Thursday, April 12, 2007

Got Democracy?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

An Open Letter to Al Gore

Dear Vice-President Gore,

My name is Josh Wolf; in the Current Studio, I post as Insurgent, and I'm the organizer for the San Francisco Current TV Meet-up group. I really enjoyed reading your speech at the We Media conference and was fortunate enough to find the video on Andy Carvin's blog. I couldn't agree more with your perceptions on the state of American democracy, and I too have been feeling like the country has entered an alternate universe for quite some time. Of course, living in San Francisco, we live in an almost alternate-alternate universe. A place where things just seem to make more sense. People in this city seem to think a little bit more, or maybe they just think more like me. Either way, it seems to me that San Francisco lives in a unique ecosystem in which people really are exposed to a more egalitarian plate of information. Between the independent weeklies, and our net-obsession, mainstream media really does take a back-seat. I think FOX news is watched more for entertainment than it is used as a means to actually stay informed.

I agree with everything you stated in your speech, but, at the same time, I'm disheartened by how Current TV isn't living up to the ideologies that you've embraced in your address. Like you, I agree that the marketplace of ideas has closed shop, and, done ethically, Current TV has an opportunity to play a vital role in restoring an egalitarian means for the dissemination of information. Thus far, Current has not really worked towards achieving this goal, and I think this has brought much frustration to many people amongst the community of independent producers; Jeff Jarvis' recent sentiments on Buzz Machine reflect this. In order to become a true success, it's crucial that Current stop looking at the community as potential assets and embrace us as the integral part of this movement we are. In the words of Alice Walker, "We are the people we've been waiting for." It is counter-intuitive to approach the goals you've proposed without solidarity and compassion.

When INdTV decided to abandon the Digital Correspondent position, your company had a moral duty to come clean with the 2,000 applicants that poured so much of their time and energy into becoming part of such a transformative network. Instead, a cryptic e-mail was sent out days before Thanksgiving, and no one at the company has ever publicly stated that Current's model underwent a dramatic change and eliminated the position. Did you owe it to the community to hire the 50 DCs INdTV originally intended? Of course not, but, I do feel that INdTV's response was somewhat deceptive. This incident was the first of several which have left me feeling like Current is in need of maturation before it can begin to truly address its mission.

As you stated in your speech,
The three most important characteristics of this marketplace of ideas were:

1) It was open to every individual, with no barriers to entry, save the necessity of literacy. This access, it is crucial to add, applied not only to the receipt of information but also to the ability to contribute information directly into the flow of ideas that was available to all;

2) The fate of ideas contributed by individuals depended, for the most part, on an emergent Meritocracy of Ideas. Those judged by the market to be good rose to the top, regardless of the wealth or class of the individual responsible for them;

3) The accepted rules of discourse presumed that the participants were all governed by an unspoken duty to search for general agreement. That is what a "Conversation of Democracy" is all about."

1) Current TV is open to an elite group of individuals in that participation mandates the possession of both a fairly-recent computer and video camera. Unless Current TV were to establish a partnership with public access stations across the country, or developed its own brick-and-mortar media centers then only people of a certain economic standard that can afford the equipment, can really contribute to the marketplace. Furthermore, as almost all of the pieces green-lit seem to be from producers with either significant professional or academic experience, to have a piece screened on Current TV one needs a significant level of expertise within the craft which is not to any real extent being facilitated by Current.

2) Within the Current Studio, those judged to be the best by the Studio members are only considered for air, and the actual criterion necessary to achieve entrance into the marketplace is vague at best and quite nebulous. While the ten pods with the most green-lights have mostly been chosen for air, a cursory glance at their stats clearly indicates that they have received a disproportionate exposure, and as one would expect, have more green-lights than other films that have been viewed a fraction of the time. Unless there is an objective and transparent criterion set forth for a video to get on air, and unless that process is directly affected by community input, then Current TV is not working towards democratizing TV so much as playing one on TV. Furthermore, as Current has elected to seek much of their content from outside the Studio community, Current has a duty to provide compensation which, if not equal to the costs associated with this other material, is at least equitable.

To offer a first-time VC contributor $250 for exclusive rights to his video, and then acquire other pods produced by a commercial entity at market rate is exploitation and effectively paints the studio community as second-class producers. The rate doesn't need to be equal, but it either needs to be equitable, or Current needs to pursue a non-exclusive license instead. The way the system works right now, Current's success could potentially threaten the advances that truly independent media is making through the internet right now. Literally thousands of people are putting their media on to the internet every day, and many of these people are doing it for free through sites like

And people really are tuning in, videoblogs are being watched by a niche group, but it's a growing segment of the population, and with the release of the video iPod its success is almost guaranteed. One vlog, Rocketboom has over 10,000 visitors daily. What you say is true, "as exciting as the Internet is, it still lacks the single most powerful characteristic of the television medium... it does not support the real-time mass distribution of full-motion video," but there is a growing community, the early adopters, who really do consume most of their video via the internet. You can't possibly argue that these people aren't contributing to the marketplace of ideas in a real and profound way, and yet Current TV forces them to choose whether to independently publish their media or to allow Current to be its sole home.

3) Honestly, I'm not entirely sure what the third tenant embodies, but something tells me that the implication of a wiki within Current TV could further this goal.

