November 30, 2011

Bloggingheads collapses.

Essentially. Remnants will remain, but, basically, it was never economically viable. Here's the whole clip explaining it, and here's the most interesting part saying it's particularly hard to build a site based on putting ideologically adverse interlocutors together:



Bob Wright says that "you need huge numbers" to monetize a website adequately, and the sites with big traffic, Bob says, are the ones where like-minded people get together — "where you just sit around and tell each other how stupid people on the outside are."

Mickey Kaus offers the theory that video is the problem: Video commentary is never going to get as many hits as text. Bob concedes: "Video is an inefficient medium." That's sad for Bloggingheads, but wonderful, really. There was a time when we thought that the future of humankind was staring at televisions. The web has revived reading. People prefer to look at text. I find it hard to watch any kind of video commentary or reporting, but I read it for hours a day.

As a blogger, I interact with text fluidly, copying this and that and pasting it interwoven with my writing. You can make a clip from a Bloggingheads video, but finding something you want to clip entails putting up with a lot of yammering, with the hope that you might find something you'd like to write about. With text, you can see from a distance — e.g., Drudge or Memeorandum or a Google alert — whether you even want to click over to a page. If you do, you can instantly scan it, search for key words, focus on the interesting parts, and copy the bits you want to riff on. And your post is up and creating new text-based effects of its own.

Another problem Bob talks about is that his "heads" — often writers and academics — had endless problems dealing with the technology involved in video recording their performance and sending the file to Bloggingheads to be made into their nice, split-screen presentation. It's easy to screw up, even if you have a Mac with a built-in camera and QuickTime software. I've botched recordings and then needed to redo them. (Oddly, the redone videos were, in both cases — here and here — particularly good: The dry run improved the performance.) Because of the technical issues, Bloggingheads employed 5 assistants. No wonder it wasn't economically viable!

It wasn't just that the various 'heads were technically inept and in need of expensive hand-holding. The 'heads were nearly all print-based folks. Writers. They weren't oriented to video. They made little effort to look and sound interesting on camera. When I was on, I tried to get back-and-forth action going for the sake of the viewer, but most of the 'heads would take turns making long-winded statements while the other stared blankly into the camera.

The key Bloggingheads technology was the split screen, but if the nonspeaker does nothing, you might as well have edited video — technically easy to do — showing one speaker and then the other. You could take out all the pauses and boring stuff too. But then the immediacy is lost, the thrill of real-time interaction. But it was that very thrill that made most 'heads boring! Writers, speaking, with no ability to edit? That tends to result the kind of talking that reminds me of the way I spoke when I tried to use a Dictaphone, back in the days when professionals didn't do their own typing.

Anyway, Bob says he's going to concentrate on blogging now, and he's going to be blogging at The Atlantic, which is a great perch. So, congratulations on that.

And goodbye to Bloggingheads as we've known it.

52 comments:

John McCrarey said...

I rarely clicked on the videos. For all the reasons you mentioned.

Curious George said...

"the thrill of real-time interaction"

did you mean "shrill"?

Carol said...

Like we didn't know. I never looked at the videos because it wasn't convenient or I was at work.

Lyssa said...

Mickey Kaus offers the theory that video is the problem: Video commentary is never going to get as many hits as text. Bob concedes: "Video is an inefficient medium."

This, for me, is the biggest thing. I want to read, and skip around, and adjust my interest level between quick skim and intense word-for-word. I almost never watch the videos.

Slate sometimes does written "discussions" or dialogues between different writers. I'd enjoy something like that from the folks who did Bloggingheads.

Bob_R said...

Nice try, but it didn't work. One thing Bob doesn't address is that while Bloggingheads wasn't ideologically uniform it was socially uniform. Lots of nerdy professors. PJTV is more ideologically uniform, but at least appears to have talking heads from outside of academia/journalism. It will be interesting to see if PJTV - which has made a big bet on video, but doesn't make some of the other "mistakes" that Bob talks about make a go if it. I'm with Althouse - video doesn't do it for me.

