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NerdTV Is Next Week!: The Bob Attempts to Build Some Buzz for His Downloadable TV Show, Which -- Good or Bad -- Is Certainly Different

Status: [CLOSED]
By Robert X. Cringely
bob@cringely.com

Come back next Tuesday and this page will look different. That's when we're finally launching NerdTV after three years of fitful starts, mistakes, and hard work. Love it or hate it, I'm sure you'll let me know.

NerdTV, as I've written ad nauseum, is an interview show. From a technical perspective, it is primitive, but beneath the surface, it is incredibly ambitious because it defies the maxim of Internet service design that assumes audiences are shallow and maybe a bit stupid.

Once you reach a technical baseline, you see, good television is all about casting. So NerdTV is based on the simple idea of having a lengthy discussion with some incredibly smart person you always wanted to meet. We go on so long (a full hour, more or less) that some viewers may get bored and give up. But if we aimed NerdTV just at those people, we wouldn't be serving very well the rest of the audience we know is there after eight years of writing and reading in this space. We'd just be doing 30-second video clips like most other broadcasters and CNET.

Hopefully, NerdTV will take viewers to the point where they can actually know something about the person talking and have a feeling for that person, which can't be done in 30 second clips.

What NerdTV aspires to be is more than a show -- a genre. By this I mean something completely different from what has gone before. Some people may see it as a Podcast, and I suppose it is that in a sense, but what makes NerdTV different and gives it unique value is that it is something you would never see on TV. Never. Not even on the most esoteric distance learning channel or the poorest-produced local cable access show, much less from a national television network with a global reputation. That PBS would take such a gamble on the intelligence of its audience is breathtaking and I, as the guy who came up with this idea, can only marvel at their willingness to experiment.

Thank you, PBS, for not only taking this chance but for doing so on a global network serving all nations, not just the U.S.

Of course, my mother will think this is just narcissistic crap on my part and you may well agree. But for the moment, let's assume that people will find this premiere interesting and maybe even come back the following week to see what's on then (PayPal co-founder Max Levchin).

There will be a lot of versions of NerdTV to choose from and a couple ways to gain access. The entire show will come in versions with and without subtitles. Since we're bothering with subtitles that means we'll have a complete transcript of each interview and you can download that, too. The subtitles are NOT true closed captions (our software doesn't support that yet), so Google won't be indexing NerdTV to my knowledge, though it wouldn't be hard for them to do so.

You'll be able to download the shows using http or BitTorrent. You can play them in your favorite MPEG-4 player or use the MPEG-4 player applet that will download with the video file. This Open Source applet comes from mediaframe.org, which has been especially generous with helping to both set up and troubleshoot the system. The Mediaframe applet is in beta and will be updated on a very regular basis, so if you don't think it plays well enough for you this week, clear your cache and try again next week ,and the viewing experience will probably be better. All shows, new and old, will benefit from the player improvements. Just remember to clear that cache to force a new applet download.

For those who think of television as radio with pictures and would rather listen to their NerdTV, the complete shows will be available in three audio formats: AAC (m4a file format, just like iTunes), mp3, and ogg vorbis. The audio files are, of course, substantially smaller than the full video versions, too.

For those who don't want to spend an hour, we're pulling two short clips from each show -- "the juicy bit" and "the nerdy bit," which ought to appeal to the technical and/or prurient interests in most of us. Give them a try, it's easy.

Under the hood, NerdTV has an ultra-cheap distribution network intended to create a supremely reliable service out of marginally reliable components. Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, who knows a thing or two about scrounging cheap bandwidth, was impressed with NerdTV, which he described as "gaming" the hosting industry. Okay, I admit it.

Brewster, by the way, is the subject of NerdTV episode 004.

The first show is with Andy Hertzfeld, whom I chose very carefully because he is smart, thoughtful, idealistic, a good storyteller, and admits to occasionally breaking the law. Andy did the original system software for the Macintosh, but he is really more of an icon for the whole era of graphical computing and has become an eloquent spokesman for the concept of free software. When Andy -- who came of age and made his fortune in the commercial software business - explains why he sees Open Source as the "salvation" of not just the software industry but computing, itself, well it really begins to make sense.

Once people get comfortable with NerdTV, I'm hoping similar shows on other topics will begin to appear as the concept starts to make sense. All you need is a topic in which a relatively large audience is extremely interested, but that audience is too widely dispersed to be served by traditional broadcast or cable television. You could probably serve the same audience as a niche cable channel, only much, much deeper, but the best application of NerdTV-like programming is probably for audiences that are completely un-served -- and most likely misunderstood -- by traditional broadcasters. The keys are good casting, keeping the discourse at a high level, not being in a hurry, and avoiding commercial messages. NO product demos!

Of course, other things are happening besides NerdTV in first week of September. Apple has a mysterious announcement that is generally believed to be the Motorola iTunes phone. I'm sure that will be part of it, but I am expecting three times more. This is just a guess on my part and could still be scotched by some last-minute deal explosion, but this is Apple's best chance to position its offerings for the Christmas quarter when it sells more of everything. If I was Steve Jobs and I had a movie download service ready to go, I'd think of announcing it soon, perhaps accompanied by a new Airport model and a Mac Mini free test drive.

But that would just be a guess.

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