Jason Calacanis is betting big on the future of web shows, and this, as they say, isn’t his first rodeo with an online content company. When he launched his live web show This Week in Startups a year ago, it appeared to be a side project from his gig as CEO of his latest startup Mahalo, a social search engine.
Instead the web show turned out to be the seed for an online network of shows, many shot out of Mahalo’s Santa Monica offices. The company already had a small stable of web originals like Mahalo Daily and This Week in YouTube, but it wasn’t until Calacanis himself took the on camera spot that the idea of a separate company for this growing network of shows took flight.
Now officially dubbed This Week In with Mahalo’s former CTO Mark Jeffrey tapped as CEO, the upstart network now has 8 web shows under its banner and is looking to have as many as 30 by the end of the year. This Week in Startups (TWiST) and Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show are the two flagships, each besting 100,000 views (or downloads) per week. Its latest entrant, This Week in iPad, rocketed to #7 on the iTunes tech podcast list after launching just 5 weeks ago.
With news this week that the company, co-founded by Calacanis, Jeffrey and Kevin Pollak, raised $300,000 in angel funding this week from Matt Coffin, Sky Dayton of course Calacanis himself, we decided catch up with the man that is looking to emulate his past winner Weblogs Inc, a network of over 100 blogs like Engadget, Joystiq and Autoblog, which sold to AOL in 2005. “Try a bunch of different shows, recruit tons of talent and double down on big winners,” he quipped. “It’s blogging all over again… the land grab is on!”
Tubefilter: You’ve said you’re aiming for the same model used for blogs at Weblogs Inc with This Week In, can you elaborate on that?
Jason Calacanis: Weblogs Inc became successful because we found–and in some cases discovered–the most passionate writers and gave them a platform to showcase their talent.
Tubefilter: But Jason, bloggers can write from anywhere, use their own equipment, etc. Don’t live web shows have more overhead in operations? How do you make the cost structure work?
JC: You are correct, but having been a guest on the best podcast on the web, This Week in Tech, for over two years, I’ve learned from Leo that you can in fact do a show without having someone in the studio. It’s not easy to do this well, but we’ve got it locked down.
Last week I had the CEO of Groupon on This Week in Startups over Skype. This week I’ll have the CEO of MyTown which just raised $20M over Skype. I’d rather have the right guest–or host–on the show remote than not have them at all.
The technology is there to do remote hosting, again look at Leo’s This Week in Google. Two of the three hosts are remote.
Tubefilter: You’ve said there’s a new “land grab” going on in web shows, but isn’t the internet much more saturated with content (of all sorts) today?
JC: Most podcasts have a life cycle where they publish for three or four weeks consistently, then people do a show every month before finally quitting. The land grab will be won by the people who publish shows for five years–not five months or weeks. Kevin and I both did dozens of shows in our first year–and we’re not slowing down.
Additionally, you have to improve the quality of the show each week, month and year.
The other reason why Weblogs Inc became so big was because we showed up every day for two years and blogged until we dropped.
Tubefilter: The biggest hits so far for This Week In—TWiST and KPCS—both center around an existing notable talent (yourself in TWiST and Kevin Pollak in his show). Do you think that’s what’s needed to make a show a hit? Or can you make a web star in-house?
JC: Well, our This Week in iPad show is based around a hit *product* and two promising hosts and it has as almost as much traffic as my show!
Los Angeles has an endless supply of talented people…. we just have to find the ones who have deep knowledge and passion for the subjects we’re targeting.
Tubefilter: You’ve had success in lining up sponsors for your live show. Do they value the live component more, or would they be as interested if it were all VOD?
JC: The value comes from the interaction with the audience–live or on demand. If you do a search for the #twist hashtag on Twitter you’ll see a ton of our superfans thanking the sponsors. The fans know the sponsors, what they do and they love them for sponsoring media they can’t get anywhere else.
Savvy sponsors will learn that they can generate massive goodwill around their products by supporting passion-based media.
Tubefilter: Are things okay now with Leo Laporte on the naming collision with TWiT?
JC: We are good!
Leo gave me his blessing early on, but I may have gone a little fast with our project and probably could have detailed it more. At the end of the day I respect Leo greatly and he’s taught me a lot about this business. We all recognize that he laid the ground work for this industry.
Now, on a pragmatic basis our overlap will be no more than 10%. Leo is the kind of podcasting and technology, and technology-based shows will only be 10% of our mix. We’re more interested in non-tech categories to be honest. So, we’re only going to increase the footprint and attention given to the podcasting space for each other. In the same way Gizmodo and Engadget both grew each other by evangelized the same sponsor and user bases.
We’ve targeted 300 topics that need to get done, and our expectation is that TWI and TWIT will only be able to do 30 or so of these shows. That means the two biggest networks will still only be 20% of the market–at best!
This Week In will be holding an Open Casting Call for new show hosts on Saturday, May 22, 2010 beginning at 11 am at the This Week In office located at 902 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA.
(Photo above by David Sifry)