The Regis and Kelly of Boston? With charm and low technology, Ravi and Sonia create a vlog* following.
* Video blog: A weblog (blog) that provides a video journal on a subject rather than text entries. Also called a vog or vog blog.
It's tough to tell how seriously Ravi Jain takes his talk show ''DriveTime," as he reels off ideas for this month's television sweeps: Surprise guests! A trip to the carwash! His wife driving! The ''Gridlock Griddle" cooking-in-traffic segment! An unedited ''DriveTime!"
Moments later he's speaking earnestly about the ''conceptual art" behind the show, how it should be kept true to its nature and not overglamorized. He refuses to divert from the show's path -- literally.
''DriveTime" is shot from a single camera mounted on the dashboard of his 1986 Audi sedan during the commute between his home in Jamaica Plain and job in Allston, as he picks up guests and banters with his wife, Sonia Targontsidis, without getting off course. After all, he does have to get to work.
''You can't say, 'I'm going to do this on my commute,' and then, 'Oh, there's this person in Framingham, I'll go out there and talk to them,' " says Jain, 35, who designed his own major, modern imaging techniques, at Oberlin College in Ohio and received his master of fine arts degree from MassArt in 2001. ''I have to kind of stay true to the concept."
The concept of his little venture is what keeps him from participating in the TV sweeps. Actually, it's what keeps him off TV altogether. ''DriveTime" is a video weblog, or vlog, on Jain's Website, DriveTime.RaviJain.org. Since October, Jain has posted 15 episodes of the Internet talk show, interviewing prearranged guests who live or work along the route he travels daily.
Jain's face may already be familiar to Bostonians. While doing a graduate project at MassArt, Jain and fellow ''transportation pioneers" made local news as the final commuters through the Central Artery, the first through the Ted Williams Tunnel, and the first and last travelers in a series of other local transit trailblazing expeditions. But now he's traveling one route, while sharing the spotlight, and the commute, with his cohost wife in the passenger seat.
''It fits in and in some ways it brings balance to my life," says Jain, who often doesn't even look at his wife or his guests on camera, since his eyes are locked on the Jamaicaway traffic. ''Plus, the idea makes me laugh, it makes me excited. It just seemed like an idea that should be done."
And it's an idea that's quickly gaining local attention for a very new medium.
''Video blogging is just starting; it's barely two years old," said George Fifield, the curator of new media at the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln and the founder and director of the Boston CyberArts Festival. He added that people respond to the show because ''Ravi is just a totally engaging personality, as is his wife, and they have come up with a unique conceptual framework."
No one knows what the future holds for the fast-growing medium, said Tony Kahn, the producer, director, and host of the first public radio podcast, ''Morning Stories." But he believes a show like ''DriveTime" is a harbinger of what's to come.
''The growth curve is such that anybody who pretends they know what shape it's going to be in in two weeks is probably deluded, it's happening so fast," Kahn said. ''This is just the tip of the iceberg."
Apple has played a key role in the progression of the video blog, or ''video podcast" as it's called when associated with the iPod. Bloggers watched hits increase tenfold since the company released iPods with 2 1/2-inch color video screens on Oct. 12 and iTunes.com began hosting video podcasts for free public download. In addition to amassing vlogs for the public, Apple took the video podcast off the computer and made it transportable, said Charlene Li, an analyst at the technology market research company
''The problem with video podcasting in the past has been that there was only one way to watch them -- on the computer," Li said, adding that consumers will soon be able to download podcasts from
''It's kind of a chicken or the egg situation; whether more devices are becoming available so people can create [vlogs], or the fact that the increase in video blogs is encouraging more devices to be developed for them," she said.
As a result of the technological leaps, vlogs have become so accessible and portable that viewers are watching them everywhere, from the subway to the airport -- and may even watch ''DriveTime" in their cars.
Apple's involvement in the blog world, said veteran blogger and fellow JP resident Steve Garfield, is ''huge." ''You're deciding what you want to watch and when. It's different than what we're all used to with TV being scheduled and broadcast. This is your own little TV network."
Jain's viewership has increased exponentially since his first broadcast in October, thanks in large part to viewers downloading the episodes to their iPods and the attention from iTunes.''He's just gaining an audience, and with blogging that seems to be the name of the game," Fifield said. ''It gets on other people's blogs, and it just builds. It's a pretty exciting medium to be in."
