Hobnox Offers Intelligent Music Videos for the “Empty V” Crowd
Many bands have hours of video documenting their performances and their touring adventures, but their options for getting this material out to fans aren’t very broad. There’s MTV on the professional end and MySpace on the popular end, and not much in between. But now Hobnox, a German company that has set up its U.S. headquarters in Waltham, MA, is offering a third alternative: an online network for “prosumer”-produced content about indie musicians.
“Many musicians who are creating great content don’t have a distribution platform for it,” says David Wu, president of Hobnox, which launched its first U.S. content channel, called Mi145, in October. “We are providing a way for them to reach out to their fan base, broadcast high-quality video and audio, and create a community around that.”
Hobnox is attempting to make its first big splash with two series of video documentaries on Mi145, one about the 1967 American debut of electric guitar legend Jimi Hendrix and the other on Boston-based ska-punk band The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, which is reuniting this month after a five-year hiatus. Most of this content is professionally produced, but Hobnox execs say that they expect to introduce tools for users to create and upload their own videsos by mid-2008.
“The younger bands, they are very used to this do-it-yourself culture, and they are pretty much filming everything about themselves,” says Jim Fell, Hobnox’s vice president of design and strategy. “But they haven’t really had distribution platforms that support that. MySpace and some of the other social-networking forums have allowed them to express themselves, but not on a professional level. We are looking to create a grassroots platform that can serve the needs of all of these artists. We’re leading with Jimi Hendrix and some professional content to show what can be done, but it works for more underground media producers, too.”
The Hendrix documentary, called “American Landing,” chronicles Hendrix’s first American performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1967, after he had already achieved notoriety in Europe. The documentary is rich in archival concert film and interviews, and is organized in a format Hobnox calls a “Hypershow,” meaning that viewers can stop the main narrative at dozens of points and explore clips and interviews that go into facets of Hendrix’s career in greater depth.
The Hypershow format is essentially a reinvention of the interactive CD-ROM documentary, which was developed into a high art in the 1990s by companies like Corbis and FlagTower. It may be a measure of how young the folks at Hobnox are—or how old I am—that when I mentioned the similarity during an interview, they had no idea what I was talking about; Macromedia Director and other PC-based tools used by CD-ROM producers in the 90s have long since given way to so-called “rich Internet applications” built on platforms such as AJAX, Microsoft’s Silverlight, and Adobe’s Flex and AIR platforms. (The familiar Flash player—which you must install to watch Mi145—is the browser-based runtime environment in which Flex applications are viewed.)
Making a plain music video into a Flex presentation isn’t simple, which is why you don’t see a lot of interactive content on sites like MTV.com, and why Hobnox is producing all of its own content for Mi145 right now. (The “Mi” stands for Music Intelligence.) Hobnox’s three German channels, on music, film, and urban culture, have begun to show some user-contributed videos, but for the moment musicians who want to get their content onto the U.S. channel need to approach Hobnox directly. “We do have the opportunity of working directly with artists who want to put something like a Hypershow together,” Wu says.
But there’s one quick way for a band to get on Hobnox: be the winner of a contest the company is running in concert with Boston-based music booking site Sonicbids to find the best local ska, punk, or hardcore rock band to open for the Bosstones at their New Year’s Eve bash at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence. In fact, the company is expected to announce the winning band and runners-up today, based on videos submitted through Sonicbids. The winners and five other finalists will be featured on Mi145, according to the company.
Meanwhile, the channel will continue with its edgy, somewhat antiestablishment fare, including a regular “docuette” feature called “Empty V”—a fairly transparent dig at MTV and its parent, Viacom.
“At MTV and some of the other established media outlets, they have a formula that works and they want to stick with it,” says Fell, who formerly worked as creative director at search portal Lycos. “We have people who have come from MTV and various other media groups, but we’re not afraid to experiment and to say that this Internet medium can provide a different viewing experience. It requires some new thinking and some new concepts.”