YOUtv and You

What if they put a TV camera in a mall and nobody cared?

Nonetheless, says David Peacock, the colorfully named, fast-talking president and executive producer for YOUtv, which is based in Toronto, Canada, it's far too early to call the system a flop. In his view, "Channel 4 is building a brand, and this brand has to build. At first there may be two or three hours that go by when no one's using it, but you can't get disheartened. Because YOUtv is the key to the car, the key to television, and it may take viewers a while to believe that we're giving the key to them. But we are giving them the key -- and they can drive wherever they want."

The origin of YOUtv can be traced back to 1990, when Citytv, a Toronto station, introduced Speakers Corner, a feature based upon video of average Joes and Janes gabbing at a single recording booth placed on a street corner. The following year, Peacock and his partner, Ian Chamandy, refined this approach by developing portable kiosks that could be moved by a single person, not a squad of linebackers. Citytv and YOUtv, as Peacock and Chamandy named their company, teamed up shortly thereafter, and this combined force helped create what Peacock gleefully calls "a Canadian institution." Indeed, so many people started using YOUtv -- upwards of 6,000 a week -- that Citytv eventually began charging a dollar per person to start the camera rolling, with the proceeds going to charity, in an effort to cut down on the volume. (Channel 4's kiosks are free.)

Among those who've strutted their stuff before one of YOUtv's Toronto cameras are comics Mike Myers and Jim Carrey, as well as the Barenaked Ladies, a Canadian combo whose performances in front of the gadget helped lead to greater things. (The band headlines August 10 at Fiddler's Green.) But for Peacock, the best indication of YOUtv's influence came after a game when footballer Raghib Ismail, a star at Notre Dame now with the Dallas Cowboys, was playing for the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League. As Peacock remembers it, Ismail lost his cool during an early-'90s game "and jumped on someone with both feet. It was a terrible thing. But afterward, he didn't call a press conference or anything like that. He slunk down to Citytv's Speakers Corner installation and said, 'Kids, I play football for Toronto, and I know a lot of you respect me. But what I did today was very unsportsmanlike and cowardly, and I hope you don't respect that. I'm so sorry.'"

illustration by Mark Andresen

After a couple of years, Peacock and company began exporting YOUtv. The program eventually took root in locations as far-flung as Bogota, Colombia, and Nairobi, Kenya, but the U.S. proved resistant; YOUtv tanked for Chicago's WGN. But Peacock didn't give up, and in recent years, he's sold the system to Post-Newsweek Stations Inc. and Iowa's Meredith Broadcasting Group, and last December he inked a reported $10 million deal with CBS, which owns and operates twelve TV outlets in major American markets, including Channel 4 in Denver. CBS execs see the correlation between YOUtv and "reality" shows such as the aforementioned Survivor, but Peacock warns against linking them too closely. "'Reality' doesn't really mean reality anymore," he declares, in full showman mode. "It's edited, manipulated. That's why I call what we do 'True TV' -- because the editing is kept to a minimum. It's just what people say. It's true."

YOUtv is slated to go into all of the CBS-owned stations, with the ones in Denver and Minneapolis serving as guinea pigs. Channel 4's Carlson, whose job includes collecting the videotapes from the machines (remote technology is available, but not yet cost-effective), believes YOUtv can be used for a wide variety of purposes, including station promotions and advertiser tie-ins. She mentions, for instance, that a YOUtv station in Florida, in conjunction with a local business, gave a free trip to the Grammy Awards to the person who did the best job singing a Grammy-nominated song into a kiosk. Other stations have gone even further -- most notably WSMV in Nashville, which has a regularly scheduled half-hour program made up entirely of YOUtv clips. "We think this can really make our station better," Carlson says.

If anyone here uses the damn thing, that is.

A tale of two papers: Last weekend, as Denver Post owner Dean Singleton was celebrating his fiftieth birthday with several hundred of his closest friends ("Press for Success," August 2), the folks at Colorado's other two major dailies were having considerably less fun.

At the Rocky Mountain News, the paper that came in on the short end of the joint-operating-agreement stick, complaints continue to roll in about its struggling Saturday edition and just about everything else. In an August 3 column, Rocky vet Gene Amole noted that he hasn't received a single letter or e-mail supporting the pact, adding, "Remember all that talk about the JOA 'preserving' Denver as a 'two-newspaper' town? What a bunch of baloney that was. The Denver Post is trying to run us out of business."

In this respect, the Post seems to be making progress. A reliable Rocky source reveals that thanks to the dumping of the Saturday enterprise section and generally tight space overall, many reporters are having trouble getting anything but the smallest or most timely articles into the paper; some have as many as half a dozen stories backlogged, with no guarantee that their pieces will ever see the light of day. No wonder some staffers are nervous about the prospect of layoffs.

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