Scott M said...

I find it hard to watch any kind of video commentary or reporting, but I read it for hours a day.

This. A thousand times over.

traditionalguy said...

The personalities came across well on camera and they are MIA on written blogs. Perhaps there really is no such thing as bad publicity.

vet66 said...

The efficiency of prose trumps the minor benefits of video. Prose stands on its own as it condenses the spaces that distract viewers. Visuals and dialogue consume too much bandwidth to get a point across.

Newt Gingrich is the exception to the rule. He is actually interesting to watch and listen to. In a world of Hollywood Bright teeth and pithy lies it is refreshing to watch him deliver a cogent and concise verbal Power Point presentation on air.

wv; boxifo

box is full of something to listen to the average speechifyin' politico up for reelection.

I suspect that is part of his appeal in a world of politicians that come across as the governor in Best Little Whorehouse In Texas.

"As long as the sky is blue, the grass is green, and the buffalo roam in this shining country on a hill over which the proud flag of the USA waves over fields....."

AllenS said...

I didn't watch them either. First of all, they were too long. I was not going to wait for an hour to hear something that I might find interesting.

I also like to read, and if the opportunity presents itself, partake in the discussion.

Videos are ok, but they can't go over the three minute mark.

tim in vermont said...

There is plenty of ideological diversity on the web. Watching people shout at each other in the snail's pace of video has lost all attraction for me.

One side or the other is invariably spinning.

AllenS said...

vet66 said...
Newt Gingrich is the exception to the rule

I think that he's effective because he is able to keep his statements brief and to the point. No Carol_Herman is he.

pm317 said...

But it made for some hilarious 'nuanced' commentary!

TWM said...

I watched the ones where Ann was debating another gal. Even the remote possibility of a pillow-fight breaking out was worth the time.

DaveW said...

"...and the niche we're in, is a pretty nerdy or highbrow or however you want to put it niche. It's not...this not, you know, FOX News..."

From the mouth of babes. Obviously Bob is completely unaware of the fact but he just expressed why his enterprise is failing.

His idea of informed debate is a match up of left verse far left - or far left verse whacko fringe left. For Bob, Althouse is a right-winger. Putting Althouse in the role of conservative defender, or the likes of Frum, is not entertaining or informative and is annoying after a time.

His contempt for his ideological opponents is a significant contributing factor in the failure of BloggingHeads. It comes out in his sneering and eye rolling to say nothing of his inability to accurately repeat an opponent's argument.

It gets old watching that stuff. And although I enjoy listening to the left argue their positions I do think it more enjoyable to watch both sides in civil argument.

And his software sucked. It couldn't be downloaded and buffered so when I did attempt to watch I couldn't do so without having to reset it every time I had interrupt viewing for a few minutes.

It would be good for Bob to learn from this failure but based on this clip he doesn't have a clue, and that's a shame because it really is a decent idea. But what he wanted to do just isn't appreciated by people that aren't highbrow thoughtful folks like Bob.

Dark Eden said...

Bloggingheads always reminded me of a scene from the Blues Brothers.

"What kind of politics do you have at BH?"

"Oh we have both kinds. Left, and FAR Left!"

John Bragg said...

Solutions:

1. Dump video, keep the talking heads format. Release an audio file as a podcast.

2. Keep 1 of the 5 employees, assign them to type transcripts. Post the transcripts.

Now you have a much lower-cost, lower-bandwidth model.

Robert Burnham said...

...I find it hard to watch any kind of video commentary or reporting, but I read it for hours a day.

Bingo. This is the core problem with video for me. It always unfolds at one second per second, where with text, the info-density is usually much higher and you can skim and revisit portions easily.

Moreover, separating yourself from video really sharpens your critical eye whenever you do watch it.

David said...

Good writers are ruthless editors of their own stuff. The first draft is often crap. Bloggingheads was all first drafts.

Spread Eagle said...

It's really not all that complicated. Video is too time-consuming for most internet users.

David said...

The first draft is often crap. Bloggingheads was all first drafts.

