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Linton Weeks The Navigator - Live

Hosted by Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, March 11, 1999

Thank you for visiting "The Navigator Live." Today's chat ended at 3 p.m. EST.

Carla Cole
Today my guest was Carla Cole, co-founder of The Sync, a company that produces video shows for the Internet such as SnackBoy! and CyberLove.

"The Navigator Live" appears each Thursday from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. Eastern time. It's a live, moderated discussion offering users the chance to talk directly to intriguing and sometimes unusual guests who are shaping the digital world. "The Navigator" appears in The Washington Post print edition every Thursday. You can read past columns by following this link.


Linton Weeks: Greetings and salutations and welcome to another spine-tingling episode of Navigator--Live. We've got a bunch of questions for Carla, so let's get right to the point.

Linton Weeks: Carla, what exactly is The Sync?

Carla Cole: The Sync is one of the first Internet video broadcasting companies. Unlike most other Internet video sites, we create original made-for-Internet video shows, instead of just re-broadcasting existing television content. In doing so, we hope to develop Internet video into a new, unique medium, by taking the advantages of the Internet (global reach, interactivity, hyperlinks) and merging it with video.
The audience for Internet video is different from that of television (for now anyway). It is more highly educated, more technically savvy, and Internet video viewers make a conscious decision to watch a show instead of being a couch potato and watching whatever comes up next on a TV channel. They also tend to be younger than most viewers of network TV (20's and 30's). Our viewers choose to come to our site to watch something they can't find on TV.

Linton Weeks: How did you get the idea to start the company?

Carla Cole: Tom (my boyfriend and co-founder of The Sync) and I can't pinpoint an exact conversation that lead to us starting the company. But Tom was involved in some early experiments in Net video at the ISP DIGEX, and I thought it was really neat to be able to create video that could be viewed by people all over the world in an uncensored way (no network progamming experts or FCC regulation).

We started the company in our two-bedroom apartment, and actually taped shows in our living room (viewers wrote in to compliment how much our set looked like a real home).

At that time, we also produced cybercasts for other people (such as Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaking at the Catholic University, and Vice President Al Gore giving a speech on Internet safety). However we noticed that while these cybercasts were really exciting to the companies we produced them for, very few Internet users actually bothered to watch.

But they were watching the shows we were producing ourselves, I believe because we were actively trying to create content that the average Net viewer would enjoy. Because Tom and I are sort of geeky and somewhat represent your average Net user, we are a little closer to the Internet audience than your average company CEO or TV network executive. Eventually we had enough viewers of our shows to enable us to raise money to do nothing but original content production, and we left the apartment and entered Doug Humphrey's Internet incubator in Laurel, MD (we like to call it the "Silicon Trailer Park" ;)

Linton Weeks: Other companies such as and TV on the Web are doing similar programming. Are they your competition, or is your competition network and cable television? Or America Online and Microsoft?

Carla Cole: On the Internet, the size of potential audiences are so huge that no one is really competition, infact we consider most other Internet video sites potential partners. and TV on the Web are producing Internet video programming, but it is very different from the kind we produce. Psuedo produces many hours of live shows daily, whereas we concentrate on creating a small number of high-quality edited video-on-demand. It is the difference between listening to a radio in your car or choosing to watch a movie. TV on the Web is more oriented towards business-to-business corporate video, which is an extremely different focus. I think there is plenty of room on the Net for all of us.

Cable television is a funny situation - the cable providers are going to become the broadband Internet providers of the future. I think they want a piece of the content pie as well, but it is going to be a funny situation.

AOL definately has the ability to create interesting Internet web content. The jury is out on whether they can do compelling video or not. Microsoft, well, they want a piece of every pie. I have a feeling that while they will invest in Internet content companies, I doubt they themselves will produce much.

Linton Weeks: How many people are watching your shows: CyberLove, the Jenni Show, SnackBoy!?

Carla Cole: We have tens of thousands of daily Internet viewings of our video shows currently. On an average day, the JenniShow is most popular, with CyberLove and SnackBoy coming in just behind. Millions of people have watched our video shows since we've started, and it is very gratifying for our little company to have touched so many people's browsers.

As broadband access becomes more popular, we expect the quality and number of Internet video viewers to rise dramatically.

Rockville, MD: I read the story about The Sync several weeks ago in the Post and I was wondering why you don't just do your shows for local access cable. There's nothing good on here.

Carla Cole: 20% of our viewers come from outside the US, so being on cable access would keep us from reaching many of our viewers. Also we're doing this as a commercial enterprise, although we do have fun doing the shows. Cable also lacks the interactivity of the Net, and we're trying to make the most of that. The cable TV demographic probably wouldn't be interested in some of our shows (like "/etc" which is aimed at Net geeks)

Rockville, MD: Carla, Hi. The video on my computer is atrocious. What should I do?

Carla Cole: Get a better ISP :) It is true that some people have difficulty watching Internet video. I suggest that you get the fastest modem you can, and set your transport to UDP (instead of TCP) on your RealPlayer. Go for our content encoded for 28.8kbps if you can't watch our content encoded for 56kbps. We produce our content to get the message across at all bitrates.

