Archive for the ‘The Office’ category

Hulu, Web Video and That Scary Kid from High School

31, October, 2007

As I’m writing this item, a second browser window on my computer is open and playing a video of Michael Scott and company meeting in a Dunder Mifflin conference room.

we armak fur infinitee paperfessional

to help us make itlater so it’s ajhhhh not too shabby

Ah, those cut-ups at The Office! Listen’ to ’em go at it!

so, Anybod it take car anima tried to do a logo

luug a da

eeaativity!


I suppose I need to explain that the dialogue I’m quoting is from a video of The Office embedded on the blog of Hulu, a new video service just launched by NBC/Universal and News Corp. The service is still in beta and very few free-living humans, aside from some media people and one analyst at Forrester and Co., have laid eyes on it.

Some venture capitalists and assorted bigbrains have proclaimed Hulu a “YouTube Killer.” By this they mean one of two things: (a) Hulu may demonstrate that big media companies can control distribution of their own content in a digital world; or (b) Hulu may prove someone has a freaking clue how to make money by streaming video on the web.

But for insight on business matters I always defer to the Sage from Scranton:

I wan youngwik cutTV on crack!

ind of ing. . .

What Michael in his infinite wisdom is saying is, a computer is a pretty crappy way to watch video.

It’s true that my broadband connection at this moment isn’t great–it’s one of those free hotel-room networks–which likely explains the Tourette’s-like vibe in the Dunder Mifflin conference room. But even when the sound is working right, a small screen isn’t something you cozy up your Barcalounger to.

I’m afraid the folks at Hulu don’t stay home and watch TV enough. If they did, they’d realize that nobody is going to sit through an hour-long drama on the notebook computer, even one of those swank 19-inch multimedia jobbies with cool speakers. Where does the viewer sit? In a desk chair for an hour with fingers poised at the keyboard? Maybe if you have wireless you watch it in bed until your neck cricks.

Or how about this: Just bring that flashy new Dell in front of the couch in the family room, and set it on top of the TV. Look, hon: A 19-inch color TV with no remote! Ain’t America great?

I know vast fortunes will rise and fall as investors try to figure out how to capture some of that YouTube fairy dust. But some pretty bright people seem to be confusing the technical ability to transmit video to computers with the desire to watch broadcast TV shows that way.

Note to Hulu: People aren’t deserting TV because they don’t like the device. They’re deserting because they like what’s “on” the computer better. By sticking your broadcast TV content on the web, you’re acting like that creepy-sad kid in high school who, after the girl breaks up with him, follows her around all day long hoping she’ll reconsider.

Dude: She’s just not that into you.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe these broadcasters really are onto something. They are, after all, big, successful corporations with decades of experience mastering the nuances of the American appetite for entertainment. Maybe their lurching attempts to press their decreasingly popular products onto the very people who have deserted them is not a fatal miscalculation.

I am certainly no expert on these things. For advice on these matters I turn, as I often do, to the Sage of Scranton:

a creative profess

how abou dampain?

ood luck Michael

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Work at “The Office,” Virtually

25, October, 2007

If you’re a fan of the NBC program The Office because of its unsettling verisimilitude, you may be happy (or scared) to know you can sign up to work there.

DunderMifflinInfinity is the month-old online division of the cheerless paper concern, and a reported 100,000 people are now on the playroll (to coin a phrase). DMI has become a massive social network, a sort of FaceBook where nobody will “friend” Dwight, a Second Life for people underpaid in their first one.

NBC is really putting the online division to work. People apply to set up “branches” whose “employees” [no more quote marks, sorry] do various office tasks to make SchruteBucks. These are redeemed for virtual desk accessories. Branches compete for corporate’s attention.

The effort is led by Ryan Howard, the erstwhile Scranton salesguy, who is recast as a cruel corporate titan pushing the Infinity staff to higher and higher production.

This is fun stuff for fans, and one of the more inspired and original social networks built to support a TV program fan base. Alas, the site material is written by the junior varsity, and it lacks that unnerving je ne sais quois that makes the show so good.

As for user-generated stuff, it is–stop us if you’ve heard this one before–a mixed bag. Some branches get the joke more than others, as their videos show. Some employees are clearly drinking on the job (the bar party in Dundalk, Md., is highlit by one of the fans falling on her butt, and it does not appear to be staged). Some are guilty of not-funny office pranks, but some are hilarious tributes to the spirit of the show.

Oddly, if you apply to join, there may be a two-week wait before you are “hired” at a branch. It’s not clear if this is a failure in NBC’s to handle the site’s huge popularity, or whether it’s all part of the joke about DunderMifflin’s incompetence.

Unsettling verisimilitude indeed.