Like so many with a vested interest, I am bombarded by coverage about the current credit crisis.  My office television is often tuned to a financial channel such as CNBC, and positioned behind me as I normally face the computer screen.  I swivel 180 degrees from the computer to view the TV and vice versa.  Both screens deliver video content.

The crisis set up a situation where executives from a large financial services firm were on television to address the crisis, and presumably reassure us.  The TV piece went just like you would expect – they said what they had to, didn’t say what they couldn’t and got away clean to a commercial break.  The hosts where satisfied.  The lawyers had no reason to be alarmed.  In short, just what you would expect to happen, happened.  So much so, that even in a crisis where I am keenly interested in the firm’s affairs, it was easy to ignore.  Like the background music playing in the lobby.

A few moments later, I watched a video on my computers from the same financial services firm.  Same subject, same motives, same high production values for the content.  The big difference was my reaction.  I became progressively more anxious, even alarmed as the executive recited the disclaimers and reminded us that money market funds can lose money too.

OK.  Video on the TV and video served from the internet are different on the surface – size, format, quality, etc., but that would not account for my reaction.

The difference that matters relates to our expectations.  It’s how we look at the content and the people who deliver it on the internet versus how we look at content on TV that makes all the difference.

When I look at TV, I expect it to be professional in all respects:  writing, performance, production and delivery.  I expect the content to be safe and routine.  Scrubbed.  I am accustomed to the TV rhythms, and know when to tune out.

Video content on the internet is different.  The Amateur rules this domain, the land of the long tail.  Content is unrefined, often unlicensed, sometimes illegal — causing me to screen it through different mental filters.  Professional content stands out and seems peculiar somehow.  And when I do see professional content, I may be viewing it from someone who does not have a legitimate license to be showing it to me.  In summary, I am on guard.

Back to the scene in my office with the two screens, same financial organization,  and same crisis.  I know all the caveats:  read and understand the prospectus … yada, yada, yada.  But when the polished exec guy trained and conditioned for TV came to my internet, and recited the boilerplate message that I could lose money with his organization, I found myself becoming alarmed.

I was already on high alert watching internet video content after all.  And I already knew all the caveats to attach to whatever this executive said.  To recite them on the internet, caused me to ask:  ‘In this dangerous environment, why is this guy telling me I can get hurt – which I already know?’  I was having trouble tuning out what I normally tune out on TV.

Thinking about it, I concluded I was expecting a real person, an amateur like me, on my computer screen.  I was expecting a fellow internet citizen.   Someone who takes personal responsibility for what they say and do.  Thinking harder, I expect many of the same things I expect from people in my physical world community.  Driving this point home, the financial services firm is in my geographic region and if I ran into the executive at the local diner, I would be alarmed if he recited disclaimers to me in a conversation.

On TV I expect actors and news readers.  TV people deliver content that is packaged, scrubbed and delivered without necessarily being processed deeply if at all by the person delivering it.  Perhaps this is why we attach so little to anything our politicians and elected officials say on TV.  And this notion that TV content is usually not owned by the person saying it may be why conspiracy theorist is a gainful profession these days.

It is my internet and our internet.  We share responsibility for the content.

If you are an executive in a company and you want to speak to me via video on the internet, I expect you to be more real than TV requires of you.  Better educate your lawyers and public relations handlers fast.   – db