My friend Lynette Privatsky just got accepted into the Silent River Film Festival with "Black or Blue," an episode of her web series, Adventures of the Battling Bag Lady. Even as I'm excited for her, I'll also very happy with the nature of her project, and it's relationship to one of my favorite subjects - the relationship between social media / YouTube and "traditional" media.

This episode of "Bag Lady," like so much creative work on YouTube, was written, produced, directed, shot, performed and marketed by none other than Lynette - and only Lynette. The only thing that isn't created by Lynette is the music, which was provided by composer Gary Garundei . Like other episodes in the series, there's no dialogue - it reminds me of silent movie slapstick comedies of eons past. It's also not long - all of 45 seconds - but it tells a nice little story: a trash can with an attitude teaches "Bag Lady" a little something about recycling.

Lynette's been experimenting with short video for quite a while - she's produced several episodes of "Bag Lady" over the past few years. For the past year, she's been exploring and learning about social media - "Bag Lady," at first essentially a portfolio film, has evolved into a web series concept.

To be sure, Lynette doesn't yet have a large number of subscribers on YouTube - in fact, she has very few at the moment - though I expect this might change with this festival exposure and the resulting opportunity to promote her projects. She, like so many of my friends and colleagues, has been diving deep into researching and experimenting with social media entrepreneurship. She's also starting a Twitter, blog and vlog called Special Order, Please - for people like her who love food but struggle with extensive food allergies and restrictions (to find out more about that, subscribe to the Twitter for that project at

I titled this blog "Subversive" not because I believe self-created pieces like this will take over traditional media - they won't - but the developing success and acceptance of programs like this draw attention and create acceptance of some of the real creative energy that the "third platform" - social media - is unleashing. I also hope that it encourages creative / entreprenuerial YouTubers who may never have looked beyond their channels to dream a little bit bigger.

I hope you'll support Lynette's efforts and encourage her work by subscribing to her at .