Music Tech

Interviewing Pitchfork: The Evolution Of Pitchfork TV

Pitchfork-vp-rj-bentlerBy Eliot Van Buskirk of

Pitchfork started as site called Turntable when founder Ryan Schreiber was barely out of high school. Now it’s a Spotify app, a “TV” channel, and many other things.

We asked Pitchfork vice president of video programming RJ Bentler about the evolution of Pitchfork TV and had a pretty interesting conversation by phone about how video on the internet still wants to be television… and how the trump card for web video vs. the television networks could be the promise of interactive features not possible on cable, over the air, or satellite broadcasts.

Documenting today’s music legends in the making

“[Pitchfork] started out as a way to document music as it’s happening — the best music that we’re all fans of within Pitchfork,” said Pitchfork TV’s RJ Bentler. “When you look back and see documentaries and interviews of The Talking Heads or Television or whoever — being able to do that for the music that’s happening right now is certainly something that’s very attractive to me, and I know, to Ryan [Schreiber, Pitchfork founder] as well.

“The basics of the early [Pitchfork TV] stuff was interviews and live shows, then we got into sessions and documentaries. The departure point was pretty journalistic in terms of just documenting things as they were. Then, over time, we started to get into more conceptual frameworks for how we present some of the stuff.”

Extending Pitchfork’s editorial stance to video

Some publications post original videos because the CPMs (ad-speak for the rate of money per viewer) are typically higher than with text. I happen to like text, so I don’t click on video stories on, say, CNN, because I’d rather whip through some text than sit through a pre-roll. The videos on Pitchfork TV, hosted on YouTube, also include pre-roll video advertising and overlays, of course. But it’s clear that Pitchfork TV is coming from an editorial place with these videos — and that they videos are well made.

“My background was in television,” said Bentler, a freelance editor and story producer for NBC, History, National Geographic Channel, PBS, ESPN, A&E, Fox Sports, and The Weather Channel before joining Pitchfork in 2007. ”When we were first starting this [five years ago], the landscape for online was a lot different than it is now. YouTube was going but the resolution was pretty bad, and there were people doing things — Vice had VBS at the time, and you could tell that this was a unique opportunity, and no one was really doing anything like that — certainly not with the kind of taste of music that we had.”

Quality –> Interactivity

Online music video has come a long way since then, quality-wise. As such, audio fidelity is a big deal for Pitchfork as it shoots these videos. They use Pro Tools, quality microphones, and sound people who know what they are doing.

Pitchfork has also experimented with video interactivity. In August 2010, I watched Pitchfork TV shoot The Walkmen at the Bell House in Brooklyn, as part of the Pitchfork POV series, which won a Webby. Unlike traditional video broadcasts, the POV series lets you choose your own adventure by selecting a camera, some of which are focused on the individual players in the bands, and others of which give the music fan at home a greater sense of the venue. (It could even let you turn up a player’s volume in your mix, by “looking” at them.)

“So much of what is going on online — among ourselves, we call it ‘TV on the internet’ — it’s basically TV in a different place, but it’s not tapping into the potential of what’s possible online,” said Bentler. “I think there’s a lot of potential there that hasn’t been tapped, and that people haven’t really thought about, myself included. But it’s really exciting, and it’s definitely one of my goals for the coming year, to get back into that as aggressively as we can… It could change things dramatically.”

Stay tuned for part two.

See also: Pitchfork Reinvented the Interview for the Internets, and It’s Just Getting Started

(top image via LinkedIn)

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