Dale B said...

I would watch on occasion although it was only the segments that interested me that were defined in the text below the video display. Even then, I was doing something else and was seldom actually looking at the talking heads.

They do (did) have an itunes audio feed that I subscribed to and I would load some of them (maybe one out of fifteen) into my MP3 player and listen to them in my car or working in the garage or some such. For me, the video was never necessary or even useful. I'll miss the audio from BHTV but not the video.

Robert said...

Yes, video is inefficient. The answer maybe in the podcast environment. I download and bank them. Typically I find time away from the computer listening to them. I have learned a lot. Typically the best are one on ones.

Henry said...

You can make a clip from a Bloggingheads video, but finding something you want to clip entails putting up with a lot of yammering, with the hope that you might find something you'd like to write about.

That's why I gave up on it.

Here's another point about video vs. text. If you like to play with pop culture references, as many of us do, it is far easier to find quotes (from IMDB, for example) than the clips with the quotes in them.

And a point about politics. I hate watching politicians give speeches. I'd rather read the transcript. Same with debates. Sure I miss some body language, but reading makes it easy to skip the meaningless pablum and find the egregious deceptions.

T J Sawyer said...

Marshall McLuhan identified the mismatch problem pretty well when he talked about hot versus cold media.

But the "Video is an inefficient medium." sums it up even better.

Watching a press conference just isn't very interesting unless a reporter or the subject makes an ass of themselves.

I think we are all anxiously awaiting the video from Herman Cain's next conference.

Salamandyr said...

I liked the bloggingheads format, but I rarely listened. First, because it never behaved properly in Firefox. I would often click on a link, wait hopelessly for it to load, and finally say "aw to heck with it" and go do something else. I could only listen if I streamed it in an outside program, like Media Player, or opened it in IE. Too much of a hassle.

The other thing is that, I really felt there wasn't much of a diverse opinion. When Mickey Kaus and Ann Althouse are your rightwingers, you're really talking left and lefter. I never missed a Jonah Goldberg/Peter Beinart debate though. I think the low point was Dave Weigel and some other turkey doing a whole podcast dedicated to the stupidity of Sarah Palin, which revolved around the word autochthonic; and they had the definition wrong.

For the times I felt it was worthwhile to watch, I will be sorry to see it go.

Saint Croix said...

Film is a visual medium. It affects our emotions. When you make a film, you're trying to manipulate the emotions of your audience. All good filmmakers are a master of this. Images get people feeling things. Music gets people feeling things. It is a weak medium for the transmission of ideas. If you want to get people thinking, you really can't beat the written word.

The internet is amazing because you can access so many ideas, so quickly. The internet makes us all smarter.

Bloggingheads is like really bad television. No music, no visuals, no editing. As a silent movie, bloggingheads would be the worst silent movie ever made. Even the frickin' screen is tiny. Edison killing a frickin' elephant is like 1000 times more cinematic than bloggingheads.

So it's not entertaining and I feel nothing. And these are writers I like. I read Kaus. I read Althouse.

But the apathy that bloggingheads feels for the viewer (no need to entertain you, because our ideas are so damn cool) means that we feel nothing and we don't watch.

It's horribly bad TV, and just because it's on the internet doesn't change that fact. Bloggingheads never took advantage of this medium at all.

My blogging heroes--Althouse and Instapundit--specialize in being pithy and quick. Don't like this subject? Althouse has 10 more ideas. Every day. With interactive commentary. Why would I want to revert to the passive model where I sit while people drone at me? If I wanted that I would be watching television, which has a bigger screen, better music, actual editing, and people who care about the finished product.

You might try bloggingheads without video, just words. Your audience might actually go up.

madAsHell said...

Bloggingheads needed a Gore Vidal to call William F. Buckley a crypto-Nazi.

Heart_Collector said...

Robert said...
Yes, video is inefficient.

Agreed, its comparable to reading a althouse thread in super slow motion. Using your imagination to picture all the zaney commenters is much more fun than seeing the actual boring real world representation.

