Tune Into the Interactive Future of TV

One new network is giving audiences a way to control and participate in what they watch.
Author:
Publish date:

Often when I watch television, I feel very detached from it -- I may choose the channel, but I have no say in what goes on. With Next New Networks, however, the viewing audience is an integral part of the programming.

I recently met with two of the Next New Networks co-founders, Herb Scannell and Timothy Shey, at their New York office, where the enthusiasm is palpable.

This innovative media company has created a series of specialized networks (eight so far) on the Web, in which viewers can contribute and share content.

"Existing companies are trying to squeeze more out of what they already have, whereas we are trying to figure out what audiences want," says Scannell.

Under its format, Next New Network viewers are no longer a passive group. "We invite the audience to participate in every one of the networks by sending in video, by commenting, and then they get integrated into the story, which gets made into television

programs," Scannell explains.

This blend of traditional and new media is not surprising, considering the company's origins. Scannell has a background in traditional television, where he was vice chairman of MTV Networks, much like his other co-founder Fred Seibert, who also worked for MTV and Nickelodeon. "We see this as an experience of video and television married in with the functionality of the Web," says Scannell.

A Network for Everyone

The various networks, which are basically Web sites that are geared toward specific communities, are formed based on audience interest: "If it's big enough to support a successful blog,

then it can be a network," Shey explains. Shows on each network are currently between three and 11 minutes long.

The current offerings include

Channel Frederator (a cartoon channel),

Fast Lane Daily (car news),

Jetset (pop culture),

Veracifier (original stories and reporting) and

Thread Banger (fashion).

Currently, the company has a partnership with YouTube and also works with

Apple's

(AAPL) - Get Report

iTunes, on which Next New Networks shows are available as video podcasts.

The next generation of filmmakers is an exciting pool of talent, says Scannell. "These are the folks that can do it all: They write, they shoot, they do it all on their laptop." He mentions Erik Beck, a host from Next New Network's Indy Mogul channel.

"

Beck doesn't stop when he turns off the camera. He connects with the folks he knows from the film community and invites them in to participate with the dialogue," he says.

All the producers of the shows are "regularly getting challenged and getting ideas from the viewers," Scannell adds.

Another level of interaction comes when a viewer sends in a video. The first actual viewer submission was from a costume designer, who sent a simple how-to video. "All she did was show you how to sew a button ... set to cool music which she found on MySpace. It was our first big hit," says Shey, with 20,000 viewers.

Basically, any vibrant community that is already blogging, making videos and is out there on message boards is potential talent for any of the networks. "We look for talent that shines and stands out," says Shey. It's about the local stars -- not like the mainstream networks, which look predominantly for pretty faces.

"The new Web aesthetic is authentic, natural and real," Scannell chimes in. "We don't look at this as a package with central casting where we find a good actor and put them in here, and find a good producer and put them there."

Wide Appeal

While it is exciting to discover such dynamic content, Next New Networks must also find profits.

Sponsorships and mid-show advertising are currently in use on the networks. Since there are multiple platforms, each with their own unique fan communities, the advertising potential is immense.

In terms of promoting the company itself, Shey points to developing its credibility. "We think the audience is the best marketer. We are doing little marketing or advertising

and basically relying on word of mouth and quality programming," he says.

And thanks to the online format, it's easy to experiment and make adjustments along the way. "We will launch a network for low-cost investment and go out there and see if it works. If it doesn't, we haven't invested a lot of money," Shey explains.

New networks do have a time limit for performance, though -- Scannell says each has about three to six months.

Yes, you can even play a role in determining the future of the company's networks. Who knows, you could end up starring on one yourself.