By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 6, 2006
She was no Tom Brokaw, and that was always the point of Rocketboom.com.
Internet star Amanda Congdon, known as the host of the popular video blogging Web site Rocketboom, announced yesterday that she is leaving the site immediately over differences with her business partner.
The Web site features a daily three-minute news-like segment that blends popular culture and technology news, delivered with Congdon's quirky personality to 300,000 viewers. The site drew attention from the mainstream press for its attempt at a new form of online journalism and brought fame to Congdon, who landed an on-camera interview with Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and a cameo on the TV show "CSI."
But without its attractive host -- some say she was why most people watched, anyway -- Congdon's departure could spell doom for a wildly popular site that helped launch the popularity of video blogs.
"It's a big risk for them," said Matt Savarino, founder of Vlogmap.org, a site that maps more than 1,000 video bloggers worldwide. "They risk losing traffic for those who followed the show because of Amanda. When you place so much emphasis on a single host, there will be x percentage who will say, 'I don't like it now.' "
Aside from its host, Rocketboom attracted a lot of attention because it showed promise in turning video blogging into a lucrative business, much in the way that Web logs such as Wonkette.com rose from obscurity to big profit. In the vlogging world, there were few others.
When Rocketboom started in 2004, young video producer Andrew Baron sent out a casting call in New York and hired Congdon to produce a daily Internet show without a fancy studio -- just $25 a day, a desk and a map of the world as a backdrop. Eventually, viewers were drawn to Congdon's offbeat humor, the show's funny camera angles, and its unpredictable format and content. As hundreds of thousands of viewers began to tune in, Rocketboom asked for advertising bids on eBay and brought in $40,000 to $85,000 a week at times.
But just like television in the offline world, the star's divorce from her Internet program yesterday carried a bit of drama and controversy, with the blogging world gossiping about whether she or Baron or both were to blame.
Seated behind a desk similar to the one she uses to host the program, Congdon appeared in a vlog on her own Web site yesterday morning, saying she owed it to Rocketboom viewers to explain why she hadn't been on the site. (The map of the world behind her was turned upside down.) Congdon had not appeared on Rocketboom since June 23, and she said it was not a coincidence. "I'm not on vacation -- not by a long shot," she said.
"Here I am, unboomed," Congdon said, her voice markedly downbeat from her usual hyper-caffeinated personality on the program. "My partner, Andrew Baron, is no longer interested in being my partner."
Congdon went on to say that Baron owns 51 percent of Rocketboom and that she owns 49 percent. Skimming over specifics, Congdon left the impression she had been fired. "I'm just going to have to accept it," she said sadly. "I'm going to be back," she promised, although it was unclear when or in what form. Congdon could not be reached yesterday for comment.
Baron, reached yesterday afternoon, said he didn't know Congdon was leaving Rocketboom until he saw her video blog. He said Congdon, an aspiring actress, announced two weeks ago that she wanted to move to Los Angeles to pursue interests in Hollywood and that she wanted to do so within a week. Baron said that the short notice wouldn't work but that Rocketboom and Congdon were negotiating a way to make it work. Over the past 12 days, Rocketboom has replaced Congdon's hosting duties with short features from its correspondents around the world, Baron said.
"Amanda caught me off guard," Baron said. He declined to discuss the business ownership, saying: "I'm not actually concerned about that. I'm concerned about stabilizing the show and the business so we can get back on track. . . . I wish her well."
The back and forth led public relations executive Steve Rubel to say Congdon had "pulled a Star Jones" on Rocketboom, referring to a recently departed host of "The View." Rubel, senior vice president of Edelman Worldwide's Me2Revolution practice, said that if television serves as the model, Rocketboom will survive without its top anchor -- provided, of course, that Baron can find an equally impressive host to replace her. "We've seen it happen in TV," he said.