Video debate with people who are truley themselves, titus, crack etc would be very entertaining. But misc old smart guy #156 gets old. Its like having a class with a boring teacher.

tim in vermont said...

The nice thing about an audio only format is that you can listen to it in the background while reading other stuff.

Oleksa said...

I listened to their podcasts almost every day at work, though I rarely, if ever, watched the video feed. I second the opinion that Bloggingheads could be transformed into an audio-only format.

edutcher said...

Ann's point about length seems to be a big factor for most people, which is why I always appreciated her willingness to cut down the videos into clips around which a post could be built.

I'd disagree that it's difficult to build a following around ideological opposites - look what 60 Minutes did with Jim Kilpatrick and Shana Alexander, but a lot of those Lefties just bloviated mindlessly.

The downside, of course, is we won't see Ann's lovely smiling face as much.

John Althouse Cohen said...

Putting Althouse in the role of conservative defender, or the likes of Frum, is not entertaining or informative and is annoying after a time.

Why, because Frum doesn't support discrimination against gay people?

Heart_Collector said...

MR. Althouse Cohen...

You look like Ryan from the office in your pic.

Mary Beth said...

It would have been good to use a speech recognition software (Dragon, for example) with a little editing to provide transcripts. It would let people skim it to see if it had content they wanted to hear discussed and it would have helped get search engine hits.

Too often the people seemed unaware of the camera, and not in a good way - distracting movements, looking like they are talking to the ceiling or floor instead of the other person. There should have been better, uniform technology - microphones instead of cellphones or headsets. It doesn't have to look professional, just technologically competent since you're selling the medium as much as the content.

John Althouse Cohen said...

I agree it might be better as audio only. I listen to the diavlogs as podcasts. The video quality is usually extremely bad. And there's very little visual interest, with the exception of a few 'heads who bother to even care about this aspect. The audio quality is often bad too, but if the 'heads weren't burdened by trying to make amateur videos they might be able to do a better job at focusing on audio.

John Althouse Cohen said...

You look like Ryan from the office in your pic.

Thanks! I hope so.

Heart_Collector said...

Have you gotten that before?

Mary Beth said...

His idea of informed debate is a match up of left verse far left - or far left verse whacko fringe left.

Exactly.

You need two opposite points of view, not quibbling over minor details of disagreement. The video shouldn't be any longer than about five minutes - point, counterpoint, rebuttal, rebuttal and then encourage the viewers to slug it out in the forums.

If I just want to listen to people, I'll turn on the TV or radio. The benefit the internet has is interactivity. Maybe have a viewer talk back feature. If I watch a debate and think that both sides are missing the main issue, I can make a short video in response and either upload it to the site, or upload it to YouTube and submit the link.

kwood said...

So true. Whenever I follow a news link and it turns out to be a video, I almost always move on to something else I can just read.

Unless it's, like, UFO footage or something!

I know I'm missing out on a lot. The PJTV stuff is really well done, but even that I just can't be bothered with half the time. Give me a run-down in text, or even a script, and I'll at least scan it.

wf ULATSHAM - What a mild-mannered Indian reporter was heard shouting just before transforming into the crime-fighting super hero, 'Green Lentil'.

Lucius said...

Based on what Bob is saying, Ann seems to overstate the "collapse" which would be a source of some grief if it *were* truly gone from the web.

Bob and Mickey are my grown-up Bert & Ernie. I watch old episodes again from time to time; and yes, the unexpected intrusion of visual gags or just eyeball rolling with those two is worth it for me. As the election draws closer I intend to make a few marathons of the Obama years as a recap/regrouping for the struggle ahead.

It's true Bob's idea of ideological diversity is Progressive, Far Left, and Libertarian. I hope reduced circumstances for bloggingheads means he recruits fewer Muslims to patiently explain how Arabs discovered the Enlightenment in the 12th Century and haven't turned back since.

Bob & Mickey, with Glenn & John, Ann and whoever, are my core. I do hope Ann (who clearly has the tech under control) will continue to enthusiastically contribute.

