ManiaTV Not Ready for Primetime

BRAD BAUTISTA
The Oracle
University of South Florida

Free TV — it’s a concept that either strikes fear in the heart of cable providers or causes them to scoff and proclaim, “That’s crazy.” But is it crazy enough to work? That’s what ManiaTV founder Drew Massey is banking on.

“The whole mission is to do with Internet TV what Ted Turner did with cable,” said Massey in an Associated Press story.

Massey’s version of Braves baseball and Seinfeld reruns is an MTV clone targeting Internet-savvy 20-somethings fed up with MTV’s perplexing lack of M. From ManiaTV.com, users can access eight different “channels” with clips of music, movies, shorts, cartoons and sports. Some of the content in the latter channels is original or user-submitted, such as exclusive interviews with extreme sports athletes Dave Mirra and Bob Burnquist. But a fair portion (such as Ashlee Simpson’s lip-syncing escapades or footage of Randy Johnson taking out a bird with a fastball) will be familiar to anyone who has spent a decent amount of time tooling around the Internet.

The site’s main draw, however, and the channel that greets users when they log on, is the titular ManiaTV. Reminiscent of early ’90s MTV with a distinctly hipster vibe, the channel features a 24/7 feed of music-video shows hosted by “CJs” — cyberjockeys — that will immediately instill a sense of nostalgia in anyone familiar with the MTV of yesteryear.

The music mix spans the genre board, but just barely. During a show called Wake the Hell Up, (Rude Awakening, anybody?) artists ranged from Depeche Mode and Green Day to Kanye West and Chris Bow, but didn’t stray too far outside the safe confines of hip-hop and pop-rock. The Daily Independent, the channel’s excuse for a show covering independent music, had an even more narrow focus. From Fantastic Plastic Machine to Ladytron, Emiliana Torrini and Sevendust, the show provided a mix of songs that, while perhaps unheard of, wouldn’t be too distasteful to the delicate palate of the average viewer — hardly what one might expect from a show that’s supposed to cover the non-mainstream.

The CJs, however, are another story. In line with the network’s too-cool-for-school vibe, it “recruited mostly through craigslist.org and hired more on personality and looks than experience,” according to the AP article. The problem — and those familiar with the craigslists and MySpaces of the virtual world may see what’s coming — is that they don’t have any personality, which is crippling when mixed with inexperience and a lack of refinement. The result is hosts that “um” and “uh” their way through segments that reek of morning-show fodder. Imagine having a live feed of the embarrassingly trite drive-time antics of Gator and the Lunatic or any other morning-show duo du jour. It’s not pretty.

Throughout it all, the network intersperses teasers proclaiming slogans such as “The revolution will be televised (on the Internet)” and “Kill Your TV.” But is it realistic? Are people willing to kill their TVs in favor of online networks?

“I think it’s realistic,” marketing major Brittany Heitz said. “If I had a huge computer screen one day, I wouldn’t get a TV if I could watch everything on the computer.”

The problem, Brittany, is that although ManiaTV shares your dream, it isn’t doing much to make it a reality. The network only supports Internet Explorer, and it doesn’t even do that very well. As far as watching the shows is concerned, all the research for this article was done via the T1 line in the Oracle office. Why? I just couldn’t get the blasted thing to work from anyplace else. Even after ensuring the plugins were up to date on my computer at home, the video frequently refused to load. The one time out of 10 that it did, my cable connection choked on the stream and the feed sputtered out after just a few seconds. I had no difficulties streaming video from other Web sites.

The bottom line is that no matter what ManiaTV has to offer, the revolution will not be televised on the Internet if the masses can’t see it. And with nearly identical services such MTV.com’s MTV Overdrive filling similar niches, ManiaTV isn’t crazy enough to work — just crazy enough to fail.