If you're disturbed by the success of "Gangham Style," you are not alone.
On Tuesday, Participant Television President Evan Shapiro announced the launch of TakePart TV, a YouTube channel that will serve as a digital home for "clever, eye-opening and optimistic content around big issues that face our planet" for millennials ranging from teens to thirtysomethings.
The socially-relevant channel will deliver original programming that consists of news, short-form comedy, animation and nonfiction series featuring such names as Henry Rollins, Dan Savage and Kobe Bryant.
The network's flagship show is "BFD: Brain Food Daily," which has five correspondents and will focus on sex, power, media, mind and the planet. Topics in its premiere week include "Rubber Souls: Porn's New Condom Law," and "Guidos, Gypsies and Rednecks: Is Reality TV racist?" You can watch an exclusive portion of that segment at the bottom of this article.
- "American Savage": Columnist-podcaster-pundit Dan Savage sounds off on sex, religion and politics.
- "Mission": Basketball legend Kobe Bryant heads to Los Angeles' Skid Row to investigate the plague of homelessness.
- "Capitalism": Poet-writer-activist Henry Rollins hits the campaign trail with a two-month odyssey to all 50 state capitals, fueled by his own vision of the issues driving the election.
- "Story of Pines": Alison Sudol of A Fine Frenzy uses her songs to set the tone for the short animation film, reminding viewers about the importance of the environment and that yes, every tree has a story.
Shapiro took the time to talk to HuffPost TV about his new venture, why it's like "60 Minutes" with a bong, how Stephen Colbert and John Stewart paved the way and why he thinks young people are interested in more than "Gangham Style" (though, of course, they love it too).
You guys have some great talent working with you on the shows. How'd you get hooked up with people like Dan Savage and Kobe Bryant?
Kobe actually had come to try to do a project with Participant. He was interested in doing something on the homeless problem in the country and it wound up as a web series because it was the way we thought we could get something up most quickly and built around his incredibly, incredibly busy schedule.
So, in that instance, and I think in many instances, these emerging YouTube channels are going to be a way for talent like Kobe and like Dan and like Henry, to get something done. It's a low barrier entry because it doesn't take the same kind of major production that either a film or a television show traditionally takes. That said, there a people out there spending a gargantuan amount of money on web series -- that's not where we're landing. We're landing on the quality of story and getting that up quickly and efficiently.
And the issues that the respective personalities will be addressing in their shows were ones that they chose?
Yeah. Participant was founded on the idea that a story well told can change the world, that entertainment can inspire social change. So that's our mandate and that's our mission and we bring that into TakePart TV. I'm translating it a bit for the YouTube generation, the digital native generation, to be awesome stuff for people who give a shit. So in each one of these cases, Dan, Henry, Kobe and Alison -- they had issues that were incredibly important to them. An artist comes to us with a mission that they want to accomplish and we enable that to happen.
With your flagship show "Brain Food Daily," how did you hone in on what topics to cover that would be most important to and resonate with millennials?
The idea here is to look at the stories that the mainstream internet let drop through the cracks. The impulse originally with "Brain Food Daily" was to chase the day's headline and do something funny about it. But what I wanted to accomplish was to zag while everybody else is zigging. What will wind up happening is that something becomes a story and then the entire internet runs at it and what happens when that happens is there are a ton of stories left behind in their wake that people forget to talk about. So reality show racism; the fact there's actually a vote in California to make condoms required in the porn industry and whether or not that's a civil rights issue; the drought that no one seems to be paying attention to ...
Will the programs be interactive?
Everything we do on TakePart TV is going to have an opportunity for the viewer to get involved. In the comments section of every single piece, there will be something that you can do. And we don't judge the action that someone will take so it could be spreading the word or actually taking a part. Often times, it will be a link back to TakePart.com where you can learn more, take action, do something about it or just help spread the word.
I thought it was interesting that Nielsen broke the news this week that they're now including web viewings in their ratings calculations, which is something people have been clamoring for for a long time.
