By the Chicago Bureau Chief
This is a story about Charlie Rose. This is a story about technology. This is a story about stories.
A Thought Experiment
Let’s imagine for a second that you are Charlie Rose. You’re the doyen of Manhattan Society. Why? Because you know everybody.
You count among your friends the world’s millionaires and billionaires. Yet you pay yourself a wage barely sufficient to maintain respectability in their circles. You run your broadcast on a shoestring budget, and even that you have to go begging and schilling for.
You own little: a few tailored suits, an oak table – not even a pair of cuff links. So what’s your most valuable asset (aside from your charisma)?
Thousand upon thousands of hours of filmed conversations with the greatest thinkers of the past twenty years. You’ve invested your entire life into them. You own the most interesting real-life stories narrated by the people who lived them.
There’s little doubt that you want – nay, deserve to convert such a coveted asset into bankable cash. When TV was the only game in town, there was little you could do about it. Your broadcast is hardly broad enough for widespread commercial syndication. Plus, you’re on PBS. The best you could do was to sell transcripts, VHS tapes, and then DVDs of your conversations.
But then the internet came around. You’re Charlie Rose. You’re no dope. You’re obsessed with technology, to the point that you’re willing to sacrifice your body for a gadget. You’re aware of every impending development, and you’ve asked all the right people what each advance means for your future. You know, for example, that online streaming video could mean big business for a man in television.
But let’s not forget: you’re Charlie Rose. You’re almost a public intellectual. You’re a celebrity, but only among celebrities. You come from humble roots in North Carolina and you yearn to cast a wider net. Maybe it’s not the Common Man who you want to include in your discussions, but it’s sure as hell every last Good Ol’ Boy you can find.
You yearn for popular appeal. You yearn for elitist inclusion. Which wins out? What do you do?
Here’s what the real Charlie Rose did:
A Chronicle of Recent Internet Technology as it Relates to Charlie Rose
January 25, 2005: Google Video is launched. Its primitive functions offer only to searches the closed captions of various TV programs as well as the TV schedules in local markets.
April 23, 2005: The first video is uploaded to YouTube.
August 9, 2006: Charlie launches his YouTube channel with a five minute “Preview of Interview with YouTube Co-founders“. It is a provocative move on Charlie’s part to publish this new material on YouTube two days before it airs on PBS. Maybe.
The project of uploading episode previews, always CR’s primary YouTube strategy, continues to this day.
August 11, 2006: The full interview with YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen hits the PBS airwaves.
October 9, 2006: Google purchases YouTube.
Sometime during 2007*: Charlie Rose’s first upload of a full-length broadcast to video.google.com. He continues uploading his archive to Google Video for the next two years, clearly feeling that he has finally found a home for his vast fortune of material. Viewing is free to the internet public.
*video.google.com obfuscates the details such that we are unable to provide an exact date for this upload.
August 24, 2007: Through a special arrangement, Charlie Rose begins uploading full-length episodes to YouTube. Curiously, this begins with a 1996 interview with Harry Belafonte. The quality of the uploads is decidedly mixed, the audio consistently losing sync with the video about a quarter of the way through each broadcast.
The effort of uploading full CR episodes to YouTube seems to be abandoned just a few days later, after a total of about 10 episodes have been posted*. No rhyme, reason, or strategic thought can be discerned in the choice of episodes for this experiment.
*The editors of BATT.com, however, do recall there being many more full interviews on YouTube at one time.
September 20, 2007: The first inter-bureau e-mail including a link to a CR interview on Google Video is sent by the Los Angeles Bureau Chief. It announces a particularly combative interview that Charlie conducted with Francis Ford Coppola in 1994.
January 14, 2009: Google Video announces that within a matter of months it will no longer allow user uploads.
We Know Not When: charlierose.com launches. It includes embedded video clips.
July 7, 2009: The first inter-bureau e-mail to include a direct link to charlierose.com is sent by the New York Bureau Chief announcing an interview with Guillermo Del Toro. It is hosted by Google Video.
July 21, 2009: Charlie interviews the stunningly obnoxious-yet-entertaining Chris Anderson (the WIRED Mag guy, not the other one). During their boisterous conversation, Charlie laments his ability to monetize his media holdings.
July 31, 2009: Charlie Rose’s final upload to video.google.com
August 1, 2009 – a few weeks later: Charlie Rose goes silent on the internet, Google Video’s 7-month warning proving insufficient notice for his staff to locate a new server*. The blogosphere bemoans the loss.
*We suspect it was insufficiently personal as well: would it have killed Sergei to call Charlie personally? Even a text would have been helpful.
August 3, 2009: Charlie interviews Jason Kilar, CEO of hulu.com. He mentions that Hulu has approached the CRS about being included on the site.
Sometime in August 2009: charlierose.com adopts Flowplayer for video streaming. Flowplayer, a technology that had just gone public in March of ’09, is a free, open-source software which allows streaming of videos hosted by the client*. It is also used by the Berlin Philharmonic, the Internet Movie Archive, and Spunkvideo.com.
August 21, 2009: The first inter-bureau e-mail to include a link to a charlierose.com interview with the flowplayer technology is sent by the Los Angeles Bureau Chief announcing a new interview with BATT favorite Quentin Tarantino.
January 3, 2011: Charlie interviews David Carr, technology writer for the New York Times, about technological developments to come in 2011. Charlie publicly states that one of his technology goals is to create a forum to “continue the conversation” beyond the walls of his studio.
January 7, 2011: BackAtThisTable.com is born, a web forum dedicated to continuing Charlie’s conversations where he left off. It is the passion project of three geographically scattered Bureau Chiefs with a penchant for e-mailing one another links to Charlie Rose episodes.
February 25, 2011: hulu.com begins offering regularly broadcast Charlie Rose episodes. Each episode is preceded by a commercial. Commercial-free episodes are still available on charlierose.com. The future is uncertain.
In the end, this was a story about love. About Charlie’s love for technology and for his audience. About our love for Charlie. And like so many love stories, it’s not clean or clear-cut. In fact, it’s a total mess.
In addition to charlierose.com, Google Video, YouTube, and hulu, there’s a gaggle of secondary hosting sites all over the world that now hold CR broadcasts. There’s also the fact that Google Video crapped out before Charlie could get around to uploading all of his old videos, and that Mr. Rose (or Ms. Vega) seems to have no interest in finishing the job.
Like all great love stories though, this one lives on happily ever after, day after day, as we all bask in Charlie’s grace. Because honestly, he never even had to upload that first YouTube video in the first place.