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The Need for Curation: Thousands of Channels and Everything Is On

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Ah, the good old days. Postage stamp-sized videos that took so long to load that you had time to fix yourself a cup of tea, maybe make a sandwich, and get a little work done before you were able to watch. There were only a few players to choose from—fewer still if you were on a Mac. And none of them, save for the stray Star Wars trailer, were good enough to keep you away from the television.

And at least there, in the living room, there were only a few dozen channels to choose from and only one remote to get lost in the sofa.

It’s not like today, not even a little bit. More and better video than ever before, delivered to our PCs, laptops, iPhones, iPads, Android devices, and even our televisions via the internet. Bruce Springsteen once sang about “57 Channels (And Nothin’ On)”; these days, it’s thousands of channels and everything is on. Every time I check my Roku, there are channels I didn’t even know existed but that I absolutely must watch, in addition to channels I never knew existed and still don’t much care about.

It’s enough to send the average consumer to despair, but even Elvis didn’t have enough guns to blow holes in all these screens. More and more, consumers are not going to be looking so much for content but for curated content, as Steve Rosenbaum so cogently writes about in his new book, Curation Nation.

Rosenbaum is a former video producer for MTV; he is currently the CEO of Magnify, an online video curation platform—so yes, he clearly has ulterior motives for writing a book about the subject. But just because he’s biased doesn’t make him wrong.

Rosenbaum’s interest in curation and entrepreneurship goes back to when he was a kid in New York, trying to make a bit of cash by reselling day-old newspapers—the same model, some would argue, that is driving so many aggregation websites today.

But where curation used to be the realm of academia, museums, and galleries, it’s now squarely in the purview of the netizen. “In an era of data abundance,” Rosenbaum writes, “the thing that is scarce is taste.” And as the very meaning of the phrase “online video” changes from “video that’s delivered via a computer” to “video that’s delivered via internet protocol or mobile carrier to all manner of devices,” there’s more need for curation—the sifting and winnowing of the wheat from the chaff—than ever before.

In many ways, the role of a magazine editor has always been that of curator. We attempt to discern what topics are of most interest to our readers and attendees, to ferret out the most suitable writers and speakers to deliver those topics and to make sure that the end result is something that makes sense as a coherent whole, as more than just the sum of its parts.

We don’t always succeed, of course. But when we do, the results transcend even our intentions, just as a well-curated gallery show or exhibit is itself a unique creation, with a unique story to tell that wouldn’t be apparent if all the individual pieces were simply laid out willy-nilly.

And more and more, people in organizations are realizing their own abilities to serve as curators. Take, for instance, the attendees of Niche Digital, a conference in Chicago aimed at publishers of niche magazines—you know, the ones that were long tail when long tail wasn’t cool—with such sexy titles as Scaffold Industry and Backyard Poultry—of no general interest whatsoever but as crucial as The Wall Street Journal to the titans of those particular industries.

Those publishers have been curators all along, and this year Streaming Media is joining the Niche Digital Conference (www.nichedigitalconference.com) to present the Publisher’s Online Video Workshop in Chicago on Sept. 28 to help them better understand how online video can give their online publications more value and help them curate richer experiences for their readers.

You might not be able to access any of them on the big screen quite yet, but I bet you didn’t know Roku offered an aviation enthusiast channel already, did you?

This article was first published in the June/July issue of Streaming Media under the title "My Kingdom for a Curator!"

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