Rockville: Is the sync making tons of money?

Carla Cole: Like many early-stage Internet companies, we're not "rolling in it" yet. Tom and I got into Internet video very early. I don't think anyone can say with certainty where this market will be in 2-3 years, but judging from other trends in the Internet over the last 5 or so years, we will continue to be amazed by the growth.

Fairfax: At what point do you think network progamming experts or FCC regulations will seep into internet broadcasts? Do you think that when cable providers become broadband Internet providers, laws will change?

Carla Cole: I think it would be very difficult for anyone to ever regulate Internet content (with the exception of severe obscenity, child porn, and countries where they cut your hands off for watching the wrong thing). The courts have consistently argued that communication on the Net is different from that of television, in that there isn't a "shared medium" but "direct one-to-one communication." It could get tougher as cable companies become the new ISPs, since they are local government-sanctioned monopolies.

But that said, the Internet is global, and you'd have to put together global regulation to make anything like that happen. We have viewers from Zimbabwe to Australia, many different governments represent them.

Washington DC: Who are the other people on CyberLove? Don't you get strange mail?

Carla Cole: The other people on "CyberLove" (our show about real-life relationships, love, and sex) include Pablo Quintana (an architect), Amanda Eisen (works for public interest non-profit), and right now we have a variety of guests who talk to us honestly about what is going on in their love lives (or lack thereof).

I do get lots of "strange" mail, but I also get lots of encouraging email as well. I respond to the stuff that is weird but not sick, and the sick stuff I just throw away. To be an Internet personality, you need to have good communication with your audience, and email is an important way to do that.

No one expexts Brad Pitt to respond to his email, but I have to :)

WashingtonDC: Does Snack Boy make up his own stories? Does he do those drawings too?

Carla Cole: The way we came up with "SnackBoy" is that I had 10 years of phone conversations with Terry Crummitt about all the crazy things that happen to him. I can only take it for about 5 minutes, but they really are funny. So we decided to make it into a video show, complete with his great hand-drawn drawings. He does exaggerate some times, but all the stories have a basis in fact (which is kind of scary!)

Linton Weeks: We're about halfway through the hour. I'm going to take a sip of a flat decaf coke and you keep those questions coming and humming.

Linton Weeks: Tell us a little bit about your Laurel Maryland incubator? What other companies are in the building?

Carla Cole: We're in the Phase 1 Internet Incubator, set up by Doug Humphrey, and ran by his wife Lisa Losito. Doug has an immense amount of experience in the Internet field (having started a national ISP and taken it public). The incubator is only for Internet-related businesses.

Other companies in the incubator include Digital Addiction, which makes on-line card collecting strategy games, and I-Atlas, which does business data mining on the Net.

Arlington, VA: What software do I need to watch your video productions? I have RealPlayer 5 and a Mac G3/350. Is that sufficient firepower?

Carla Cole: Yes, we produce all of our shows to be viewable by RealPlayer 5.0. A G3 should have enough power to watch our shows. The minimum requirements for PCs are 133 MHz Pentiums with a 28.8 kbps modem or better. On the Mac side, PowerPCs 200 or better.

Washington, DC: Do you worry about a heretofore undeployed technology that would filter out entertainment sites at the workplace? Isn't your company dependent on desk-bound worker bees?

Carla Cole: Most of our viewers are dial-up modem viewers, and our greatest traffic occurs at night. I think this is because our shows are video-on-demand. Sites that aim for live audio or video are more likely to be viewed at-work while people are doing other things.

Even though SnackBoy is live at 3:15, most people view it on-demand later at night.

We are concerned about Internet censorship of any kind, but recognize that people should be doing their work first, and only watching The Sync shows on break...

washington: I don't see how interactivity is ever going to mean anything as long as we're using these silly keyboards. Do you think interactivity will ever mean what it claims to mean? True interactivity--voice, sight, etc?

Carla Cole: For the CyberLove Valentine's Day show, we encouraged viewers to send in VDO Mail video email. We expect to do more with Internet videoconferencing and video email in the near future. We also embed voting in our shows, where viewers can click on parts of the screen to indicate their vote. We also have message boards that are very important to the development of show topics.

Again, as bandwidth increases, we will see more viewer interaction through audio and video as well as keyboard.

Washington: Where does that name come from anyway? The Sync...

Carla Cole: It is tough to create original company names today! You have to make sure they don't infringe on a trademark, and Internet companies need to get an original URL, preferably one that isn't too long.

The Sync represents video (i.e. the sync signal), and also it is a joke with the "kitchen sink," as you can see in our logos.

Tysons Corner, VA: I want my career future to be tied to the net. My past studies include theatre, acting, & radio. For the past four years I've become a real computer geek. Put it all together, and you guys are pioneers of where I feel my interests are taking me. I am interested in both the technical and the creative ends of this business. I would want to be involved in both.

