5Qs with… David-Michel Davies, Executive Director of The Webby Awards

/ Dec 16, 2013

webbys 260x215_DMD

David-Michel Davies needs no introduction, but let me try one anyway: The co-founder of Internet Week NY and executive director of The Webby Awards knows a thing or two about internet content and culture. Why? He’s the co-founder of Internet Week NY and the executive director of The Webby Awards. In many ways — and this is not hyperbole — the internet is DMD’s life. So who better to talk to for a 5Qs as the year winds down and we all assess the importance of what happened in online video in the past 12 months?

1a. In five words or less, how much is online video changing traditional film and television?

Less than you would think!

1b. OK, fine, in more than five words, same question.

I’m probably in the minority here, but I don’t think online video has had as much of an effect on traditional film and TV as reported, at least not yet. Of course, if you want to talk about distribution — how one can now watch four seasons of “The League” on Netflix during the weekend, or how you don’t need cable because you can download on iTunes or watch on Hulu, those are of course big changes to the television industry. But by and large those changes represent a shifting of where and when people watch traditional types of TV content, but not much change to the content itself.

The fact that online video may not be changing traditional TV or film doesn’t mean it isn’t wildly successful and a big deal — because it is. But it’s a big deal because of what it is, not because of what it is disrupting. There are now millions if not billions of hours of video programming being watched during the day while people are at work. Video (and we are talking almost exclusively about online video) is also playing a much bigger role in our professional lives, whether it be watching conferences, learning new skills, product tutorials, or work-place collaboration. Traditional film & TV barely play any role in these environments compared to online video today. And at home in our personal lives, there is now an incredible amount of great video content — from documentaries and comedies to short videos that teach you how to cook lamb sous-vide, or teach you how to help your kid ride a bike. People are watching this type of video in all the in-between minutes of their lives in all sorts of contexts where video was irrelevant just a few years ago. And a lot of this video is made not by people aspiring to be directors or actors or writers, but people who love wine or cooking or chess or plumbing even, and who share that information through video. It’s a wonderful, beautiful thing, really; over time I think that will be the lasting cultural impact of online video.

2. Outside of Netflix and “House of Cards,” what was the most inspired thing you saw in online video in 2013?

Clouds over Cuba” was a big Webby team favorite from this past year.

3. You’ve spoken before about what you call the “Tyranny of ‘Or’” — people’s tendency to think in absolutes. In a way, I see this happening within the online entertainment industry, which is frequently compared to television. Some argue online video needs to be more like television (in order to become legitimate), while others say that online video should do its own thing and create its own, transmedia storytelling formats. What are your thoughts on this?

I think there is no future in which both of those things don’t happen. We will absolutely continue to see more “House of Cards”-style releases — big actors, big budgets, distributed via Netflix or Amazon or Funny or Die or even directly from iTunes or Google. But at the same time, the web itself, and even specialized apps are so rich with opportunity, that storytellers will not relent in pushing these formats in directions we can’t even imagine. Ultimately, for some people, online video is an easy inexpensive way to start an acting or writing career, and for others, it is an end to itself.

4. The Webbys also celebrate brands and agencies who do creative, interactive things on the web. Unfortunately, a lot of video advertising on the web is still that standard pre-roll, essentially porting a TV spot to an online platform. What’s it gonna take for the industry to more fully embrace different types of interactive and social video advertising?

I think there are great examples out there that are leading the charge. “The Beauty Inside” by Pereira & O’Dell for Intel is a shining light as is “Our Food, Your Questions,” by DDB Canada for McDonalds. And we’ll see more of these, but ultimately it just takes time. There are the pioneers who conceive of these campaigns and really show what can be done, and slowly others learn from that and changes happens. It happens much faster than it used to, but I think there is still a lot of pre-roll in our future.

5. Give us one big, bold prediction for 2014 in terms of the online video and television industry.

I think we will see Google, Facebook, or Apple start taking “House of Cards”-like action into original content. It may be less traditional — via partnerships with a traditional studio, or a network like Showtime or HBO, but I think it’s inevitable.

The final entry deadline for next year’s Webby Awards is Dec. 20. If you haven’t already, submit your project now. As they say: “You can’t win if you don’t enter.”

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