On the Beet  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   October/November 2011

On the Beet   

Beet.TV makes its mark with video interviews of media and technology executives. Tues., Aug. 9, 2011

By Alison Kitchens
Alison Kitchens (akitchens@ajr.umd.edu) is an AJR editorial assistant.     


If your job has something to do with digital media, chances are Andy Plesser is looking for you. And he won't stop until he talks to you. And gets it on video.

Plesser, 59, is executive producer and founder of Beet.TV, a Web site that showcases two- to five-minute video interviews with executives in the media and technology industries.

The New York City-based site, launched in March 2006, is the result of what Plesser calls his journey "trying to understand the future of online video journalism." Along the way, he's compiled a library of about 2,700 videos, including interviews with employees of the New York Times, Bloomberg News, Facebook, YouTube and a wide array of smaller sites.

Plesser has taken an unconventional approach to promoting Beet.TV's videos. All of them are embeddable, meaning others can grab the code and throw the videos up on their own sites. The videos contain minimal Beet.TV markings and logos.

"A lot of people cut and paste and use that video on their blogs and also on bigger news sites like the Guardian of London, the New York Times, Wired and many places," he says. "They like to use it as a resource because it doesn't have a personality."

Plesser said he thinks of Beet.TV as a wire service for videos featuring technology and media experts. "I believe that the bigger opportunity is creating video which is widely syndicated and not on a destination but on different sites," he says.

"These days you can't just have your Web site. You have to have a lot of distribution to get your content out there," says Kara Swisher, co-executive editor at All Things Digital, a Web site that focuses on news and opinion on technology, the Internet and media, and a Beet.TV interviewee.

Swisher's latest Beet.TV interview took place on a sidewalk in Manhattan, with Plesser throwing out questions as pedestrians passed by. When asked how she gets her scoops, Swisher joked, "Well I use a lot of tasers and threats, idle threats." She added, "There is no trick to great reporting, it's just being curious, following things up, developing sources and not just putting up, you know, whatever idle rumor is around."

The headline that ran with Swisher's interview on Beet.TV read: "How Kara Swisher Gets Her Scoops: 'Tasers and Idle Threats.' "

"Andy certainly has an interesting take on what he's doing," she says. "I really like to see lots of small media companies like Andy's just take the diversity that is really encouraging and move it into the next era of journalism."

Plesser says Beet.TV's videos receive about 250,000 views a month, most occurring away from their home Web site. "As long as that video is being watched, that is the value," Plesser says.

Daniel Heaf, digital director at BBC Worldwide, took notice of Beet.TV when he saw its videos on Tech Crunch, a Web site that focuses on profiling startups, reviewing new Internet products and breaking tech news. It wasn't long before he was one of Beet.TV's many interviewees. Plesser "operates in a tech and media space," Heaf says. "He pretty much [has] covered most of the key people I'm interested in hearing from."

Heaf says Plesser's videos do a good job of catering to their micro audience, people interested in media, video and technology. "He concentrates more on the issues that we are interested in and not necessarily the wider news corporation media interests."

Plesser says he is not concerned with following high-profile stories, preferring to explore whatever interests him at the time. "I do try to follow the news cycle as best I can," he says. "By the same token, I don't like to be a slave to the news cycle. I like to explore news opportunities that are not necessarily apparent."

Megan McCarthy, editor of the media news aggregator mediagazer.com, did her first Beet.TV interview about a year ago via Skype. She's followed the site's videos ever since. She says she's especially impressed by the people Plesser selects for interviews. "I think what he's collected is this really smart kind of look at the media industry through the eyes of people who are really affecting what is going on, even though you might not really be aware of them yet," she says. "What he's doing is really taking a look at the media industry in a way that not a lot of people have the time or the inclination to do."

Plesser says he likes to think of his interviews as timeless, in effect a photo archive, a "briefer on the person being interviewed."

Heaf agrees. "I'll go back and think about what certain people said at certain points in time and how that will affect what they're doing and what their plans are for the future," he says. "They're incredibly useful snapshots in time of where the industry is going."

Aiming to create interviews that will stand the test of time hasn't stopped Plesser from breaking news. In 2006, he says, he was the first to report that Robert Scoble, a video blogger for Microsoft at the time, was leaving to join a Silicon Valley startup. He also got a scoop from a Verizon spokesperson last year at the All Things Digital conference that the Verizon iPhone was not going to be released anytime soon, dashing some public speculation.

While Plesser has a long history with video production (he produced his first film in high school when he borrowed the school football coach's Bolex 16 mm camera), Beet.TV was his first foray into video journalism. He's no stranger to media, though. Plesser has worked in public relations for nearly 30 years. In 1992 he started his own public relations firm in New York City, now called Plesser Holland Associates, where he is still a principal. However, for the most part, he's traded in his PR gig to be the man behind the camera.

"What I learned with the emergence of blogs and social media about six, seven years ago is that anyone could become a publisher and anyone could become a media entity in a sense," Plesser says. "I really latched onto that, and it seemed like a great opportunity to use my skill set to become a journalist."

Plesser began producing video content for his firm's clients in 2005 and soon realized he wanted to start exploring digital video on his own, separate from the firm. "Many PR people create blogs or build social networks as a way for business development," he says. "That was not my intention at all, and I think I've made that clear through my work and have kept any sort of agenda around the PR business quite separate from Beet.TV."

Plesser, a self proclaimed "foodie" who happens to be a big fan of grilling beets, thought the word "beet" would be a good play on the term "beat reporter," and thus Beet.TV was born. "I'm glad I did that and not something like 'Online Video Report,' " he says.

The site is funded in part by advertising, including 15-second ads at the beginning of videos; display ads on the Web site; and sponsored video spots. Its main source of revenue is sponsored roundtable events featuring about 10 panelists who work in digital media discussing specific topics. The February roundtable, hosted at the Washington Post, included panelists from CBS, MSNBC, the New York Times, Yahoo! and CNN.

Plesser, who conducts most of the site's interviews with occasional help from a freelancer in California, plans to expand the Beet.TV staff in the near future. "This has been a very good year. We have been building revenue, and I am going to be hiring a small staff of full-timers and some interns gradually."

As for the future, Plesser says, "I think that there's a couple of roads ahead for Beet.TV. One is sort of a growth of what I'm doing right now, which is building a brand, building inventory, building revenue and really having a lot of fun. I would like at some point to have a publishing partner that may want to participate by providing resources and distribution perhaps, to allow me to grow faster."

"I think that there's a huge opportunity for quality, low-cost, shareable journalistic video," he says. "Not just in the media space, but in many areas of business and society."

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