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Shiva Rajaraman

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In the Global Living Room, Every Moment Can Find an Audience

Posted: 06/29/11 11:21 AM ET

We often think of television as the true "mass media" when in actuality it's anything but: with the exception of a few worldwide events, most programs are seen by just a small percentage of the world's population. And citizens of one country rarely get access to the full programming of even their neighboring nations. As the web changes video forever, and with it the fundamental DNA of entertainment, we're seeing the debut of a true global living room. Here are three ways that web video disrupted the status quo:

Audience and reach
Historically, television broadcasters have been confined to the national borders they operate in. This forced them to develop very specific sets of entertainment for very specific audiences. Much of the production work around this programming was guess work, with TV executives basing success on hunches of what their local audience wanted. Sometimes they were right and the entertainment they pushed out was a huge hit. Most of the time, however, they were not and their show would fail to find an audience and be canceled.

With the web, content owners can reach a global audience on a single platform with a few clicks. And because the Internet encourages sharing, every person in the world can write a new headline for your movie and build you an audience. These people, in turn, send signals back to the content producer and these signals help them better understand both the audience as a whole and each individual member who makes up that whole. For example, as we saw in 2010, a movie studio in India can release a feature film on web to the world and learn not only that their movie has a following in Estonia, but that the Estonian fan base is made up primarily of men between the ages of 25-30 who happen to love the movie's chase scenes best of all. Having a platform that can reach so many with such immediacy is a powerful thing. Couple this reach with a truer understanding of what audiences both within your country and beyond it are drawn to and you create the beginnings of tectonic shift in entertainment.

Cultural understanding through engagement
Ten years ago, a child in Colombia may have imagined what the sand dunes in the heart of the Sahara Desert looked like. Finding such a thing on the television would be difficult, if not impossible. He could read about it in a newspaper, or even stumble upon photos of it in a copy of National Geographic. But no medium is more immediate, or more visceral than video. Video -- even a grainy video shot from cell phones in a marketplace that's just erupted into chaos -- puts the viewer instantly and unavoidably in the moment. Ever wonder what a sunset in El Salvador looks like, or what it's like to test driving a Lamborghini on the German Autobahn? Ever witness a Zulu tribal dance? Today, web video transports you from the small place in front of your screen to almost anywhere in the world you want to go. In doing so, it literally and figuratively offers new perspectives and fosters greater cultural understanding.

This sense of commonality effortlessly created through clicks on the Web is what the producers of the film Life in a Day sought to capture: a single day acted out through thousands of individuals across hundreds of countries and geographies. The result is a time capsule showing the shared experiences of humanity.

How the Web Makes Creating and Creativity Viral

In the age before the web, a good idea often stayed local. Occasionally, it would break out and spread to other towns, or countries, but the law of averages and of nature kept ideas and their impact close to the thinker. Today, the web creates communities bound by common interests not national borders. In this ecosystem creativity around video has thrived.

When a person shares a video, she is not just sharing a moment, she is sharing a technique for capturing that moment on camera. These techniques and ideas -- memes -- are noticed, adopted by another, and altered, one riffing on another and another. And so evolves the creative process. This is the democratizing of video creativity. In the traditional entertainment model, projects needed to be reviewed and greenlighted. This meant only a tiny minority's creative expression saw the light of day and found an audience. The Web has changed the model around entertainment. Techniques and skills once held by a cadre of experienced producers and cinematographers are now distributed to the masses and the masses, in turn, adapt the techniques to develop new forms of video entertainment and creativity at a rate faster than ever before. When YouTube released a feature called Annotations, we never imagined the new and gripping directions the community would take it. Few would believe that thousands of instructional videos on how to play instruments could be transformed into a single work of musical art. Or that a single tilt effect could create a massive following of similar videos each uniquely compelling in their own right. Collectively, this community helps evolve not only the distribution, but the creation of video faster than ever before. The results are videos like the one created by Uruguayan Frederico Alvarez who, with little to no professional training, produced a special effects-laden video that would get him recognized and recruited by Hollywood. The world's imagination is unlocked and access to audience is gated by your talent, not your zip code.

Today, nearly 8 years of video are uploaded to YouTube every day. This mass of video reflects the deep desire of people to reach out, connect and share their experiences with the world in the hope of finding an audience. Today, the audience and the creator are one and this combination, brought to you by the internet, has forever transformed the world of entertainment. Are you creating for this new global living room? If you're not, you should be.