by Josh Kwan (KSM06)
Amanda Congdon has plans for a future in Hollywood and the big silver screen. For now, though, she’s content to begin as a star on a very small one: the computer screen. Congdon is the host of a video blog, or vlog, called Rocketboom — a five-days-a-week, three-minute show mostly about technology culture that’s viewed some 1 million times a week by an audience that spans the globe.
Clearly, a major part of Rocketboom’s appeal is Congdon (C03) herself. She is, in many ways, the embodiment of her techie audience’s dream girl: pretty and perky enough to pass as a cheerleader, goofy and self-deprecating enough to put the most nervous nerd at ease and, best of all, hip and smart enough to show a computer geek a thing or two about the Internet.
This wasn’t always the case. When she auditioned for Rocketboom in late 2004, Congdon knew next to nothing about blogging or technology. However, her inexperience didn’t daunt her. “I figured it would be something I could learn, like a role,” says Congdon, 24, an aspiring actress and model at the time.
Rocketboom creator Andrew Baron had placed an ad on Craigslist looking for a blogger-actress to host his new show. With a sarcastic and hammy sense of humor that dovetailed with Baron’s, Congdon won the job and started her career as a vlogger.
Blogging, essentially an online diary, gives millions of would-be novelists and pundits a forum for self-publishing. Podcasting, the audio version of blogging, was a natural extension in multimedia. Now comes vlogging, in which bloggers have replaced text with short video clips.
Technological leaps have driven down prices on sophisticated equipment to levels that amateurs can afford, says associate professor Richard Gordon, director of the Medill School of Journalism’s new media program.
Meanwhile, more people are using their high-speed web connections for amusement, which means that television networks and cable companies are losing their clout as gatekeepers for entertainment content.
“What’s interesting is what Rocket-boom exemplifies,” Gordon says. “No longer do a few companies have a chokehold on content creation.”
Rocketboom is produced in Baron’s Manhattan apartment on a sparse set decorated with a desk, a rolling swivel chair and a wall map, in homage to Saturday Night Live’s “Weekend Update.”
Rocketboom toiled in relative obscurity for months before word spread to online forums frequented by the tech cognoscenti. From there it was a short hop to the mainstream media. Soon the New York Times was calling Congdon one of the brightest stars of the newest medium.
Popular success, however, doesn’t guarantee a commercial payoff. So Baron and Congdon, now a co-owner of Rocketboom, are mapping out ways to balance the profit motive against the integrity of the show. In February they auctioned a week’s worth of advertising on eBay and landed a winning bid of $40,000 from TRM, an ATM and photocopy services firm; the twist is that Rocketboom will create an original ad each day for the sponsor, thereby retaining control of the show’s quirky sensibility.
As Congdon pursues expansion opportunities for Rocketboom, she hopes the momentum will carry her to Los Angeles. But even if Hollywood does come calling, Congdon promises that she’ll continue to light up the small screen for her Rocketboom audience.
Josh Kwan (KSM06) has a one-year fellowship from the Phillips Foundation to write about Northeast Asia. Previously, he was a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News and an intern in strategic planning at the New York Times.