Welcome to the 21st century.
Seriously. Do you think the industry if finally catching up with the technology and reaching people where they consume?
Oh, I don't think it is. [Laughs.] I think it's way, way, way, way, way behind. I think that there's a need for television to accelerate its revolution and to catch up with the habits of its consumers. So no I don't think business is catching up with the habits of consumers. I still think it's lagging very far behind. I think that fact that it took Nielsen until 2012 to incorporate web views in their ratings is an example of that. You know, they caught up to two or three years ago. So I still think we have a ways to go in not just the monetization and the metrics of content consumption, but also the impact. Our desire is to make awesome stuff for people who give a shit. But how do you measure that? How do you measure the impact? We are attempting to create a matrix by which we can help spark an idea in someone's head and they can then use our outlets or other outlets to actually get shit done. I'm hoping that we can measure it, I'm hoping that we can track that, but that's a big part of think of where the world needs to head.
A lot of more traditional TV outlets have created content for the web, but it hasn't been too successful. Where do you think people have gone wrong previously in creating TV for the web only?
I think the problem with that phrase is "television for web only." aYou have to treat television and the web as two different media -- they're not the same thing. I think that the more you try to treat the web like television, the less successful you're going to be. That's not to say you abandon what you learn about television for the web. We're bringing a real network model to our YouTube channel -- this is our fall season. But that's really where the point of comparison or the point of connection ends.
This is meant to be web-based. I think that you have to factor in the lives of the user -- I think often times people design shows for their own experience and forget that the barrier of entry to the web is so low that you have to factor in the full panoply of the way people live their lives. You have to remember that often times people are going to be watching these shows sitting at their desks at work. Many times, people are going to be watching these shows on their iPhone and they'll want to show it to the person next to them. So if you create this hugely expensive, graphics-laden, really rich and dense thing and then it's on this three-inch wide screen, then the effects can get lost. [Laughs.] I think if the writing isn't good, everything falls away.
That's why "Gangham Style" has 290 million views because it's fun to watch and you want to share it with people. Now the fact that people have collectively spent 2,000 years watching that one video is kind of embarrassing to humanity so my question is: Can you take that same kind of wasted time and make it time well spent.
A lot has been said about the millennial generation and their interest or enthusiasm -- or lack thereof -- in doing something productive or giving back. I assume you guys have done a lot of research -- did you find that to be true?
I have two millennials at home -- my daughters. I teach a class at NYU and they teach me often times and we have done a tremendous amount of research. We've interviewed 4,000 millennials of all walks of life. We've done focus groups throughout the country. And they do care about having a career that makes a difference versus having a career that makes them rich.
I think this 90 million strong of millennials -- they were born and bred in the digital world -- they see an opportunity for themselves in that world that is new and different and more important than simply cashing a big pay check. I don't know that they know what that is yet and what's interesting is, I don't think they're upset that they don't know what it is. Gen X was very bad with ambiguity and this next generation, who we like to call the Plan B generation, they seem to be OK with complexity and grey because that's what they grew up in -- this is a group that grew up in the shadow of 9/11. This generation is OK with complexity, which is why we're creating an opportunity for them to make their own way.
There isn't good and bad -- there's what you want.
TakePart TV is really designed to tap into the cerebral cortex of a generation and allow them a place to have a conversation. We are literally just mean to spark a conversation. We are not solving it. We are not giving an answer because the answer may be different for different people.
What else do you want users to know about TakePart TV?
I think a sense of humor -- especially around "Brain Food Daily" -- is a big part of how I think effective communication about major issues is going to come about. I think that if you take yourself too seriously, you're going to wind up being discounted by the vast majority of people out there. You look at the popularity of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert and I think there's a route there. What we're trying to do is pick up a mantle where those television shows have gotten us to and take it to the next level.
If "60 Minutes" had a bong, we would probably be that show. We're not trying to solve the world's problems, we're just talking about them in a way that's accessible and understandable and relatable to as many human beings as we possibly can.