Sweet and Lo-Fi

Bill Streeter's vlog is how others see us

Señor Stern, of course, is among the sprinters: This month he shifted his wildly popular FCC whipping boy from morning drive time to the unregulated, pay-to-play Sirius Satellite Radio Network, where he joins none other than Madge Weinstein, already a prominent personality on a channel devoted to Podshow talent.

"Tens of thousands of people in the radio business have these filters," explains Curry. "It's not just the 'Seven Dirty Words'; it's what's wrong politically for the company. MTV was way like that. It was horrible. The talented people are saying: 'Screw this, maybe I can be my own man.'"

Unlike most vloggers, who dabble in text blogging and audio-only podcasting before graduating to video, Richard Bluestein actually started by vlogging. Back in 2001 when he posted his first video online, it didn't have a name. A year later he came up with Madge, almost by accident.

Jennifer Silverberg
Jennifer Silverberg

"Some friends of mine were smoking pot and they called me and said they wanted to do a mockumentary like Spinal Tap, except with lesbian riot grrrls," recounts Bluestein, who despite podcasting for a living fervently maintains a video blog on the side. "They wanted me to play the manager of the band — this big Jewish woman who wants to fuck all the girls. So Madge just came out of that."

In elevating to relative superstar status a gay man portraying a Jewish lesbian, the podcasting community is already leaps and bounds ahead of mainstream media in reaching an underserved demographic.

"Yeah, this is a well-recognized audience with some advertisers, but you really reach them when you're reaching them through them, because it's all about them," says Curry. ("Enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think of me?") "This is going to be a huge community that is very tight-knit, thanks in no small part to Richard Bluestein. They're finally having their voices heard. It's so way different from Will & Grace."

As good as podcasting has been to gays and lesbians, Bluestein sees more potential in the vlogosphere.

"I think the podcasting medium is very open," he says. "But if you're talking about acceptance, I find the video blogging community much more accepting. Anything goes in video blogging."

"Some people are going to do home videos, and that's all they'll want to do," says Current TV's Sloan, whose network often airs submissions from video bloggers. "But some of the best stuff we've gotten is from people with these cameras or computers. It's stuff that mainstream media doesn't have the interest or focus to fill."

Which in turn speaks to the virtual medium's commercial viability.

"The potential for advertisers is being able to target a very niche market they wouldn't necessarily be able to get to," says Streeter. "Maybe a liquor distributor might be interested (in sponsoring Lo-Fi clips). They're kind of shut out of mainstream media, and I have a large community of people who have some commonality with how they consume things."

"It's been so under the radar that I don't think anyone's taken advantage of it nearly to what they could as an advertiser," offers St. Louis-based Core Audio/Visual designer Jason Stamp. "You're reaching a whole group that isn't watching prime-time TV that advertising people can't figure out how to get to anyway. Eventually somebody's going to pick up on that and sponsor viral movies, and it's going to make their product cooler. Once it happens once, it'll happen a thousand times. Advertising people will give it some catchy name, and you'll buy it like you'll buy any billboard.

"It used to be you had to go to years of schooling to get into the commercial realm," Stamp continues. "Now it's the idea that's king — whether you're in eighth grade or have years of experience. You can create these web movies wherever you are. If it's great, it's going to get swept up and seen around the world. And I don't think that's ever happened before."

KETC-TV's Patrick Murphy remembers his former pupil Bill Streeter thus: "He's got the skills that we've got, but he doesn't care. That's not where he's at."

While Murphy dismisses the notion that the vlogosphere poses a serious threat to mainstream television's market share, the local PBS producer does discern a compelling trend in terms of how vlogs and their ilk are affecting people's information-consumption habits.

"Video blogs represent, to me, a move from a mass audience to audiences that are much smaller and specialized," the producer explains. "It's this incredible democratization of media, with all the good and the bad that democracy involves. It sort of turns the model upside down in a lot of ways. In a broadcast operation, we're setting the schedule and you basically watch by appointment. With a video blog, you can visit it absolutely any time you want."

"We're in this transition away from mass media to custom media," agrees University of Missouri-St. Louis journalism professor Tom McPhail. "Advertisers are losing great demographics — and they can't capture them by advertising on mainstream television anymore, because they don't watch it. The whole area is up for grabs."

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