Saturday 19th April 2014,
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The Old Internet Is New Again: ‘If I Can Dream’ and Chatroulette

Aymar Jean Christian March 11, 2010 uncategorized 6 Comments

Original at SpliceToday

Does anyone remember Jennifer Ringley and Sean Patrick? Over 10 years ago, tens of thousands of Americans brought The Truman Show to reality by broadcasting themselves live for anyone to see. Webcams, people forget (especially people my age), were the original web videos. JenniCam and Sean Patrick Live drew thousands of viewers and became one-person brands long before Fred and Ryan Higa. Webcams were low-res and low-energy, but they were voyeurism incarnate.

You know the Internet is old when it starts to repeat itself. Last Tuesday, producer Simon Fuller brought to the Internet the live show If I Can Dream, following five unrealistically attractive men and women in a beautiful Los Angeles mansion, each one trying to “make it” in various entertainment and lifestyle-focused industries. It’ll take 56 cameras, a lot of rules and a 30-minute episode edited every week, but the series hopes to be a viral hit. It’s pitching itself as a novelty.

JenniCam

But If I Can Dream isn’t new. It’s just one of a host of new websites and series from over the last three or four years aiming to bring back the ol’ Internet: live video, webcamming and unabashed voyeurism.

The most publicized has been Chatroulette, which has been around since 2009 but received major buzz when New York exposed it to the over-30 set, to much press attention—I know something has been hyped when even I have been asked to comment. As New York notes, Chatroulette is a new twist on old concept: the live webcam site. What Chatroulette does is add randomness and anonymity, though these two things were never really missing from original. Needless to say, Chatroulette is an extreme concept. What our fascination with it shows is how much we miss the chaos lost in our logical, Googled, Facebooked web.

Before Chatroulette, live streaming sites became popular, corporate and socially-networked spaces. Justin.tv draws millions every month. UStream.tv, Blogtv.com and Stickam have similarly been steady, with the former becoming quite popular of late. YouTube and other video hosts are in the business of live as well; and as bandwidths go up, so does viewership. Live broadcasting has moved beyond the domain of stay-at-home narcissists. Awards ceremonies and live events are regularly streamed. Most interestingly, YouTube stars and web series creators have been using live streaming to augment their brands and solidify audiences (leading them to ad-hosted sites and videos).

The site boasts well-designed Flash-based features for exploring the house

If I Can Dream is merely the latest—albeit better-funded—effort at using live streaming and mixing it with tried and true genres. It’s a cross between the fame-focused American Idol, petty drama-peddling Real World, and navel-gazing America’s Next Top Model. Live! It’s quite a sleek operation: with short edited clips using “scenes” from the live feed and a super-cool website with Flash-based browsing, allowing you to bounce around the house and find people in numerous ways. It feels very much like The Hills in tone: “realistic” but well-shot and well-lit micro-moments, a dramatization of relationships at their most mundane.

Will this be successful? I’m not sure. Certainly it’s still hard to make money in web video. Individual successes abound, but considering YouTube still is not profitable and hundreds of well-funded web series go unnoticed, predicting a hit online is much more difficult than on television.

Employing hot young people is surely a good start. If nothing else, sex sells online, perhaps more so than on television or film. Quarterlife producer Marshall Herskovitz has mentioned numerous times how photographs of his star Bitsie Tulloch led to easy increases in views. Web entrepreneur Scott Zakarin (The Spot, Roommates) has been using girlfriend-cute leading ladies for over a decade. The top vloggers on YouTube are one of three things: 1) really funny, 2) really talented or 3) really hot.

My problem is I wonder if anyone has time anymore to wait for something to happen live. There are too many websites to visit, too many ways to entertain yourself. In this regard, the weekly wrap-up episodes are a good idea. If you solve the “live” problem, the issue becomes penetration. If nobody is talking about it, nobody will watch. What kinds of ridiculous hijinks, heated arguments and emotional breakdowns will the show’s producers coax our blessed beauties into? How many different hookups and sexual petty dramas can the show create? It won’t matter if they’re blogging, tweeting or vlogging for nine hours a day. If our models and actors aren’t interesting, we won’t watch. If they strive too strenuously to protect their images (because they really want to be famous), they’ll bore us.

And Internet viewers — all viewers — want to be entertained, and usually in the cheapest way possible. However much the Internet changes—or repeats itself—this much will stay the same.

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

6 Comments

  1. Arianne Cropley August 30, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Was playing on a new video chat site called Chat Spasm, a 24/7 webcam party site.

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