Warhol Fulfilled: Public-Access TV Online

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As the soundman threaded the microphone cord under my tie
and toward my throat, I casually asked if he had ever encountered a talking head who had
never been on TV. Both he and the cameraman, who had heard my question, instantly
responded that they couldn't remember the last time they had met a video rookie.

Andy Warhol's "15-minutes-of-fame" dream has
come true.

Admittedly, we were videotaping inside "The
Beltway," a.k.a. the world's biggest theme park, where every candidate and
pundit can find an accommodating camera crew. (Program note: We were shooting a
"Future of Television" segment that will turn up on PBS' NewsHour in
the next fortnight.)

Last week's dustup about the numbing Fox special, Who
Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?
, was a further reminder about how far some people
will go to appear on TV. Too bad the suddenly terminated series means so many
matrimonial-minded hopefuls will miss their moment in the spotlight and, for that matter,
the Fox-bankrolled honeymoon suite.

But wait, there's still a chance. As so many bizarre
Webcasts have already foreshadowed, anyone can win his Warhol merit badge in the Internet
age, thanks to on-demand streaming media. Broad bandwidth, in particular, is bringing new
opportunities to anyone -- everyone? -- who needs camera face time.

It's the public-access TV we never really got from
mere multichannel systems.

The notorious "JenniCam" (nonstop view from a
young woman's bedroom) and the pay-per-view Webcast from all-women college housing
reminds us how these businesses invariably begin.

Medical procedures also seem to be a favorite for the
streaming-media pioneers: oral surgery, a live birth and that phony teen-age couple who
promised to lose their virginity on a pay-per-view Webcast (until they were, well,

But that's just the beginning.

A slew of tools and support systems is proliferating to
make it easy to get that face time. For example, POPcast Communications, a Hollywood
start-up, is promoting "the power of shared video" though its "Personal
Video Webcasting" service. The company allows anyone with a digital camcorder to set
up an account and store personal one- to five-minute video clips for free viewing using
Microsoft "Windows Media Player."

Users receive a link address for each video, so they can
steer viewers to the segment through e-mail advisories or Web pages. The video, of course,
can be anything from vacation pictures or family footage that only a grandparent will
love, to community activism, to, well, you can imagine.

POPcast president William Mutual -- who transformed his
previous company, ITV.net, into POPcast -- also envisions that the stored video will be
used for corporate presentations, such as field-sales forces tapping into product
demonstrations from the high-speed connections at client desktops.

POPcast is also producing Webcasts, mostly showbiz-related,
capitalizing on its Hollywood headquarters. (Despite the name similarity, this company is
not related to DreamWorks-backed POP.com, which is due online this spring with streaming
entertainment programs -- presumably, professionally produced.)

Other tool and service providers are also making it easier
for personal-video impresarios to get out the picture and get into the limelight. Sega
Enterprises this month unveiled "Dreameye" digital-camera and microphone
peripherals for its "Dreamcast" game console. Using an Internet connection
through the Dreamcast box, gamers can transmit while playing. Sega estimates that about 22
percent of the 4.4 million Dreamcast units worldwide are connected to the Internet today.

Innovatv.com -- which is concentrating on content delivery
via broadband networks -- has another approach to Internet video, building on its recent
alliance with Road Runner. In San Diego; Memphis, Tenn.; and a handful of other markets,
the "Innovatv" (pronounced "innovative") system is used to transmit
"iMag" -- interactive video magazines -- through cable modems.

Although Innovatv.com plans to focus its work on
professional content providers (such as its recent deal with The Golf Channel) and
broadband-service providers, the company's authoring tools and distribution alliances
open the door for other kinds of creative community-oriented productions.

Even further up the development chain is Akamai
Technologies' recent acquisition of Intervu, a San Diego video provider that runs
more than 1,000 streaming-media servers, mostly for corporate customers. The consolidation
with Akamai is being hailed as a new model for content delivery, giving more power to
bandwidth providers.

It also gives these carriers a new service to sell to
video-hungry -- and technologically equipped -- households.

All of these services require customer investment in
video-capture devices, software, cameras and peripherals.

Not a problem, and none of that public-access studio
overhead of years gone by. On-demand distribution -- maybe even on a revenue-sharing basis
-- actually could make this an income-producing option.

Of course, it's laden with the usual public-access
problems: copyright violation, obscenity, boredom. But it does make it possible for every
mug to earn the Warhol merit badge. Smile! You're on someone's Webcam.

I-Way Patrol columnist Gary Arlen's new PC (like his
previous PC) came with a Webcam loaded and ready to shoot.