Amateurs Curry Favor with YouTube shows

The International Culinary Schools at the Art Institutes, a national system of culinary programs, has even started its own online show, ExploreCulinary.TV, touted as a "video cookbook" with culinary students preparing recipes from around the world.

"Online video started with people posting their video blogs; now it's everyone from people who never picked up a camera before, to film-school grads, to major film studios producing content specifically for the Web," says Josh Cohen, 26, a co-founder of Tilzy.TV, which tracks and reviews online programming.

The reasons for the growth include technological, financial and demographic factors, says Jim Louderback, chief executive of Revision3, an Internet TV network. Broadband speed is now fast enough to allow for high-quality videos online. The devices to watch those videos are better. More people under 30 are turning away from regular TV to watch Internet entertainment.

"Internet costs are so much lower — a tenth of the price of traditional TV — you can create programming focused on niche audiences and you don't need to be watched by millions to be profitable," Louderback says.

Scores of Average Joe content creators are discovering this. For most, a YouTube "channel" is the preferred platform because it's cheap and easy to track viewers and interact with them. The result is a wide variety of creative activity, ranging from making art to fixing leaky roofs to tasting wines to interviewing rock stars about what they like to eat.

"The 15 minutes of fame has become: You'll be famous to 15 people," or even 15 million, says self-taught wine expert Gary Vaynerchuk, whose daily wine-tasting webcast, "The Thunder Show" (WineLibrary.tv), on YouTube and elsewhere, has made him a genuine Internet star.

"Anyone with a little bit of charisma and good knowledge in their (specialty) has an enormous opportunity to explode. The karate expert, the lawn-mower expert, the babysitter who does a video show on proper babysitting techniques, she can become famous. We're in the gold-rush period of personal branding."

One of the advantages of the Internet to would-be online personalities is that they have total control over their own productions; there are no network suits telling them what (or what not) to do. "That inspires people to pay attention to the audience," says Spencer Crooks, spokesman for YouTube, which first noticed the popularity of cooking shows around the holidays last year.

Crooks says the high quality of some of the videos was a surprise. "But it doesn't have to be superb quality. Personality can really carry it," he says. "It's been amazing to watch people who have a passion connect with others who share that passion."

Jennifer Robbins of Providence loves indie-rock music and cooking, which led to "Cooking With Rockstars", which appears on YouTube and other video-hosting sites. Her monthly show features clips of band performances and her five-minute interviews with rockers about their cooking, even their culinary demonstrations in their kitchens.

"It's the intersection where my two passions meet," says Robbins, who considers herself more professional than the "masses" who use YouTube. She's hoping to eventually make money from her show. "If you're a serious content producer, you use other (video support) services, such as Blip.TV; they help promote you, you can opt to have advertising."

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