‘Tooning In

This month, let’s step back from online advertising and instead take a closer look at the kinds of online content that may someday be a driving force behind an increased need for online advertising.

For several years, there have been whispered hallway conversations about “The Great Convergence.” Conceptually, that’s the coming together of many different digital media into a single “box.” This means when you flip on your TV in the morning to check the weather, you’ll have access to your email, personalized news, thousands of radio stations worldwide, the world’s largest online mall, and your phone. Oh, and some TV programming, too. Concepts differ as to how this will come about, even if it’s something people want. Any convergence must be driven by consumer demand.

Signs of convergence are already appearing. There have been published reports of what I term “poor man’s convergence,” in which measurements have been made to figure out the average number of people who watch television while surfing the Web (or vice versa).

According to a recent Arbitron report, an estimated 103 million Americans aged 12 or older have configured their computers to receive digital and audio streams in some form. The study also shows 44 percent of Americans currently access Internet-based audio and video streams.

Though most Internet programming is in no danger of upsetting the broadcast TV market, recent advances in streaming media technology, compression algorithms, and bandwidth have brought quality online diversions to a point where you might just begin to wonder why you keep a TV around.

A Brave New World?

When I was a kid, cartoons were Saturday-morning-only fare. Today, you can watch cartoons around the clock. Sadly, I find the appeal of most cartoons has dwindled over the years. Apart from what I see as a decline in production quality (apparently, animating lip movement is no longer required to visually promote the concept of speaking in cartooning), most of the subject matter just doesn’t grab me anymore. Not on TV, at least.

I was recently sent a link by a friend who claimed her eight-year-old was in love with this site. I wandered over and watched until I had to back away from the computer to catch my breath. Not only are the cartoons weirdly stunning, but the quality of the humor is refreshing and suitable for children. From the lovable yet fairly dim (and strangely armless) Homestar to the aggressive and rather unpleasant Strong Bad (whom I suspect was modeled loosely on a Mexican Wrestling Federation member), the entertainment value can’t be beat. Individual tastes may vary, but this programming has the potential to get the whole family huddled together around the computer.

Another recent discovery and favorite is the less child friendly Odd Todd. It follows the adventures of an out of work dot-comer contemplating his new-found freedom with the sort of enthusiasm most of us reserve for doing our taxes. In this case, animations are minimalist, but the writing and production are brilliant enough to keep you sifting through the archives for more.

Another online source for great animated mirth is found here. Atom Films and Shockwave.com teamed up to provide hundreds of streaming film clips, indie films, and just plain silliness. One of the site’s favorite characters is Angry Kid, a creation from Aardman Animations (the folks who brought us Wallace and Gromit). He seems to live to make others miserable. Don’t expect highbrow humor, and you won’t be disappointed.

Although it’s a few years past its prime, a personal household favorite is the adventures of Radiskull and Devil Doll. This site so enamored my family that my son and wife went trick-or-treating on Halloween a few years back as the duo (probably scaring neighbors in the process). Creator Joe Sparks was also part of the force that behind the CD-ROM game Spaceship Warlock.

Finally, I share with you Mondo Mini Shows, which may tickle your funny bone or test your gag reflexes, depending on your state of mind. Enjoy a frolicking adventure with the Happy Tree Friends (definitely not recommended for children), or sit down to an episode of “Thugs On Film” in which your favorite movies are reviewed by the usual suspects.

Of course, a great deal of this mirth may just fade away into history and leave only the smallest blip on the cultural radar screen. On the other hand, if you find yourself spending more time checking out these Web sites than you do tuning in to TV, we may just be on to something.

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