Friday, September 26, 2014

TWIT: Why I bother


After I wrote my last article about TWIT's latest round of upheavals I found myself pondering why it was that I bothered to pay so much attention to a tiny podcast network.

Others have wondered as well...

Hell, I even wonder at times but I think I have an answer.  So let this article serve as my explanation to anyone that questions my motives. 

Some might call the articles I write about TWIT as nothing more than trolling hit pieces born from some beef I have with Leo Laporte.  
And you would be wrong...  

Trolls only seek to garner attention to themselves at the expense of their 
target.  I don't seek a target, I have a vested interest.  One that may surprise you.

You see, I want TWIT to succeed.

Unlike the Revision 3 and 5 by 5's of the world, TWIT is not just another podcast portal with prerecorded content waiting to be pulled off some virtual bookshelf.  It's a living, breathing entity 24/7 that allows its viewers free access to not only relevant content but a chance to peek behind the curtains of an emerging broadcast medium.

Which is something most podcast aggregators don't do.  There's no life to their offerings, just a jukebox carousel of pre-packaged content. 

TWIT was something different.  It's the lovechild of Leo Laporte and TechTV both of which I was an avid fan.  Yes there were reruns but there was also live programming and interactivity with the hosts not to mention the opportunity to see what magic the Wizard (Laporte) was crafting behind the scenes.

This was the prototype for what Internet broadcasting should be.  Viewer driven, dynamic, interactive and compelling. 

It was the kind of programming that you could leave on all day in the background if you wanted to.  No playlists, no stale overproduced content, no empty headed "spokesmodels" that wouldn't know the difference between a smart cache and a Smart car...


But beginning around the early part of 2012 just after the move to TWIT's new studio, the Brick House, things started to change.  There was an increasing emphasis on even long running shows to be profitable.  

While there's no denying that someone has to pay the bills the content began to suffer as ever more ads crept in and Laporte took a less central role.  With no heir apparent to TWIT, leadership flounders and content frequently takes a back seat to the "business" of TWIT.   All the time never realizing that the focus on ad revenue is killing the soul of the network.

So why do I care? 

Because an opportunity is slipping away due to greed, hubris and indifference.  It's not so much about Laporte, TWIT or even any of the shows so much as the impending failure of an experiment that should otherwise succeed.

TWIT is the prototype for online media in a way that CNET could only dream of being.  It's the only option poised to challenge traditional and new media outlets.  If it fails it's unlikely that we'll see it's kind again and frankly there's no good reason for it.  The network continues to shoot itself in the foot and become less relevant by the day as both talent and content migrate to greener pastures.  The only response, to continue the slow slide into oblivion with denial and delusion. 

TWIT is repeating the history of its ancestor in spite of claims to the contrary.  What began as the offspring of TechTV is dangerously close to meeting the fate of G4. 

I'd rather not write its epitaph.


That's why I care.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

TWIT: Say goodbye to being social


...and the hits keep comin!

I'm starting to feel like a gossip columnist but it's an occupational hazard when one follows the sinusoidal wave of chaos that TWIT appears to be lately.

While the bulk of TWIT programming has soldiered on with little change since my last article, when changes do happen they can be dramatic.

Take for instance the latest installment of Lisa Kentzell's "Changes at TWIT" page found on the TWIT.TV home page and perhaps updated a bit too frequently.  

In it we find out:

  • ·         OMGCraft is moving off the network
  • ·         RedditUp is on hiatus
  • ·         Marketing Mavericks is getting a new time slot (again)
  • ·         The Social Hour is cancelled



Let's ignore the elephant in the room for a moment and deal with the less weighty of our little punch list.


OMGCraft:

While OMGCraft's appeal was admittedly niche, it was arguably a better show than say "Marketing Mavericks" with more of a following if it's companion YouTube channel is any indicator.  

Considering what the show started out as and what it became after joining TWIT's "official" lineup it's understandable that host Chad "OMGChad" Johnson would choose to take it off network.  If it returns to the more freeform format of its TWIT "beta" days it should do well for Johnson and I honestly hope that comes to pass.

