Walt Mossberg

It’s Not All YouTube — The Web Is a Trove Of Watchable Videos

I love YouTube. As a pop-culture junkie, I watch its videos daily, whether goofy amateur productions or clips — often of dubious legal status — lifted from TV shows or movies.

But, while YouTube is sometimes seen as synonymous with the Internet video revolution, there is a lot more to Web video. In fact, some of the most interesting video on the Web isn’t even the type of stuff that’s most popular on YouTube — short, one-off clips.

In various corners of the Web, people are producing real, episodic TV shows, including news, drama and comedy — sometimes with real actors and professional production values. Some of these longer-form, episodic shows are called video blogs, or vlogs, but others simply call themselves shows. Instead of lasting just a few minutes, they can run up to half an hour. These programs have more in common with regular broadcast and cable shows than with those emailed clips.

One of these days, a real hit show will emerge on the Web.

To be sure, such Web TV shows aren’t brand new. Ever since Apple began offering free video blogs on its iTunes store, people have been making them. One of the first to achieve popularity was a cheeky daily newscast called “Rocketboom,” which made a star of its first host, Amanda Congdon, who has moved to the ABC News Web site. (“Rocketboom” continues with another host.) Another was a comedy called “Tiki Bar TV.”

But the trend has accelerated and deepened lately, and a number of interesting sites have sprung up. My favorite is blip.tv, run by a team made up of a former systems administrator for the NHL, and a former TV news reporter and producer. Blip.tv (not to be confused with a similar-sounding site called bliptv.com) hosts a bunch of these new Web TV series, and also helps them attract funding, sponsors and advertisers. Anyone can upload a show.

One of my favorite shows available on blip.tv is called “Goodnight Burbank,” a comedy series about the squabbling that goes on behind the scenes at a local TV news show. Another is “Alive in Baghdad,” news reports from Americans and Iraqis on how the war affects average Iraqis. “Cube News 1″ is a series about life in the office cubicle. Other shows I’ve enjoyed on blip.tv include “HotRoast,” “The Ministry of Unknown Science” and “Josh Leo.”

Each show on blip.tv is accompanied by a profile page, comments from viewers and sometimes a blog. Many aren’t exclusive to the site. Some have their own Web sites, and episodes can also be found on YouTube and downloaded from iTunes and other sites. In fact, blip.tv provides links that make it easy to subscribe to shows on iTunes and other sites. But blip.tv does a good job of gathering a whole bunch of these Web TV series in one location.

Another good place to find these kinds of video blogs and Web TV series is at the iTunes Store. Unlike the music, commercial-TV shows and movies that Apple sells there, these Web video series are free. And because they are on iTunes, you can easily download them for viewing on a Windows or Macintosh computer, or on an iPod. You can even watch them on a real TV if you plug a computer or iPod into the set, or buy Apple’s forthcoming Apple TV product.

There are way too many Web series and video blogs on iTunes to list here, but if you go to the podcast page in the iTunes store and scroll down to Featured Video Podcasts, you can get an idea of what is available. iTunes includes several Web-only video series produced by the big TV networks, including a fascinating series from ABC called “The Day It Happened,” with historic footage on events such as the Kennedy assassination, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the wedding of Princess Diana.

Another site worth watching is brightcove.com, from a company whose main business is selling the technology for doing Web videos to big media concerns, including Dow Jones & Co., the publisher of this newspaper. But brightcove also hosts Web video from average folks and small outfits. It will soon introduce a feature to allow average users to record video directly to its Web site and then mix it, legally, with clips licensed from big media companies.

Yet another worthwhile site is Network2.tv, which attempts to aggregate a wide variety of Web videos in one place.

I’ve only scratched the surface of the available video sites, but if you like YouTube, you may love what else is out there.


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