What kind of technical training and/or certifications would you recommend a person with interests like myself get into? Are there any DC area schools or firms you are aware of that excel in these areas?

Your answers would be a big help to me, as I'm already budgeting and planning my move in this direction. If you're not sure yourself, can you refer me to a person/institute/knowledgable entity that could help? Thanks!

Carla Cole: It certainly doesn't hurt to take web training classes. The best way to learn about the Net is to get on it, get up a web site, mess around with it, and learn all you can from online resources. Few schools are up-to-date enough to really teach what is going on today, and in Internet terms, today is already yesterday :)

Linton Weeks: What companies do you and Tom admire?

Carla Cole: Yahoo, because they came from nothing, had an original concept, and are now the top web site on the planet. Digex, because Tom and I got to see it go from basement to on top of a chinese restaraunt in Greenbelt, MD, to a tier-one national ISP. Also Wired, because they too had the courage to go all the way with an original concept.

Washington: What is the sync signal?

Carla Cole: Tom (across the room from me) says that it is the signal that synchronizes your television to begin a new frame.

Linton Weeks: What Web sites do you follow?

Carla Cole: I follow Wired News, Nerve, sometimes Salon. I go to lots of web sites, but except for those, generally not the same ones every day.

Linton Weeks: What do you think is the future of advertising on the Internet?

Carla Cole: I think that we will see the same budgets spent on Internet advertising as we see today on print or television advertising. There will be more and more money spent on it as people spend more and more time and money online.

What the ad people call "rich media," and normal people call audio and video ads will become more important. There are few sites carrying video advertising on the Net today, but there will be more and more because "rich media" is a great way to get your message across compared with banner ads.

Linton Weeks: For that matter, what do you think is the future of the Internet?

Carla Cole: I don't think anyone really knows. The trends are that bandwidth is increasing exponentially, and so are the numbers of users and web sites. It may become the primary media of the future, and the primary mode of human-to-human communication. People may walk around with things like a Palm Pilot or wearable computers, and be linked by radio to the Net all the time.

But having seen what has happened in the last few years, I know that you can't really predict what will happen, only that it will amaze you.

Linton Weeks: Now that Terry Crummitt has moved to California to try his hand at television, what will happen to SnackBoy!? Have you heard from Terry? Has he had any success?

Carla Cole: SnackBoy films his shows in Pasadena, CA, and we still carry him on The Sync daily. His trip out west has given him a new spectrum of characters and experiences to draw from. I hope he gets a part on a TV show.

Linton Weeks: What new shows are you planning to produce?

Carla Cole: We just launched "/etc: GeekTV" hosted by Tom, which looks at hardcore geeky things like Linux, Internet architecture, and fun with liquid nitrogen. We have another more specific geek show in the planning phases, and another "real-life" show. These two genres are our most popular kind of show.

Linton Weeks: What Internet stocks do you and Tom own?

Carla Cole: None - all our money is in The Sync :)

Linton Weeks: At least you didn't say "all our money is DOWN the Sync."

Linton Weeks: If you could work for any high-tech company, what would it be?

Carla Cole: I'd like to work for a company producing hip, cool content. But to tell the truth, I really like being an entrepreneur. I'm not a good 9-to-5 employee for anyone, which is both a curse and a blessing.

College Park, MD: How far do you see "Internet Television" going, and what's next for The Sync?

Carla Cole: While it may never outshine traditional broadcast television, it will be a serious competitor for "mindshare" of viewers. Television as we know it today may converge with what we are doing, but I suspect that it will be on Internet terms, not broadcast TV terms. The networks think otherwise...

We plan to expand the number of shows soon, keeping in mind that we aim to create a small number of high-quality shows.

Toronto: How much money does it take to create a live, video/audio, web broadcast? Miminum and maximum. How much does it take to run an episode of Snackboy?

Carla Cole: Some of our shows are very cheap to produce. Others require more time, research, and effort. To broadcast the shows, you need a certain minimum of equipment (high-speed Internet connectivity, servers, encoders, editors, cameras, lights). We're fortunate that our shows are so fun to do that we don't have to pay out million-dollar-a-year salaries to our talent.

Linton Weeks: Your partner, Thomas Edwards, has spoken about stars on the Internet. Can you tell us who the present-day stars are and how they differ from TV and movie stars?

Carla Cole: We are seeing the creation of "Internet Stars" now. JenniCam is one, for instance, and SnackBoy is well on his way. An Internet star much share more of their life than a movie star. They have to be more reachable (via email, primarily). They have to be honest with their fans. And in return for this honesty and sharing, the fans adore them, and share their lives right back to them. Like being a movie star, it isn't for everyone. Expect to see more "Internet stars" in the future.

Linton Weeks: And so another session of Navigator--Live draws to a close. Thanks so much to my guest Carla Cole, to the folks at and to all of you who asked excellent questions. See you next week when my guest will be Gail Williams, executive director of The Well, one of the oldest and coolest communities on the Internet. Until then...

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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