Esp. if it means catfights with Michelle Goldberg or any chicks with pink hair.

The Crack Emcee said...

Bloggingheads was NEVER "ideologically diverse," which was exactly it's problem:

It was vanilla safe.

I watched a few and became despondent over how conventional everyone was. I mean, when they had you on as a conservative, well, that's not just safe by liberal standards but Orwellian by conservative ones.

And now, like the newspapers, rather than changing and actually allowing a diversity of voices on - or picking topics that have some serious bite and might actually affect something - they're making up the same self-serving excuses and/or blaming technology. Earth to Bloggingheads:

The problem was always your own rigidity, cowardice, and lack of imagination,...

Scott M said...

It was vanilla safe.

Racist.

caplight said...

I only ever watched Ann when she would post a clip. Sometimes I would to the link and watch more but only a few times. It is the inefficiency of video. The various comments have helped me put words to why I don't watch video. Sadly the same goes for PJTV.

blake said...

I couldn't watch this. It kept stalling.

wv: tries

The Crack Emcee said...

I've said something like this about many of the Pajamas Media crew as well:

People like Droopy, Glenn, etc., should face reality - and help the cause - by submitting a list of written questions to someone who is both smart AND actually compelling on camera.

Why would I want to want to watch Robert Wright? He looks depressed and depressing and doesn't have much that's interesting to say. Glenn Reynolds is a deer-in-the-headlights and too weirdly nerdy (and obscurely stupid) for a mass audience. Fucking Roger Simon and that damned hat? Give me a break. There are some good ones - Bill Whittle stands alone in my book - but not only don't we get enough of them but we get too many examples of how un-media savvy these guys really are.

As I've pointed out many times, those with the access, money, and influence, aren't necessarily the best or the brightest. They can even be, in some ways, our own worst enemies. Look at Glenn Reynolds:

He won't even talk to me. I know he thinks he's being smart, or considers it "punching down" to engage me, but it's really just stupidity and cowardice - he KNOWS the internet ain't real life but he refuses to engage on that level. I mean, how can I respect him as smart when I know that?

In a similar vein, despite pleas from people, here, Robert Wright would never dare to have the likes of me on Bloggingheads. Why? What's wrong with him? What does he think is wrong with me when people are asking for it? Don't these people like profit? Does helping me offend them? Again - why? Is being uncool just part of their DNA? How can Roger L. Simon keep saying we need a conservative arts movement when he won't help any conservative artist who doesn't try to seduce him or is perceived as more interesting than he is? I've said it before and i'll say it again:

If these people would fund me and iOwnTheWorld.com's BigFurHat, we'd eventually have the liberals eating out of our conservative hands, but NOOOOOOOO!!! The geezers have got it, thanks. Anyone can see the lame are walking just fine. Glenn Reynolds has a new post by a hooker on a quack remedy that will stop him from aging - oooh, edge-y.

I swear, one of my biggest disappointments about engaging the blogosphere is to discover that, even amongst the so-called smart set, all we'll ever get is more stupidity personified,...

Kirk Parker said...

Mary Beth (and you're far, far from the only offender),

"You need two opposite points of view"

What's with this constant privileging of the number 2? Can't you just say "You need at least two divergent opinions", leaving open the very real possibility that there are more than 2 positions on a given subject?

Peter Hoh said...

I liked the concept, but I didn't watch more than a few of the videos.

Almost Ali said...

I was going to say something, until I noticed the Word Verification for this post is "barista."

Amazing. Bloggingheads in its entirety.

Kirk Parker said...

Almost Ali,

Truly that is amazing. How does Blogger know???


wv: Tarbant - Trabant whose final inspection was performed by a dyslexic.

Kirk Parker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kirk Parker said...

I know, I know, Trabant doesn't *have* inspectors. Just bear with me for the sake of the WV joke, ok???

rcommal said...

I've always consumed Bloggingheads via its audio podcast version, to which I subscribed as soon as it was available (years ago). I'll miss it, very much.