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Friday, July 07, 2006

Videoblogging's First Talent War

Over a decade ago, one of the hottest stories in entertainment was the late-night talk show feud between Jay Leno and David Letterman in the wake of Johnny Carson's retirement from The Tonight Show. More recently, we've seen the ascension of Katie Couric to the anchor spot at the CBS Evening News, and the corresponding demise of Dan Rather. Now, the blogosphere has its own talent drama -- perhaps a perverse sign that it is maturing as a news and entertainment medium.

Amanda Congdon was the energetic host of the popular videoblog Rocketboom until this past Wednesday, when she announced her sudden departure. Clearly, the separation was not friendly. On her personal blog, Congdon claims she was fired by former partner and Rocketboom producer Andrew Baron. "I am disheartened by Andrew Baron's decision to spread misinformation," she writes. "[He] insists on spinning things this way to shore up his assertion that I am 'walking away' from Rocketboom. I did not walk away. I did not accept Andrew's idea of 'partnership'." Baron, for his part, says that Congdon quit of her own accord.

The conflict marks a turning point in the evolution of blogs and vlogs, as money appears to be at its heart. The key difference between Congdon and Baron was how much financial interest Congdon would have in the highly successful Rocketboom, which has reportedly averaged 300,000 downloads per episode.

The blogosphere. It isn't just for hobbyists anymore.

Now that the videoblog has lost its "face," Rocketboom's future is uncertain. Like The Tonight Show without Carson (and without Jack Paar and Steve Allen before him), Rocketboom might go on, and even thrive. But that depends on whether Baron can find a replacement host with as much personality as Congdon to retain Rocketboom's fan base. In a medium of almost infinite choices, that will be difficult at best. If Rocketboom cannot survive Congdon's departure, it will signal that, just as with TV, personalities matter in the blogosphere... and are potentially worth big bucks. Perhaps they'll matter even more; in the days of Paar and Carson, TV viewers had only a handful of channels, and until 1992 The Tonight Show was the only late-night game in town.

As for Congdon, she will likely be just fine. The once-struggling actress claims that since announcing her separation from Rocketboom, she has received hundreds of supportive e-mails -- many of them from potential employers.

UPDATE: B.L. Ochman called the debut of Congdon's replacement on Rocketboom, former MTV Europe VJ Joanne Colan, "cautious and unremarkable." Commenters on Colan's personal blog, however, were more enthusiastic. Meanwhile, MediaShift explores the state of talent on other high-profile vlogs and blogs.

Source: Wired