I never watch television. Twelve years on the internet have raised my expectations for media consumption to levels television — as it is presently programmed and delivered — simply cannot meet. This is a failure of the technology (the ~9yr gestational period for “iTV”, which we are still very much in, despite Steve Jobs’ crazy alpha-product announcements to the contrary) and the format. My information consumption on the internet is catholic and frenzied, twenty open firefox tabs, ancillary wikipedia references in a separate window, IE open so I can monitor both my gmail accounts, and topic browsing from tech gadgets to contemporary art to the (shameful) history of US military interventions in Central and South America. If I had to guess, I’d say I absorb the equivalent of at least 7 television documentaries in a 90 minute period of intense surfing, certainly in terms of data retained for future use. My digital television signal from Time Warner (non-HDTV) has a bit rate of about 21 MB/s, that’s the data stream I’m consuming in watching a single channel. You could argue my max potential consumption with DTV is double that with PiP, but there’s only a single audio stream so it tops out somewhere south of 42 MB/s. That was more than enough data pre-internet, but the time-shifting of the blog-o-wiki-google-net (everything is TIVO’d for me online), and the ability to run PiP at 10X+ television thanks to browser tabs, has raised the bar beyond the reach of channel-based video distribution. I’m consuming approximately 147 MB/s of data online… pretty cool.
So as I said, television has lost most of its appeal. Cartoons (art on TV), movies/HBO-programming (very high-quality entertainment media with visceral emotional appeal) and the very occasional live spectacle (sports, election2000) are the only media that have any draw left for me. Like Kathy says, it’s all about the peekaboo effect, and I want that 7X multiplier of the discovery reward that the internet gives me, at best television gives you one lousy PiP and a one-channel looped “back button”… an interface so obsolete as to be borderline physically painful to use.
All of this is to say that last night I sat down and watched about 30 minutes of current_, and I was hooked. I had 30 minutes of vegged-out tv consumption that I haven’t had in I don’t know how long and I was entertained. Current gets it. They crowdsource top-tier UGC, I was shocked to find myself anticipating/looking forward to seeing another UG’d commercial after catching a cool CGI spot for Sony’s portable gadgets lineup. And they put the creator’s headshot, name, age (19!) and location up on the screen. They run timeline bars under some of their programming, nice when you’re not so interested in one of the shorts, at least you know how much time is left. And they are replicating the way people consume media now in the real world on television… genius is datamining the natural world for its inherent truths and converting the result to actionable information. Einstein did a pretty good job with E=mc^2, and Al Gore and company have done it with current_. The format is a combination of the net-browsing modality with the visceral appeal of a game show (who’s going to win the next $10,000 video prize? the next $1,000 commercial spot?) and it works for me.
Another interpretation is that they have MTV’d the internet, the format — with perky VJs introducing videos and the aforementioned taglines for videos/commercials — is essentially identical, and I predict current_ will be as innovative for television/internet convergence as MTV was for television/music convergence. It’s also a HUGELY underdeveloped asset in Google’s back pocket (not sure what the extent of the relationship is, but Yahoo needs to replicate this tuit le suit). GOOG’s radio adventures don’t make much sense to me, though I imagine the barrier to entry is lower (I’m sure current_ is only seen by a pittance of the US audience at present) as is the inherent animosity towards the internet in radioland. But I see current_ becoming a core component of Google’s approaching total media dominance. Good stuff, maybe there’s hope for the idiot-box yet.