It's official; the video blogging world is coming into its own. The harbinger to this digital coming of age? Well it might just be the explosion of everybody's favorite rocket, Rocketboom. After all -- a medium can't be truly successful if there aren't the predictable pulls over money and the ever-present "creative control."
Arguably the most successful video blog ever, Rocketboom and its host Amanda Congdon have heretofore been the poster children for video blog victory. Fueled by its seductively simple recipe of one part clever writing, one part quirky-but-likeable-host, and about ten parts really tight sweaters, Rocketboom has from its October 2004 inception grown to a massive daily audience of 250,000.
In December of 2005 Rocketboom took yet another step towards legitimization when it became featured content on TiVo's video download offering.
Rocketboom followed up on this TiVo victory in February by selling its first advertisement block (via eBay) for $40,000 dollars. Over the course of the following months Rocketboom sold other chunks of advertising, and while it hadn't sold enough advertising to firmly label it a long-term success, the future for Rocketboom was definitely looking bright.
Yet, despite the introduction of money (or perhaps because of it) all was not well in Rocketboom land. And while Rocketboom is a product of the Internet, the story is as old as television itself. It's the age old battle between the "talent" and the "management."
On July 5th Amanda Congdon let the world know via a self-produced video blog entry that her tenure at Rocketboom had rather abruptly come to an end. What followed over the next 24 hours made Britney Spears' latest Dateline interview look like a well-oiled PR machine. Andrew Baron, the site's founder and majority owner, said she made unrealistic demands. Congdon shot back, all but using the phrase "constructive termination" to describe her new role in the organization. It was a mess, and the result is an "unboomed" Amanda and a Rocketboom looking for a replacement.
To the outside observer this might look like just another typical playground spat where one child boldly announces to the others "I'm taking my ball and going home." However, underneath the adolescent name-calling and airing of public laundry, there actually is a serious issue which has the potential to affect the entire industry: when it comes to video blogging, who really owns the brand?
Yes, it's clear that Andrew Baron as 51% owner (as opposed to Congdon's 49%) of Rocketboom owns the Rocketboom name. However, is that really the brand that matters? Many viewers are quick to point out that Amanda is the "brand" to which they relate. At the end of the day it's possible that the same refreshing "just Amanda and the camera" style which helped vault Rocketboom to internet stardom ironically might also be its downfall.
Unlike traditional "talent" vs. "management" debates where the talent is held in check by a certain amount of infrastructure, video blogs have very little to keep a well-liked host / writer tied to a brand. Furthermore, the audience for these shows is often bloggers and similarly tied-in viewers. This could spell disaster for a company like Rocketboom, but it could also have an adverse effect on companies looking for funding in the field. As one ex-VC put it, "I think that you'll see a lot of companies re-examining their non-compete clauses when it comes to on-air talent. You just can't afford to let your brand walk out the door."
As for what this means for Rocketboom's relationship with TiVo, TiVo declined to comment on their Rocketboom deal and whether or not the departure of Congdon will have an effect on it.
The next few weeks will certainly tell us a lot about the industry. Will Congdon be quick to grab the reins and start her own video blog? Will bloggers spread word of the new home? Will this result in a mass exodus of Rocketboom viewers?
One thing is clear. After this latest incident both Congdon and Baron will probably spend a little more time and be a little more careful before they pick their next partners.
If you have comments or suggestions for future columns feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.