NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
One of the rites of spring here in Washington is the Radio and TV Correspondents' Dinner where every year the president gets up to make fun of himself. Democrat, Republican, high ratings or low, it doesn't matter. Last night, President Bush appealed to nostalgia.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: A year ago, my approval rating was in the 30s, my nominee for the Supreme Court had just withdrawn, and my vice president had shot someone.
(Soundbite of laughter and applause)
Pres. BUSH: Ah, those were the good old days.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Just a short clip from last night's Radio and TV Correspondents' Dinner here in Washington. The highlight is often the comedian in chief. But this year he was upstaged by no less than Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, who has - who appeared as we've never seen him before.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. BRAD SHERWOOD (Comedian): (Rapping) Yes. Now listen up suckers, don't get the jitters. But MC Rove tears the heads off of critters. That's true. It's cruel to see, but he's got a beef about animal cruelty. He's a man. He's a treasure trove. But tell me, what is your name?
Mr. KARL ROVE (Deputy White House Chief of Staff): I'm MC Rove.
Mr. SHERWOOD: (Rapping) That's right.
CONAN: Karl Rove as MC Rove dancing with rapster-like moves - robotically, rhythmically crossing his arms, even jumping up and down. That with the cast of "Whose Line Is It Anyway."
The video is a hit on YouTube today. The hugely successful video sharing Web site provides instant access to videos that range from odd to entertaining, and sometimes, it creates stars. Depending on how things work out, Mr. Rove maybe looking to make a career move.
Keith Schneider wrote about some of those who have translated Internet stardom into success in an article for The New York Times last month. So why not you? What makes an entertaining Internet video? Have you made one? The number, as always, is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK - e-mail us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keith Schneider, freelance writer and contributor to the New York Times, joins us now from member station WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. Nice to have you on the program.
Mr. KEITH SCHNEIDER (Freelance Writer; Contributor, The New York Times): Thanks for inviting me. Glad to be here.
CONAN: And you traveled to Portland, Maine to discover the prime examples of Internet video entrepreneurs made good.
Mr. SCHNEIDER: I actually went to Buckfield, Maine, which is about 70 miles outside of Portland, to interview Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz, who produced a video last summer that explored what happens when you drop Mentos mints - you know, the candies - into Diet Coke and produce these amazing geysers.
And Fritz and Stephen spent six months before they produced that video to figure out how to make it look like a fountain and did so, put it up on YouTube and became one of the first YouTube celebrities.
CONAN: In fact, the story is even better than that. They used this to enter a contest. They never heard back from anybody. And apparently, they mentioned it to one friend and from that little acorn…
Mr. SCHNEIDER: Came stardom. On the Internet, came, you know, a first of its kind contract with Coca-Cola company in which Coca-Cola is now producing or subsidizing and also paying for these videos, came a contract with Mentos mints, which is paying for these videos, and has launched a really important, kind of, comedic career for Fritz and Stephen, which - whose, you know, whose future is unclear at this point, but they are riding this tidal wave of celebrity.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. And in fact, they say they are in discussions with - what, the Discover Channel to host a what, presumably semi-serious science series.
Mr. SCHNEIDER: And last summer, we had a whole series of these kinds of very entertaining, creative people hitting the big-time on YouTube, one of whom won the YouTube - Most Watched Award two days ago - AskANinja.com. Kent Nichols and his partner produced these six to eight-minute episodes. They've done 40 or 50. Three hundred to 500,000 people watched each episode. And in February, they signed a million-dollar contract with Federated Media on the West Coast, which is representing the advertising for those programs.
CONAN: And there are others, you mentioned in your article - a Jib Jab, they're famous for, among other things, political satires.
Mr. SCHNEIDER: And you know, and there are people that are getting this kind of level of recognition, the currency of recognition with the currency of real money to. I mean, one of the most watched videos on the Internet right now is produced by a 79-year-old Briton, British former public health inspector, motorcycle salesman, named Peter Oakley, who goes under the name of Geriatric 1927.
And Peter Oakley has produced, you know, formed a new kind of genre of legacy in which he is describing his own life and has prompted two or three dozen other seniors and retirees to chip in little 68-minute episodes of their lives, of old stories on their lives and their achieving, you know, 20,000 to 30,000 visits every time they post a video on YouTube.
CONAN: Well, aside from Mr. Grobe and his partner Stephen Voltz, these two guys who made the Mentos and Diet Coke video, are people managing to actually cash in on the fact that they can get all of these tens of thousands of people, or in their case, millions of people to watch them?
