Web Video Grows Up

When the history of web video is written, Ze Frank should get a page or two in the section on pioneers. The creator of an innovative daily video blog called The Show (www.zefrank.com/theshow), Ze (short for Hosea) ended the one-year run of his brainchild in mid-March. Along he way he created a smart, funny, online oasis that pushed the boundaries of a new medium.

While some other early Web programs mimicked the forms and habits of television, The Show was more original. The format was simple: short segments, usually released in mid-afternoon on weekdays, that included tight shots of the hyper-articulate hipster Ze speaking directly to the camera, along with quick cuts, political commentary and silly gags.

But there was more to The Show than clever editing and Jon Stewart-isms, and there may be lessons in Ze Frank’s work for corporate marketers as they seek to understand the Web as a medium unto itself. Along the way, a community formed around Ze’s in-jokes, catchphrases and songs. His viewers remixed music and created graphics, carried out prankish projects, contributed to a lively conversation forum (from which Ze frequently drew ideas) and became part of the show. They even participated in an innovative micro-advertising program, sending in a few bucks to purchase icons that appeared beneath the video box onscreen; scroll across the icons, and a text message from the advertiser popped up.

What Ze Frank didn’t do is instructive, too. He asked viewers not to post his clips on YouTube, and they complied. He built in The Show’s sunset date from the start, refusing to overstay his welcome and, in doing so, created something of a cult product. Ze parlayed his success (and some earlier online hits, including a funny dance video) into gigs as a conference speaker and Web guru. Now he’s taken his act to Hollywood, where he’s negotiating new projects—but his legacy on the Web is already secure.

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