Defining Terms

Digital Picture Show

Slashdot had a story yesterday on a made-for-the-Internet TV series called “The Scene”. While this is certainly not the first video series created for distribution on the Internet, there are two very interesting things about it.

First is the writing and camera work in the videos. Every episode consists of nothing but a shot of a computer desktop, and a small, unmoving webcam shot of the guy sitting at the computer in the upper left hand corner of the screen. There is very little speaking, and most of the “action” consists of watching the guy type on IRC, ICQ and AIM, and reading what he types and how the other people respond. He is a member of a group that distributes movies over the Internet, and most of the plot revolves around his involvement with this group. Occasionally he also talks on the phone, but for the most part the only sound is that of the background music and the tip-tap of the keyboard presses. Here’s the really interesting part: I found the videos entertaining. Even more entertaining than many of the real TV shows I’ve seen. How can that be? There isn’t any acting and you don’t see most of the characters. I realized that I interact with people so often over the Internet, via chat programs, that feeling excitement, inferring people’s moods, and getting wrapped up in the words scrolling across the screen are normal parts of my everyday experience. So, when I watch someone else doing the same thing, I don’t have a problem becoming just as emotionally and intellectually invested as with live action actors. Judging from the relative popularity of this show, this seems to be a common experience for many. I wonder if other shows will follow in the footsteps of this one.

Second is the production of the shows. While most videos distributed over the Internet are created by hobbyists who make the videos in their free time, The Scene was created by a company called Jun Group Entertainment. It is quite obvious from watching the episodes that they are being paid to show certain websites; they receive advertising revenue. However, even more interesting is the theory that The Scene was created by Sony. If that is true, then we have a media giant creating a TV show that glamorizes copyright infringement. Or does it? As we watch the show, we see that the main character’s life and ethics begin to fall apart because of his commitment to “The Scene”. Then, in the fifth episode, we learn that there could be very serious consequences for his actions. Is this perhaps a cautionary tale from a corporation that has much to gain from discouraging the distribution of copyrighted material? Quite possibly. If it is, it’s an incredibly clever way of doing it.