BOB GARFIELD: Meanwhile, Ze Frank, a former ad industry consultant and veteran blogger, is already doing for entertainment what Rosen wants to do for journalism. Ze says that his webcast, called "The Show," draws more than 100,000 viewers a day, and he's pledged to keep producing it until next spring. What do people see there? Basically, two minutes of rapid-fire close-ups on Ze's unblinking face as he riffs on whatever happens to be on his mind. Sometimes it's the news. Sometimes it's his health. Sometimes he throws out little challenges to his audience, who he refers to as "the Fabulosos." Back in May, for instance, he invited people to grab a slice of bread and position themselves on opposite sides of the world, thereby creating an Earth sandwich.
ZE FRANK (Tape): The challenge will run 300 arbitrary units of time. It won't be easy, sports racers. That's why you've been provided with the "If the Earth were a Sandwich Data Visualization Find My Opposite" tool. You can find it by clicking on the link below.
BOB GARFIELD: As has been the case with most of his audience participation gimmicks, the Earth sandwich did get results.
ZE FRANK: There were two serious attempts, but one that really nailed it, and that was between New Zealand and Spain. And two American travelers who were backpacking through Europe made a wonderful video, which you can watch on the site, of themselves being chased through cow pastures with a GPS locator [LAUGHS] and trying to find the exact spot to complete the Earth sandwich.
BOB GARFIELD: Chased by farmers, by cows, by whom?
ZE FRANK: Dogs. [LAUGHS] Chased by -
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS]
ZE FRANK: - dogs hungry for bread.
BOB GARFIELD: That is citizen-generated content if ever I heard of it.
ZE FRANK: [LAUGHS] One of the really interesting things about online media production is that you have a very tangible conversation that's going on with the audience. There's all sort of activities that, you know, are constantly recycled into the show. They actually introduce the show now. [CLIPS FROM "THE SHOW"]
ZE FRANK: Good evening, sports racers. This is "The Show," presented to you from Innsbruck, Austria.
MAN: …sports racers. We're in Ohio. WO
MAN: Good morning, sports racers. This is Ze Frank, your not-friend.
ZE FRANK: You're not Ze Frank. I am. But [LAUGHING] you're my first not-friend. I can't wait till - [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
MAN: [German language introduction of "The Show."] [END CLIPS FROM "THE SHOW"]
ZE FRANK: You know, there are segments where I take their comments. [CLIP FROM "THE SHOW"]
ZE FRANK: Sa-sa-sa something from the comments. Shrek writes, “Ze, today is my first day of college and I don't have any friends. Any advice?” Shrek, if you don't have close friends by the end of your first day at college, you should realize that there's probably something wrong with you. A good place to check in is – [END CLIP FROM "THE SHOW"]
ZE FRANK: One effort was I used Wiki software to allow the users to come together as a community and write a show for me, and that was partly because I was frustrated with a lot of the comments that I was getting, telling me to do a variety of things differently.
BOB GARFIELD: Was this a means of sort of harnessing the collective genius of the crowd, or kind of like, well, if you're so smart, let's see if you can do better, or, you know, something in between?
ZE FRANK: You know, from my standpoint, one of the really interesting things that's happening is that people are starting to understand how to make media. There's very low-cost production tools. Unfortunately, they're not all that good at it. So in the development of the show, I try to create a very wide range of activities, which allows people to be very clear on how they contribute – some sort of a rule set which tells them what they're supposed to be doing; a rule set that also lets people see how their particular contribution affected the whole of the project. And so that's everything from small little fun voting doodads to very, very high activity things, like playing me in chess. I ask people to send me pictures of themselves being attacked by office supplies, which is, you know, its own little rule set. It had to be a picture, and it had to be this large. [CLIP FROM "THE SHOW"]
ZE FRANK: Yesterday I resigned from the chess game that I've been playing with the Fabulosos. But some people thought that I was resigning from the show. That's crazy. At some point, I might take a day or two off, but I'm with you until March 17th of next year. [END CLIP FROM "THE SHOW"]
BOB GARFIELD: All right. So you're six months into this project. You're halfway through. What have you concluded?
ZE FRANK: What have I concluded? I would say there's this notion that this space is sort of a quasi-reality space, right? – and that, in a sort of different way than television, you actually, there's this sense that you and your audience are enmeshed somehow and that they know something about you and you sort of know something about them. And I guess one of the really surprising things is the degree to which that's true. You know [LAUGHS], the kind of emotional investment that I have gotten from this, and, [LAUGHS], you know, the degree to which a single comment in a huge comment field can pretty much ruin my day is really, really remarkable.
BOB GARFIELD: You've got 100,000 people a day streaming your production, which is, you know, let's say, a bigger audience than Tucker Carlson has, and he makes a lot of money and he's pretty famous. To what extent have you been able to cash in on the success of your show? I mean, is this a money-making proposition?
ZE FRANK: You know, the amount of time and sort of personal resource that I spend on the show [LAUGHS] makes it very, very hard to call any sort of financial gain on my part "cashing in." One of the interesting things now is getting involved in this conversation of what exactly is the business model? But it's not really about finding the business model that works. It's about, you know, a few really large key players starting to invest real money into this space, you know, deciding that there's value in this space. So in the meantime, you know, I have all this sort of requisite Web money-making tactics in place. I sell t-shirts. I have text links. And, you know, probably the most unusual thing that I do is I work with Revver, which encodes a small click-through ad on the end of my video and gives me some of the money from that.
BOB GARFIELD: And are you making a living compared to what you were making when you were, you know, in the advertising business?
ZE FRANK: [LAUGHS] No. The answer to that question is no.
BOB GARFIELD: Ze, thank you very much for joining us.
ZE FRANK: Oh, thanks for having me. I appreciate it. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Ze Frank's daily video blog can be viewed at his website, z-e-f-r-a-n-k.com. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
ZE FRANK (Tape): [SINGING] As I lay this bread on the ground, I know my job ain't done. But if the Earth were a sandwich, we would all be one… sandwich.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Coming up, we boldly go where lots and lots and lots of people have gone before.
BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media from NPR.