Mr. SCHNEIDER: And that's the real trick. "The Ask A Ninja" folks, Ken Nichols and his partner, are. Judson Laipply, who has one of the most popular, if not still the most popular - "The Evolution of Dance" video on YouTube, which has been seen by more than 40 million people - is working with the Disney Company in order to leverage the currency of recognition earned on Internet, through a very, you know, hilarious short film of six minutes, into a new career.
Judson Laipply is a comedian. He was a dancer. He did, you know, he appeared around the country as an entertainer. And he's achieved a recognition that could only be achieved previous to this on broadcast television. He didn't need broadcast television in his case. He produced a video. Shot it in Tulsa, Oklahoma - carefully shot it in front of an audience of mostly student, college students, from Oral Roberts University. And it's the audience that is, you know - the communication from the audience and the response to his dance maneuvers is a big conversation that occurs on that video and really makes that video so much fun to watch.
So there are a number of people who have broken through. That the Internet is providing vast fortunes i.e. Google, and is providing this budding smaller fortunes among creative folks and is beginning to YouTube and file-sharing and video productions is, you know, creeping into other parts of our culture.
Hillary Clinton, for instance, is using YouTube to broadcast her positions on energy, on the war, on health care.
CONAN: And John Edwards and several other candidates, as well. We always have to spell it out for radio listeners who were unfamiliar with it. Y-O-U-T-U-B-E.com is YouTube.
Let's see if we can get some listeners in on the conversation. 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Have you uploaded a video to YouTube in search of success or fame or just to share it with your friends.
Let's talk with Scott. Scott is with us from South Carolina.
SCOTT (Caller): Hello.
SCOTT: Yes. I have a band as Poets, and we put in our own music video on YouTube and we had just a huge splash. People seem to be into something that it's really happening. This is not available on the mainstream media because you get things that - even the reality they push back into reality television. It's not reality. It's a form of scripted something or other. And we put out our music and it's stuff that you usually can't see in a club. You can't - it perhaps would be illegal to some place. We use all sorts of illegal samples from TV, and radio, and old commercials, things you could never get anybody's permission to do, but we do it anyway.
And we put it up on YouTube and it's been a big success. Now, we're selling on CD baby, on iTunes, and people seem to like it.
CONAN: It's a whole underground marketing. It's a new way of marketing. It's not so underground really.
SCOTT: I actually got a check. I've never made any money on band. I actually got a check in the mail. This is amazing, amazing.
CONAN: And did it bounce?
SCOTT: No, no. It cashed. It was for downloads.
CONAN: That's good. Well, congratulations, Scott, you have to be one of the few people who's actually made some money out of Internet.
SCOTT: Well, it wasn't much, but I was actually happy… But that wasn't the reason why, the reason we do it is because we want to do what we want to do and nobody is going to stop us.
CONAN: Well, thank you very much for the call, Scott, good luck to you and your band.
SCOTT: Thank you.
CONAN: And I just wanted to ask you, Keith Schneider, that seems to reinforce one of the ideas that came out in your piece, that this viral marketing, by word of mouth is incredibly powerful.
Mr. SCHNEIDER: Well, YouTube is a new space. It's a space that's occurred at the intersection of technology and our own cultural need to be known, to get our word and ourselves out there. And it's very easy. It's also - it also fills that space of convenience and ease. So YouTube, which is based on a very sophisticated technology, is easy to use. And getting to YouTube, that is to buy a $400 Panasonic mini-DB camera, you know, $90 microphone, maybe some sort of a recording device and a tripod and a bit of creativity gets you access to this worldwide space in which you can let people know that you're there.
So it fits so much of what we are right now in this country.
CONAN: Yet, there are a kajillion(ph) videos on YouTube that it's not too easy to get yours to stick out?
Mr. SCHNEIDER: But the thing about YouTube that's just fascinating, I've been writing for the New York Times since 1981. You know, I use YouTube to do research. I wrote about Gary Hart for instance, and looked for old Gary Hart election - campaign election of advertising. And found a whole series of, you know, ads that he had shot and broadcast in New York, in Virginia and other people as a piece of research.
So it's this vast archive as well and not everything is going to get a million views. But lots of stuff is getting a thousand views, or 2,000 views. And for the folks that are putting those kinds of videos up here, that's sufficient. That's their audience. That's an audience that they can cultivate.
The other part of this is that that audience can talk back, can communicate with them, can send them e-mails. And Geriatric 1927, Peter Oakley, in Britain, he told me that after every time he posts on YouTube, six or eight times a month, he's getting 50 to 60 e-mails every time. And there are regular correspondents and they come from every continent.
CONAN: We're speaking with Keith Schneider, a contributing writer for the New York Times about the phenomenon of YouTube and entertainment on Internet video.
You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And, Keith, there was something that our caller mentioned. He's using some clips that are not necessary legal. You wouldn't get permission to use them. And indeed, now YouTube is running into some copyright issues.