Just as reality TV replaced actors with ''real people," vlogs take it one step further, replacing the actors as well as the producers, directors, and cameramen. Plus, Garfield said, vlogs offer something reality shows can't.
''It's real people in a real environment. We're not stuck on an island here. We're going to the North End to eat or going out to a Red Sox game," he said. ''We're sharing our real experiences and you don't really see that on reality TV."
Like text blogs, where readers can post responses to the writer, video blogs allow viewers to dole out feedback.
''You have all the benefits of it being on a blog which allows a conversation to happen around the video you post," Garfield said. ''This is a huge breakthrough for programming, where people normally sit back and watch while shows broadcast at them. Here, you can participate and communicate with the creator."
It also forges a closer relationship between the viewer and the producer, Kahn said.
''So far, the community and the atmosphere is very friendly, like, 'Come join the party, let's share information and common interests,' " said Kahn, a guest on the Nov. 11 ''DriveTime" episode. ''There's really a sense of communicating."
Jain takes the comments to heart, often re-editing episodes or making a change for the next episode after viewers point out problems. He always posts a ''Thank you" in response.
''On the first episode I had a guest, people posted saying, 'You're interrupting your guest, you need to learn to be quiet,' " he said. ''So then, the next episode I put a sticky on my changer that said, 'Ravi, shut up.' "
The comments come from around the country and across the globe. Jain says a large part of his viewership comes from Europe, Kahn said the glimpse into other cultures has broken down the last remaining ''walls" of society, and Garfield said his eyes have been opened to other cultures.
''It kind of brings the world closer together. I know it's kind of a cliché, but as I watch these videos and see that people in Japan are just like we are, it's really cool," Garfield said.
While the perk to video blogging is the freedom it affords the blogger, it can be a mixed blessing, Fifield said. By posting a video, a blogger can make contact with an otherwise untapped audience. But it also means one has made a portion of his or her day very visible to unknown viewers, which merits some prudence, he said.
''When you're putting out such personal information in the most public of all forums, a certain amount of caution is called for," Fifield said. ''We're in the early stages of blogging. A lot of blogging is really personal; it's about people and their own lives and reactions to things. But I still think you want to be a little cautious."
Jain also recognizes the boundaries and says he keeps his privacy relatively guarded -- particularly, his job.
''It's the Clark Kent/Superman thing; I try to keep my worlds defined," he jokes, adding that he chooses not to disclose where he works except that its in the interactive multimedia field. ''That's the whole thing with not just video blogging, but blogging in general: How much do you reveal? I think that's for each individual to decide. All the rules are personal."
''Now that Apple is behind it, interest is exploding as are tools that are helping get videos on a blog," Garfield said.
Jain is a veteran frugal filmmaker, which now helps him keep production costs low. Much of his ''DriveTime" equipment is left over from past projects, like a small digital
Plus, he doesn't need to pay talent, since he has voluntary guests and Sonia as co-host. He often lauds his wife as the ''best part of the show," and says he uses their natural dynamic as a foil through ''Regis and Kelly model" marital banter.
''It's so much about the minutiae of our lives; it's what we talk about when we're driving our wife to her job or on an errand," Fifield said of the couple's play off one another. ''It's sort of refreshingly charming."
The concept is ingenius, said Fifield, and Jain's ability to play off situational humor only adds to the show's solid concept. Jain has had his fair share of mishaps and close calls, including getting a flat tire in an episode and forgetting to check his blind spot while interviewing a guest. But Jain has a knack for always steering the show back on course.
''He's one of the most lighthearted yet deadly serious people around, and he makes it look so easy, and it isn't," Fifield said.
And his personality is perfect for stardom in the new, yet ever-changing world of vlogs, Kahn said. He believes ''DriveTime" is at the forefront of the medium's rise in popularity.
''The very best ideas people get are the ones they can put into practice immediately," Kahn said. ''They tend to be the ones you have when you're having fun. It's just wide open and it's a wonderful state we're rarely in, but all capable of. And Ravi is clearly there, playing with all the ways the inside of his car could be a studio."
Still, the question lingers: What is the allure of watching a video of a guy and his wife driving to work? Fifield said he thinks Jain draws his audience simply on his bombastic character and charm, and his attention to both the art and the comical aspects.
''With Ravi, there's always this slight ironic wink in everything he does that I think really appeals to people," he says. ''Plus, he ties in sort of a conceptual love of popular culture, which is slightly ironic but also really serious."
Glenn Yoder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Futuristic, or just a fad?
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