RedditUP:

While mildly entertaining I never quite understood the point of this show.  Co-hosted by Sarah Lane and Chad Johnson, It covered the happenings of the social network that isn't, specifically Reddit.  While Lane and Johnson did their best,  the show was the equivalent of somebody building a podcast around their twitter feed. 

But at least it wasn't...

Marketing Mavericks:

So the wildly successful (that's sarcasm folks) marketing podcast is getting moved to another time slot, again.  This is the TWIT podcast that introduces viewers to those giants of industry that brought the world opt-out spam, singing chickens and pop-up ads.  

Considering the far more "niche" OMGCraft podcast consistently produces episodes that can crest 20,000 views on its associated YouTube channel, Marketing Mavericks by comparison struggles to reach 50.  Why this show continues while other more popular examples regularly get the boot is a continuing mystery.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room...

The Social Hour:

"...We are also retiring The Social Hour. Originally called net@night, it is one of our longest-running netcasts, starting when “social media” was still in its infancy. As the landscape has matured and trends have shifted towards apps, we feel that social media coverage is now a part of almost every show on our network..."

This one is almost on par with Tom Merritt leaving...

While admittedly "The Social Hour" at times seemed more like an hour spent with a couple of chattering valley girls, the content was nonetheless relevant to its audience.  With no social media rock left unturned even those with a passing interest could find something of use. 

Considering the strict adherence Laporte and Kentzell demand of TWIT shows to be profitable, it's longevity could only be a result of its popularity with viewers...right?
It's abrupt departure is likely more significant than it may seem on the surface.

The Social Hour debuted on March 30, 2011 picking up where its TWIT predecessor "Net@night" had left off with host Amber MacArthur and Sarah Lane taking over co-host duties from Laporte.  Meaning that some incarnation of the show had continuously ran for nearly 9 years on the TWIT network before being deemed "redundant."

The decision was apparently made within the last week as no indication of the show's cancellation was indicated during last week's episode that found Lane closing with, "We will see you next week."

Apparently not Sarah...

There was no episode of "The Social Hour" (not even a rerun) during its normal timeslot this week making the hour long void between "Know How" and "Coding 101" conspicuously present. 

Even the show's icon had been moved to the "retired shows" section of the twit.tv website.  A small but powerful statement as most retired shows have historically remained in the "current shows" lineup for at least a month.

The justification, " ...we feel that social media coverage is now a part of almost every show on our network..." is curious considering Laporte's stand on TWIT's "tech news" focus.  Mostly because the Mike Elgan era of TWIT's news coverage could easily be accused of the same sin; that being redundancy. 

Other TWIT shows like Windows Weekly, Security Now, This Week in Tech and a host of others consistently cover the same content as Tech News Today (TNT) yet it's allowed to continue.

It seems a double standard is at play here...

Perhaps this is part of a grand plan to eliminate any show on the TWIT network that may threaten the relevance of the news department. 

Although I don't see how that's possible considering the lack of improvement in Elgan's performance on TNT after 9 months evidenced by its absence on the Itunes top 40 tech podcasts

Kentzell has stated in the past that her goal was to make TWIT less dependent on Laporte's persona and by and large he has backed away from all but the core TWIT shows.  In that respect she's succeeded but even a cursory examination of Laporte's demeanor over the past year suggests that the changes may not have yielded the expected results.


Watch any recent podcast of "The Tech Guy," Laporte's syndicated radio show, and frequently the lovable teddy bear of tech is instead curt and irritable.  For example, a recent caller to the show found themselves on the receiving end of the "dump button" because Laporte was unhappy with the pace of the caller's question.  It's not an isolated incident either...

Even Laporte's guests aren't immune as they're often talked over or cut off mid sentence regardless of the proximity of a commercial break.  It's almost as though Laporte is in a race to the finish of every show and would rather be somewhere else.

It's likely the result of stress but unfortunately it appears that even indulging in the recreation that only Laporte's wealth can bring can't alleviate it.


For his own sake, perhaps Laporte should consider just leaving things be at TWIT for awhile.