That Time I Made an Internet TV Show

Nine years ago I lived in Zurich, Switzerland and was working for an Non-Government Organisation called Free Software Foundation Europe. I was deeply involved in issues around software, society and policy. Exciting things were happening on the Internet like social networks and video sharing. In those heady days Open Source was just going mainstream, Google was just becoming a big corporation, and this Facebook thing was slowly getting popular.

Around the end of summer 2007 my good friend Ramon Cahenzli and I decided to explore Internet TV. We were curious about whether we could create a show that explored our areas of personal interest and was available to a (potentially) wide audience. High Density was born!

The Big Idea

Ramon and I wanted to talk about technology and politics with a focus on simple explanations for interesting innovations. We thought it would be fun to make some esoteric technical subjects like embedded computing or energy saving more accessible and understandable to a general audience. In other words, we were interested in how technology can impact everyday life, and how we could explain that to real people.

We shot a total of four episodes covering Internet Broadcasting, Embedded Computing, Report: Robot-Stories and Energy Saving before running out of steam. They were recorded on a MiniDV camcorder and edited entirely with Free Software. We wanted to show that consumer technology and Open Source technology, combined with human ingenuity, could produce television. The barrier was no longer how much money you had but rather what you could imagine and what time you would invest.

It was a regarding challenge to prepare, record, edit and release the show between September and November of 2007. To put together each episode we had to consider suitable topics, prepare notes, arrange a shooting location and equipment, record and edit the show itself, and then distribute and market it online. It was just about manageable in the context of a time-limited show produced in-between our jobs and other commitments.

Let’s Get Technical

The show was edited in Cinelerra, which at the time was the closest Free Sogtware option to a professional proprietary editor like Final Cut Pro, and which we found to be our more reliable option for doing things like rendering and export without crashing.

We initially prepared the show in MPEG4 format, released downloadable versions in iPod (320x240 pixels) and Full Size (640x480 pixels) and uploaded copies to YouTube. From episode 3 onward we switched to using H.264, releasing only in 640x480 pixels, and distributing through Google Videos. These pixel sizes are basically postage stamps now but at the time — when dinosaurs still roamed the earth — we were concerned about download speeds, bandwidth and all the stuff your LTE smartphone does not remember.

I recall the switch from MPEG4 to H.264 was to allow one version of the show to work equally well on all devices. I’m not sure why we switched from YouTube to Google Videos. As it turns out we did not pick a winner from the perspective of Digital Archiving.

Licensing

Licensing was a big deal for us. At the time we both worked or contributed to a lot of Free Software and Free Culture projects or initiatives. As such we wanted to ensure the content could be freely viewed, remixed and shared by anyone who came across it.

We decided to release the show under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.5 licence and we used theme music from a friend called Kurt Kuene in collaboration with bit-tuner under a Creative Commons By-NC-SA license. The Creative Commons licenses are very useful, easy to understand and simple to apply to creative works like video, music or books. You can find out more on their website.

Conclusions

High Density was a fantastic learning experience. It was created at the precise moment that Internet broadcasting became possible for more people due to the combination of accessible recording technology and distribution platforms like YouTube entering the mainstream. This trend accelerated in subsequent years to the point where basically everyone can record 4K video in 120 frames per second on their mobile phones. Humanity may mostly use this capability for cat photos today but it is actually a truly stunning democratisation of broadcasting accessibility.

Today personal, local or specialised broadcasting over the Internet to a global audience is available to anyone with a phone, an internet connection and a story they want to tell. Our little show was one tiny part of this emerging trend. I look forward to seeing what other creations will emerge as a consequence of this capability in the years to come.

High Density Season 1 Episode 4

About Ramon Cahenzli (in 2007)

Ramon has 12 years of experience in the IT field, with 2 years as a webmaster and 10 years as a system administrator. He also has 1 years experience as a project manager, meaning that he either squeezed 13 years of work into 12 years of real time, or some positions overlapped.

Ramon speaks English, German, Alemannic, Rumantsch, French, Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian. This means he’s a completely different type of person to Shane, who barely speaks English.

About Shane Coughlan (in 2007)

Shane was born in Ireland and quickly escaped to England. He studied quite a lot in Blighty and did some research on cybernetic warfare. It didn’t help make him rich. He also became a political scientist. That didn’t make him rich either.

Shane is involved in quite a few security projects in the IT field, and he’s also the coordinator of Free Software Foundation Europe’s legal department.

Shane speaks English. Badly. And a little Japanese.