Mr. SCHNEIDER: Well, I think this is the sort of the darker side that's emerging about YouTube and the other viral(ph) video sharing sites. Who owns the videos? Who really owns it? And YouTube and Google video and others haven't been very clear about the parameters of ownership and what they're going to allow to stay up and what they're going to take down. People assume that this is a permanent digital archive. It isn't a permanent digital archive. It's controlled by the various video sites like YouTube and Google, and that has to be sorted out. There are first amendment questions here. There are ownership questions here. There are control questions there. And people like Ken Nichols of "Ask A Ninja" who I've talked to about this say, you know, are they - is "Ask a Ninja" going to be the first generation that had the freedom to break through and the last generation as well because of these control issues.
CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Eli(ph). Eli with us from Cleveland.
ELI (Caller): Hi.
ELI: It's a pleasure to be with you.
CONAN: Oh, it's nice to have you call in.
ELI: I'm representing my niece whose name is Terry Naome(ph) and Terry is a wonderful musician, who for seven years has been struggling her way. And in 2006, decided to forego her summer tour and create what she called a virtual summer tour, and posted it on YouTube. And to her astonishment, she developed an incredible following. Her song, "Say It's Possible," I believe is now being viewed by more than 5 million people…
CONAN: Five million people.
ELI: Oh yeah. Well, the significant thing we're talking about transforming a YouTube, it was a video she made with a tiny little camera of her playing - it's all original music. There are no copyright issues for her. And she strummed the guitar, and she sand, and it's a beautiful song. And she began to get e-mails from people in languages she couldn't read telling her how moving, they thought, that her music was.
She has - but here's the point. She, in December, signed with Island Records. She went from a situation where she would tour the country playing house parties, which is essentially people would invite their friends to your home to come hear a musician…
ELI: …to clubs where she was perhaps performing in front of five to 50 people, to having a platform that has given her the break, the kind of mythical break, that when the Hollywood mogul spots some kid in a - I can't remember the name of the place.
CONAN: Schwab's drugstore. And I was going to ask you a…
ELI: This was her Schwab. This is her drugstore.
CONAN: Yeah. So, Keith Schneider, our talent scouts - we wish your niece good luck on Island Records, Eli. And is this the video equivalent of Schwab's drugstore?
Mr. SCHNEIDER: Oh, I think so. And I think it's beyond Schwab's drugstore. It's a global Schwab's drugstore. And I think there are producers all over the country who are, you know, as interested in YouTube as I am and as you are…
Mr. SCHNEIDER: As millions of people - you know, people come home, they don't turn off - on the TV any longer. They get on their Internet. They're cruising through Google video or YouTube or LiveVideo and any other viral video-sharing sites. So the other piece of this is really interesting that I'm finding is that people are composing together on YouTube. So you'll have - I've seen videos where a woman is playing a guitar riff, and then, there's a drummer that comes on with his own video who's playing the drums to the woman's video. And there's a bass drummer coming on to play the bass line, with the drum line, with the lead.
And this is the kind of, you know, kind of social interactions that are occurring on YouTube in this virtual world that's not so virtual. It's becoming such reality for everybody.
CONAN: Yeah. Let's get one last caller in. This is Mike. Mike with us from Baltimore.
MIKE (Caller): Yeah. Hi. How are you doing?
CONAN: We're doing well. We just have a minute or so for you.
MIKE: Thanks, Neal. I used to be a professional MC, a rapper in Baltimore for about in five years. And I switched careers. I now teach high school economics. I did a rap with a student beat boxer on our stage in our talent show. And all the people that I worked with for five years are coming to me about seeing this thing on YouTube - somebody recorded on their phone - and they're more impressed with it than anything I did professionally.
I went and searched rap teacher and I kind of wore it as a badge of honor now that I'm the first hit that you get when you type in rap teacher on YouTube. And I just thought it was funny, haven't been in the profession for so long, I mean, switched professions. Just because on YouTube for the first time, I'm getting a whole new and even some former fans kind of come into me with comments…
CONAN: And are you thinking of backing out of that economics deal?
MIKE: No. Absolutely not. I love the job too much.
CONAN: All right. Mike, good luck to you. Thanks very much for being with us today.
And we also want to thank our contributor, Keith Schneider, who was with us today from the studios of member station WUOT in Knoxville, Tennessee. Thanks very much for taking the time to be with us today.
Mr. SCHNEIDER: Thanks for inviting me. Glad to be here.
CONAN: Keith Schneider is a freelance writer and a contributor to the New York Times, also editor and director of program development at the Michigan Land Use Institute. And we thank him again for his time.
This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
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