Lessons from ZeD

Did you know that they got the name for the tv show ZeD from a CBC in-house contest? I can’t remember what my entry was, but it was better than “ZeD.”

The show was nigh unwatchable. At times fascinating, at others infuriating. I had friends who begged at me to change the channel, because they couldn’t take it anymore.

The idea was so bold, so new, and so public broadcastery, it was doomed from the start.

They built a web site, and people from around the world came there to upload their creative works and to discuss the creative works of others. A colleague looking at it for the first time said: “They’re making entire worlds in there.”

And he was right.

It launched around the same time as some other innovative CBC web projects, like Radio3, CBC Home Delivery, JustConcerts.com, and Bandeapart. A lot of time, money, and cojones went into these things. Upon seeing Radio3 for the first time, Alex Frame said: “I don’t understand it, but it’s fucking cool.”

He was right, too.

All of them were out front and innovative, but seriously flawed. In time, they were either scrapped or given heavy doses of radiation and left to fend for themselves.

There are people who learned from these experiments, but the people who learned the most are now applying that knowledge in the private sector. Which is fine. But you’d be hard pressed to find a sliver of the anarchistic, “let’s make a show!” spirit of ZeD in CBC.ca.

Suddenly, 2001 seems like a hundred years ago. We went from opening things up and building online communities to shutting down the web forums and slapping privacy policies on rss feeds.

Maybe things will change now that Claude’s Reign of Terror has ended. We can only hope.

And as for TV, ZeD has died of radiation poisoning.

ZeD assumed everyone was going to want to make art and TV. They were only partly right. But it was the creation of communities that was its real genius. Why this lesson was never carried across the country to Toronto is not exactly clear.

Oh, I’m sure the CBC lawyers will give you all kinds of reasons why you can’t let real people speak through their public broadcaster. And we should take their sage advice, for those learned men are rarely wrong on matters of culture, art, and entertainment.

They will tell you how unruly it us. How dangerous and unmanageable it is.

How unpredictable. Dynamic. Daring. Risky.

Bold. Audacious.

So much, in fact, that you can’t stop yourself from watching.

10:43pm addendum:
Mr. Maffin is hosting a forum discussing how a ZeD replacement would and could work.
See you there, kids.

14 comments:

  1. Anonymous
    Posted May 14, 2006 at 10:55 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    …and that’s why ZeD only had boring shite made by amateurs desperate to have their efforts shown by, well, anybody… sorry.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted May 12, 2006 at 9:46 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    “By voluntarily submitting or uploading content or material to the website (the “Submission”), you expressly consent to the use by CBC of such Submission on any CBC website, CBC television/radio program, CBC recording, and CBC marketing material or other paraphernalia related to CBC programming. You grant CBC a royalty-free, perpetual, non-exclusive, irrevocable, unrestricted, worldwide license to: (i) use, reproduce, store, modify, make derivative works from, transmit, distribute, publicly perform or display such Submission for any purpose, and (ii) to sublicense to third parties the unrestricted right to exercise any of the foregoing rights. In addition. you agree to: (i) waive all moral rights in any Submission in favour of CBC, (ii) consent to your name, address and e-mail appearing as the contributor of any Submission, where applicable, and to the disclosure and/or display of such information and any other information which appears in or is associated with a Submission, (iii) acknowledge and agree that CBC is not responsible for any loss, damage, or corruption that may occur to your Submission, and (iv) acknowledge and agree that any Submission you provide for display on the Website will be considered non-confidential.”

    And then I removed all my material from the site.

  3. DEW in Ottawa
    Posted May 10, 2006 at 6:42 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It took me a day to twig to the history reference, even though I’d lived it myself.

    *slaps forehead, says “Doh!”*

  4. Johnny Happypants
    Posted May 9, 2006 at 6:49 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Sorry young fellas, I thought this group was more CBC history hip. Way back when, when we had a News Final (or whatever it was called in the various regions) it was followed by Barney Miller. I was just thinking of the good old days. The important thing is we bring back the late regional news programs. You could probably replay the 6 o’clock shows unaltered and get the same numbers or more than they get during their original airing. Probably more than that 3rd version of the National that airs every night.

  5. DEW in Ottawa
    Posted May 9, 2006 at 5:27 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Agreed.

    If we want a police/sitcom show, it ought to be…well, made here, and about cops here, and that’s just for starters.

  6. Doppelganger
    Posted May 8, 2006 at 10:39 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Why no prime time Best Of Zed or the occaisional Zed special.

