Big Think, the “Intellectual YouTube” backed by ex-Harvard Prez Lawrence Summers, Launches with Style and Starpower

By on 01/11/2008 9:22 PM @beet_tv

Launched earlier this week, Big Think is a site with short video clips of leading thinkers in business and society. 

The New York based start-up, founded by former Charlie Rose producers Victoria Brown and Peter Hopkins, has been getting plenty of buzz this week from The New York Times, the Telegraph and TechCrunch.

Victoria stopped by the Beet.TV broadcast center yesterday to talk about the new venture.  (You can find the video here.)

The duo has raised a small amount of seed capital from former Harvard President Lawrence Summers, PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and others.

The clips are highly stylized.  The producers use a method created by the great documentary maker Errol Morris, known to millions for his Academy Award opening show short film in 2002.  Watching the  Oscar film, you will see the Big Think look: The subject is in front of white background,  looking into the camera.  In Morris’ approach, interviewees see the interviewer on a TV screen in front of them, but reply to text question displayed before them.  The interviewer is not in the room.

For some subjects, this works brilliantly.  The interview with United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is extraordinary (see below).  I would say it is historic in annals of start-up video ventures.  (Nice booking, by the way.)

For others who speak extemporaneously into the camera, the results can be flat.  The always ebullient  Sir Richard Branson might have given a better performance if he was speaking with an interviewer.

The format is similar to the Washington Post’s innovative onBeing series with "average" citizens interviewed by an unseen/unheard Jennifer Crandall.

Think Community

But the in-house produced product is not the only component of the offering.  Contributions are sought as text photo and videos.  Contributions/comments are called "Ideas."

There is an excellent video upload tool for registered users.  I uploaded  a .MOV file of a  Beet.TV clip about the roots of the mortgage crises featuring Dartmouth professor John Vogel, Jr.  The upload was fast and simple. The player is fine.  How cool is this: My post is prominently displayed in the business and finance channel

Victoria told me that the site will soon provide a live hook-up for contributors to use a mic and Webcam to generate live feeds from remote contributors around the globe.

Will this crowd really upload video? It may be that the the superstar power of the interviewees will be the attraction for others to to "join the club." Perhaps the scenario will be similar to the HuffingPost.

If Peter and Victoria are successful in generating thoughtful video uploads, they may well have a big success on their hands.  Stay tuned to this one. And watch Justice Breyer below. WOW

– Andy Plesser

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