When Comcast swallowed up the geek-run TechTV and merged it with G4 in the early aughts, a small group of the channel's former hosts broke from the corporate decision to start their own network. "We decided to continue to make the hardcore, niche techy-stuff," says David Prager, a veteran of TechTV. "And we were kind of in the right place at the right time—basically at the birth of Internet video." After catching the attention of former Digg CEO Jay Adelson, who provided their earliest funding, Prager and pal Kevin Rose founded Revision3, an Internet television network devoted to ultra-niche tech topics. Diggnation is still its biggest hit, but the network has expanded to include shows from Penn Jillette (Penn Point), and most recently Dan 3.0, a fan-driven interactive show that's a collaboration with YouTube. Last year, Revision3 recorded nearly 70 million views, posted 1.5 billion minutes of viewer engagement, and saw ad deals increase 50% from major brands like Adidas, Microsoft, and Nokia. We recently spoke with Prager about the world of Web TV from his vantage point.
FC: Do you have any advice for those looking to get started in Web video?
David Prager: Individuals making videos have to decide how much of a businessman they want to be: marketing and promotions, ad sales, distribution, and SEO strategy. Or how much it makes sense to partner with others to do. Revision3 brings all of those elements to one place. If you're an artist or a content-creator, and you want to focus 100% on that, you can do that by partnering with us—or someone like us. With that said, if you come in with an existing audience that you've built and promoted, that obviously has a lot more value.
FC: Knowing what you know now, what do you wish you knew when you first started?
Prager: One of the things that has been cemented for me in this medium is that authenticity goes a long way. For a lot of niche productions, which encompass most of Revision3's programming, it's about creating content for a specific community. We have a show about comic books, for instance, and the stars of the show are big comic fans, so the audience can relate. This can be spread to multiple genres. If we made a show about tulips, hell, with the number of tulip aficionados out there, we'd probably be successful with a tulip show.
FC: What are your favorite shows on Web TV, outside the Revision3 network?
Prager: I obviously enjoy all our programming—our target demographic is 18-34, a category I fall into, although not for too much longer. We just launched a new show called Dan 3.0, which has a much younger target audience. But I actually consume a lot of podcasts and TED talks. I watch My Damn Channel and CollegeHumor. And then many special one-offs, like Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog.
That was such an interesting experiment. If you talk with [creator] Joss Whedon, he'll say he pulled a lot of favors to be able to do that. It was far more than a novelty, but at the same time, he got a lot of the favors because of the novelty. It was a great proof of concept. I want more and more of that stuff coming out.
FC: Where do you think Web TV headed?
Prager: I remember thinking several years ago—and I'd like to think I was right—I remember saying that pretty soon you'll walk into Best Buy, and when you purchase your TV, it basically will be something that plugs into the Internet. You're not going to need to plug it into your satellite, or your cable, or grab something over the air. Right now today, that's very much true. A growing number of television manufacturers have built-in computers that are basically set-top boxes that interface with Netflix or other content communities. More and more, anyone who has Internet access—net neutrality notwithstanding—will be able to watch anything, anytime, anywhere that they want.
If I told you to go watch season 3, episode 4 of Lost, I bet you could get it streaming in no time at all, which is pretty cool. You're starting to find the more traditional, mainstream shows available that way because companies know that's how consumers want to be able to get it. But it begs the question: Who is going to pay for it? Right now they're doing it because it is undefined ground and they don't want to be left behind. Hulu is being forced to do this Plus version, for example. I think it's a great gamble. I hope that it works. If they ask me to pay to watch Lost though, I'm not sure.
Someone is either going to have to start paying for it, or it's going to get pirated into oblivion. But as far as the niche-market goes, it's worked out pretty well.
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A version of this article appeared in the September 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.