    Actually, we did both those things on several occasions, as well as having regional half-hour specials. I personally would have loved to have even more prime-time specials, say on a monthly or even a weekly basis. Unfortunately, the specials we did have were sporadic and under-marketed, which was outside the production team’s control.

    Bring back the late night regional newscast and follow it with Barney Miller.

    I agree with half of what you say. The return of regional late-night newscasts would be fantastic! But much as I love Barney and the rest of the guys down at the station, they’re not what Canadian public broadcasting should be about.

  7. John
    Posted May 8, 2006 at 8:29 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Johnny Happypants,

    Actually that was kinda funny, but you’re off base on the issue of how CBC connects with it’s users.

    TV and the Internet are about 2-5 years from becoming one in the same, so if CBC isn’t experimenting with how to weather this transition right now, then it’s sunk.

    This means it can’t always think of the bottom line when it’s trying new things.

  8. Johnny Happypants
    Posted May 8, 2006 at 4:03 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Hey Justin,

    Don’t slag someone because they thought Zed was boring and suggest they’d be happier with Canadian Idol (or The Greatest Canadian, or a Paul Anka Special). It was more annoying than boring. The concept was also under-branded and narrow. Why no prime time Best Of Zed or the occaisional Zed special. And the web popularity (dubious numbers no matter how you count them, and small change in the www world anyway)isn’t as important as eyeballs actually watching television. That’s the main purpose of CBC TV, you might have read. Other avenues of exhibition (ipods, the web, the shoeviewer, the cranium chip implant, etc) are secondary and will be for a long time coming. Bring back the late night regional newscast and follow it with Barney Miller.

  9. Doppelganger
    Posted May 8, 2006 at 11:14 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I would say my one real objection to the show was that, while they were showing a lot of interesting short films (good!) they weren’t actually paying for them (bad bad bad), which makes the whole thing seem unsustainable, if not outright questionable.

    As the former editorial producer of Zed, I can clarify this point, because it’s one that’s come up before. Zed actually did pay for all film submissions that were over one minute in length. We paid a standard per-minute rate comparable (and in some cases superior) to that paid by any other specialty network.

    And, on the questionable side of things, didn’t a regional director of television win one of their contests, complete with free stuff, and a free plane ticket?

    This is the first I’ve heard this rumour, so I have a feeling it’s just that: a rumour. Having managed a dozen contests for Zed, I can tell you that CBC has rigorous, detailed rules and regulations surrounding how every contest is run, and they’re sticklers for them.

    So what happens to all the content locked into the ZeD site? Is it owned by the CBC or by the artists?

    All uploads to the Zed website are owned — and have always been owned — by the people who created them. The only content CBC owns are the original pieces Zed commissioned and paid for from animators and filmmakers. Uploads are not “locked into” the Zed website. The artists have their original files and have total control over them.

    ZeD was boring… sorry.

    I love it when people use the disingenuous “sorry.” Where I come from, “sorry” is an apology, not a snide declamation. I’m “sorry” (heh) that you found Zed boring, but you don’t represent the hundreds of thousands of people who’ve regularly tuned in since Zed’s inception. I wish you the best of luck and godspeed in finding TV fare you prefer on the many other channels on your dial.

  10. Anonymous
    Posted May 6, 2006 at 10:53 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    So what happens to all the content locked into the ZeD site? Is it owned by the CBC or by the artists?

    If they never paid for it, did the people uploading it sign away all rights?

  11. Justin Beach
    Posted May 6, 2006 at 9:32 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    If you found Zed boring, it’s more likely that you are in fact boring, or maybe just suffering from a lack of imagination – try Canadian Idol, or Next Top Model I think you’re the type it was made for

  12. Anonymous
    Posted May 5, 2006 at 10:07 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    ZeD was boring… sorry.

  13. Anonymous
    Posted May 5, 2006 at 9:57 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Apart from the usual complaints… that Zed was too self-consciously hip and maybe a little snide, I would say my one real objection to the show was that, while they were showing a lot of interesting short films (good!) they weren’t actually paying for them (bad bad bad), which makes the whole thing seem unsustainable, if not outright questionable.

    And, on the questionable side of things, didn’t a regional director of television win one of their contests, complete with free stuff, and a free plane ticket? Ouch.

  14. Justin Beach
    Posted May 5, 2006 at 5:22 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It’s a shame, Zed was the most forward looking thing that the CBC was involved with (yep even more than podcasting). I think they bailed too early and/or failed to do the fine tuning that would have made it work, but I’ve already had a few discussions with people who want to pick up some of the slack (on the web at least).


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