Most content strikingly similar to established tube commodities
For those who remember the go-go dot-com boom, the recent explosion of broadband offerings has the vague feeling of partying like it’s 1999 — without, hopefully, the same killer gone-bust hangover.Video has become the new rage on the Internet, with established players eagerly joining the parade, mostly out of fear that to do otherwise risks letting it pass them by. And while broadband content continues to improve, thus far most of it feels strikingly similar to established TV commodities — bite-sized confections hewing to a familiar formula that, in the best cases, wouldn’t be out of place as a Conan O’Brien sketch or a bit on “The Daily Show.” The menu itself can appear overwhelming, especially for those willing to seek out blogs, downloads and iPod conversations with the producers of favorite shows like “Lost.” There’s also the joy of discovering TV snippets that otherwise might have gone unnoticed in the pre-YouTube era, such as “Wetback Mountain,” a movie spoof from Comedy Central’s “Mind of Mencia” where the forbidden activity involves two Mexican-Americans going into the mountains to wear sombreros and shoot tequila. Along the same lines, the best two minutes I saw during a week of checking out Yahoo’s THE 9 (at 9.yahoo.com), a daily compendium of video clips, was the “Spider-Man 3” trailer, and even then, enduring “host” Maria Sansone’s overcaffeinated delivery felt like being locked in a room with the chair of sorority rush, or perhaps “ET: Juniors Edition.” Original productions are, not surprisingly, a hit-miss proposition, heavily skewed toward comedy and often involving either animation or cheap-to-produce clips where somebody takes a camera into a strange setting like a geeky videogame convention and lets the wackiness ensue. Notably, some of the more ambitious efforts, such as AOL’s “Gold Rush” game (at goldrush.aol.com), closely resemble existing TV fare — as if these were the equivalent of Off Broadway productions being piloted on the Web for wider consumption down the road. Then again, that merger of the TV life cycle with the ‘Net — whether it’s introducing and testing shows online, or, in the case of a canceled series like CBS’ “Smith,” burning off episodes there — is already upon us. Interestingly, DirecTV is seeking to blend the two on its “The 101” channel with a showcase of shortform programming titled “The Fizz” that basically assembles video bloggers in an easily consumed, “America’s Funniest Videos”-type package. It’s a liberating approach to programming that may, as DirecTV Entertainment prexy David Hill notes, only be “worth six minutes.” Surveying the network sites, CBS’ “Innertube” offers the easiest access to a nice array of original content. Among the current features, the best is “The Papdits,” a clever “Borat”-like spoof about an Indian family by one of that movie’s writers, which is a full pilot thrown on the Web. (Actually, even the animated Esurance.com ads — the ostensible price to watch this content — are kind of entertaining.) The portal to Fox goes through MySpace, while ABC’s site is most notable for the various add-ons to its big series franchises. NBC’s dedicated comedy site Dotcomedy, meanwhile, includes a guy in an Easter Bunny suit beating the crap out of people — part of a strange bunny obsession, inasmuch as pay cabler Starz has “30-Second Bunnies Theater,” which reenacts movies like “Fight Club” with animated bunnies. Honest. Also at Dotcomedy is an interactive feature, the “Untitled News Comedy Show” (or “UNCS” for short), which allows online contributors to submit punchlines for set-ups delivered by “anchor” Brian Unger. It’s a nice enough idea, but frankly, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s writers do it better and as a plus, they’re getting paid. Notably, a Dotcomedy promo shows successful-looking people in business attire with a voiceover that intones, “You can bet they didn’t waste their afternoon watching video of a monkey drinking his own urine.” It’s an amusing if fairly accurate summation of what currently drives the broadband bus — namely, young guys looking to squander a few minutes between classes or at work savoring the hilarity of someone getting smacked in the crotch. And to think, despite evidence to the contrary, they actually have opposable thumbs.