Downloadable TV: The Low-Cost Producers

DL.TV is three months old. The technology show’s host is Patrick Norton, formerly of TechTV’s The Screen Savers.

So far, only about 50,000 people get the show each time it comes out. That’s a far cry from the 1.2 million or so households that might watch Fox News Channel at any given point in the day. But not too far from the 214,000 households that watch Bravo on average.

Norton’s show, though, can’t be seen on any cable or satellite network. The 50,000 people are all personal-computer users, downloading episodes.

How many actually watch the show is impossible to tell, says editorial director Jim Louderback, also editor-in-chief of PC Magazine. But, he noted, “there has been no marketing at all. It’s all word of mouth.’’

Louderback and Norton work for Ziff Davis Media, a print and online publisher that last year logged $204.5 million of sales. But with their shoe-string approach, an independent video producer now can compete on a reasonable scale with conventional TV and splinter audiences even further.

DL.TV, which stands for “digital life” television, is shot on three low-cost video cameras. The control “room” is a $5,000 production system: a personal computer loaded with Tricaster software from Video Toaster progenitors NewTek of San Antonio, Texas.

There are no satellite transponders involved. No half-million-dollar control room. Not even a sales or marketing operation (yet). Distribution costs next to nothing. Just keep the shows on a server and wait from requests to come.

“The all-in cost is so low that we don’t need cable-size audiences to be a roaring success,’’ says Louderback.

Norton is not the only TechTV journalist to make the transition from cable to the Internet. One of the most popular podcasts extant is This Week in Tech, hosted by another former Screen Saver, Leo Laporte. Also drawing ears is Kevin Rose, who co-hosts DiggNation.

Louderback notes DL.TV is the only one that is actually doing full-length (40-minute-plus) video shows, with advertising breaks. So it’s a little early to see when a 24-hour technology channel, like TechTV, actually reappears as 24 hours a day of video reporting, in chunks.

The show, which just went to two episodes a week, has downloads that surpass the average quarter-hour viewership of BBC America (44,000 on average during the third quarter, according to an analysis of Nielsen Media Research data).

Louderback’s goal? Two hundred thousand downloads an episode. Like Bravo.

What does he hope DL.TV will come to stand for? DownLoadable TV.