I'm very excited about the potential Current TV has to make a difference, and your words at We Media were empowering. It was my initial experiences with INdTV that helped inspire me to help establish the Rise Up Network (RUN), a non-profit organization providing the tools and resources necessary to facilitate the democratization of the media with a focus on video production and online distribution. I'm curious to know whether you feel my concerns have merit, and would appreciate the opportunity to converse with you and to help make Current the network its waiting to become. "We are the people we've been waiting for." Let's make Current a network the community can truly call its own.

Thank you for your time.


Josh Wolf
The Revolution Will Be Televised

Saturday, August 13, 2005


Also check out

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Current is on air!

It's official, Current is now broadcasting into millions of TVs across America. You can see what's being shown live right now on the Current homepage:

You can also check out this article on about the launch of Current TV: Al Gore TV network on the air

Monday, July 18, 2005

Only 2 weeks till Current is launched

That's right, 14 days till August 1st. That's when Current will begin broadcasting into millions of homes. And for the next two weeks, the Current Summer Challenge is still going on. One out of the three categories is still open (Best Video). For more info on it, click the link: Summer Challenge

So, don't hesitate to make a submission. I already did, and it's real easy.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Current TV Announces New Submission Terms

From The Revolution Will Be Televised, my other blog:

Current TV
Originally uploaded by blackcatmedia.
Current TV, a new cable television station started by Joel Hyatt and Al Gore will soon be announcing the winner of their latest video contest, about the same time and probably with far less fanfare, Current will also release a new licensing agreement to govern all future Viewer Created Content.

Under Current TV's present terms, if you submit a video, you give Current the right to use your piece as they deem fit.
I irrevocably grant Current the non-exclusive, perpetual, royalty-free, fully paid license and right to use and otherwise exploit the Submission, and the title thereof, in whole or in part, in any manner or medium now or hereafter known or devised (including, without limitation, film, television, videocassettes, interactive devices, Internet and on-line systems), throughout the world and in any and all languages, including, without limitation, the right to copy, edit, change, modify, add to, subtract from, re-title and adapt the same and to combine it with other material.

However, these are non-exclusive rights and you're free to try to get the video out through any other avenues that might be available to you. You do, however, still grant Current the "Rights of First Negotiation and Last Refusal" -- basically Current TV has first dibs should you try to go about selling the piece. Additionally, "the most consideration that Current will be required to provide [you] to acquire all available Retained Rights is... the Writer’s Guild of America minimum scale payment for five minute single news program script (currently $1,237)."

Under these old terms, you could still take your video (that you submitted to Current) and put it on your vlog, or submit your piece in an unrelated online film festival.

Well, that's all in the past now. Under the new new licensing agreement, by uploading a video to Current TV, you can't do anything with it for six months three months. Even if Current TV doesn't want to put your piece on television, you are contractually forbidden from putting the video on your videoblog, and from trying to get it out through almost any other avenue besides Current. In the event that Current TV decides they want to air your video, it is my understanding that they would obtain all rights to the piece in perpetuity; you would be compensated for your work according to Current's new incremental pay-scale.

Current TV Pay Scale

With this latest announcement, Current TV, a television station that promises to "democratize television," seems to be falling short of it's stated goal. While everyone that I've talked to at Current seems to really get the personal media revolution, this development runs against everything the network should be doing. If the network is really about helping young voices to be heard, then Current should be embracing the growing movement of videobloggers and encourage participants to put their submission videos up on their videoblogs. The videobloggers would, in turn, put a link to Current TV on their blog entry and this would help drive more content to Current's site.

JD Lasica, the author of Darknet, and the co-founder of ourmedia feels that Current's decision to pursue the new licensing terms "will seriously undercut the quality of the material that people make available to Current." He describes Current's new terms as "a holdover mindset from big media, where six-month exclusivity contracts are common. No doubt some percentage of users will consent to the restrictions, while others will say, No way."

While trying to figure out what prompted Current to pursue these new terms, I came across this interesting article about Current TV's Head-Of-Programming David Neuman regarding his days at the Digital Entertainment Network.
I pointed out that this much original content would be very expensive, and suggested that one thing kids (and other Internet users) sometimes like is to be given recommendations about other useful and interesting Web sites. Neuman cut me off with a laugh and condescending sweep of his little hand.

"I don't think we need to be sending people away from our site! I don't think that's how we make money!" ("No! Definitely not!" said the chorus, laughing with him at my stupidity.) "Look, as soon as we're as big as Macy's, then we'll tell people how to get to Gimble's! I'm concentrating on getting as big as Macy's!"

Just as this is simply not how the web works, the industry approved 6 month exclusivity option is not how new media will prove to work either. While I still have very high hopes for Current, it's dawned on me that some people at Current TV only wants to democratize televison as long as they can have a monopoly on democracy...

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Note: I am the volunteer organizer for The San Francisco Current TV Meetup Group and obtained this information through a conference call with Current TV and the other meetup organizers. I was never instructed not to share any of the information that's contained in this blog entry and thus feel that it's acceptable for me to share and comment upon this information in my blog.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Welcome to the unofficial Current TV blog!

Hi, this is the unofficial Current TV blog, a place to post your thoughts about Current TV, articles about Current TV, any videos pertaining to Current TV and a forum to share your submission videos that you upload to Current TV. If you'd like to contribute to the blog, please send an e-mail to me, Josh, at and include Current in your subject line and I'll be happy to send you an invite.