Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

How to Boost Web Video Traffic: Lose a CBS News Deal

The last time many of us heard from Shira Lazar, the Web video host was apologizing for some dumb Tweets about Steve Jobs, which led to the loss of a CBS distribution deal.

But that was three months ago! And apparently an eon in Internet time.

Since then, Lazar and her “What’s Trending” program, a chatty chat show about memes and the people who make them, seem to have rebounded quite nicely: Lazar says traffic has doubled since CBS cut ties with the show, which runs its final episode of the year today.

The caveat here is that “What’s Trending,” which launched in May, had a very modest audience when CBS was promoting it on its CBSNews.com site — around 40,000 views a week. And it’s easy enough to guess that the Jobs controversy — the show’s Twitter account had announced that the Apple co-founder had died, then flippantly told him to “live on,” by way of a correction — actually boosted the show’s profile and helped it get to the 84,000 weekly views mark it’s at today.

Still, getting any traction on the Web is hard, and there are plenty of shows and sites that are treading similar ground — just check YouTube. So credit Lazar and Damon Berger, the co-founders of production company Disrupt/Group, for making a go of it, without a big-name Web property giving it a push.

Instead, Lazar and Berger have cobbled together a variety of one-off collaborations with big sites (MTV) and small ones (VYou); they have more in the works. Virgin America, for instance, will start running best-of clips on the airline’s 5,000 in-seat TV sets, where the show will run alongside other Web originals like Boing Boing.

It’s also possible that help from CBSNews.com was never going to be much use to them. “I don’t think a majority of CBS’s audience was our audience,” Berger says, upon reflection.

But they’d still be happy to talk to bigger partners about a distribution deal (financing and sponsorships, too, if anyone is offering). And Lazar says they’ll be back in 2012. “We built an office with employees, and a three-camera live-shooting studio, and we weren’t just going to throw that away when an incident like that happened.”


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work