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IQ News - Closeup: Camcorder Nation

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Earthnoise.com provides amateur auteurs a place to showcase--and share--their work.
For every significant and not-so-significant event--marriage, birth of a child, graduation from high school or college--the video camcorder has increasingly become a necessary way to document these rites of passage for American families.
In fact, an estimated 32 million people in the U.S alone own some kind of video recording equipment. Include the roughly 5 million Webcams attached to computers in U.S. homes and it adds up to an awful lot of amateur home video floating around. So what's a wannabe Spielberg supposed to do with his home-grown video masterpiece?
Beginning May 24, novice videographers can showcase their work on earthnoise.com, a New York-based streaming video sharing Web site. Founded last June by four Israelis and one American who couldn't find a place online to share travel videos, earthnoise's 55-member staff aims to make it easier for both consumers and businesses to cybercast videos through simple uploading, compression and online editing tools.
"We are very focused on providing the easiest end-to-end solution," said David Steward, a former president and CEO of TV Guide who, since February, has served as earthnoise's CEO. "We think for this to become big, it needs to be easy. Others will develop fancy tools--there are people already in that space, professional/consumer-oriented--but that's not what we're interested in. We're interested in big, mass [market], easy to use."
Since its soft launch in December, nearly 4,000 amateur auteurs have uploaded their videos on the site, documenting everything from babies and birthdays to yo-yoing in front of a Krispy Kreme donut shop.
And when Steward gets the common question--"Who is going to watch this stuff?"--he has a ready answer: "I say traditional entertainment is of moderate interest to a very large number of people. Personal video is of intense interest to a very small number of people. That's the difference. It doesn't have to be perfectly edited. If it's video of my grandson taking his first step, that's pretty cool."
The approach of targeting niche audiences seems to be working: With virtually zero dollars spent on marketing, earthnoise nonetheless racked up nearly one million page views in March, Steward claimed.
But while viral marketing has worked well so far, this month earthnoise began testing banner ads on a handful of sites as well as through a number of ad networks. Steward said the site--which has chosen New York-based Mad Dogs & Englishmen as its agency of record--has budgeted $10 million for consumer marketing this year. The campaign, he said, will likely be stepped up in June once recently completed focus group research is incorporated into earthnoise's creative and media plans.
On the revenue side, earthnoise will charge $5 monthly for premium memberships--which includes up to 200 megabits, or about two hours, of online video storage space, plus a free e-mail account and priority access to all of the site's new video tools. A free membership gives users 30 minutes of storage space. Businesses, meanwhile, can also license earthnoise's patent-pending e-tools for their own sites for a negotiated fee.
Earthnoise is also offering advertisers banner space as well as sponsorship opportunities for its burgeoning channels, which already include everything from weddings and travel to yo-yos and kites. Eventually, though, earthnoise plans to offer commercial space on the videos themselves.
"We've been working together with Real Networks to figure out how best to do that," said Steward. "Our initial thinking is that given the average length of the videos--about two to three minutes, at least on our site--we're probably looking more at 15 seconds than 30. But with longer videos, you can have longer commercials."
John Engelman, a director and investor at Pario Ventures, one of six companies to invest a combined $7.6 million in earthnoise recently, said his fund is betting on homemade videos as the Web's next big push.
"You have millions of people capturing images on their camcorders, and right now it's extremely awkward to share that in any way," he said. "So it's an enormous opportunity, but more than that it's just going to happen."
Engelman pointed to earthnoise's ability to collect videos from around the world and "channelize" them by organizing and moderating groups and adding content around them. "We see the entire world as our content supplier," he said. "So if your thing is bird watching or your thing is soccer for your kids, whatever it is we're going to create a video channel where that can go."
Sponsors can then advertise on those channels. "We'd love to be able to say to people who make baseball bats that you should be sponsoring a certain channel," he said.
To Steward, posting home videos is just the next step for proud parents already posting pictures of their new baby online.
"On the most fundamental level, we're focused on changing video from the way people have been using it, as a storage medium--you go on a trip, you shoot all this video, carefully label it and put it on the shelf." Instead, Steward said, "we really want to transform it into a sharing and communication medium. And the easier it gets to do, the more people will think of it that way." n