Interview with Chunnel.TV Founder Matthew Berman
What Banksy, TED, and a global network of ad agencies have in common, or why the long tail is the shortest way to cultural revolution.
By Maria Popova
Today, we’re picking the brains behind Chunnel.TV — a revolutionary entertainment network for left-of-center creative content that acts as a global collaboration tool connecting underground artists and producers alike. A big idea, if we ever saw one.
Hey Matt, good to have you. Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and your brand of curiosity.
Thanks for this opportunity. I’d like to start by saying how impressed I am by your site, your dedication to Brain Pickings, and your general good-taste.
I’m Matthew Berman, co-founder and CMO of Chunnel.TV, an online distribution network for independent films, music, art, and other unique content. I first came about the Chunnel working as a freelance music producer composing tracks for various new media projects. That’s how I met Jake Septimus, whom I ended up interning for and then eventually starting Chunnel.TV with.
I’m originally from New York, but I moved to New Orleans to attend university. This past year, I’ve been to the Middle East, South America, Australia, and Asia.
I currently live in New Orleans, a city of dark whiskeys and dimly lit taverns, but our main office is in NYC. My passion is in music, guitar playing, composing, and recording.
What was the first inspiration behind Chunnel? Take us to that very first brainstorming session, the proverbial paper napkin on which you jotted down the original idea.
The Chunnel evolved as a series of informal discussions between Jake Septimus and myself. On one hand we were noticing the proliferation of digital media tools, a rise in the quality and quantity of independent content, and a soft-spoken backlash against mainstream content (i.e. reality shows, teen dramas, etc).
On the other hand we were witnessing a rising trend towards video on the internet. There was so much content available on the web that neither one of us really knew how to cut through the static.
The concept of “underground” is very murky these days. Even Banksy has a website. How do you define “underground” content in Chunnel terms?
We see “underground” media as being far on the fringe of mainstream, such that a majority of people wouldn’t know it exists — yet. The beauty of the internet, however, is that major communities can form around these seemingly niche concepts.
We’re big believers in the power of human-curated content here. How do you decide what makes “the Chunnel cut” and what doesn’t? Your editorial filtration system, if you will.
Basically, the content has to pass an internal test. We have a team of hip, creative and unique people, and if we all think a piece of content is hot, interesting, or Chunnel-worthy, then we’ll post it up.
What’s your relationship with WPP’s United Network? Does it predate Chunnel, or did they reach out to you once you were up and running?
WPP’s United Network gave us the money to start the site. Chunnel.TV was incubated from the NYC office of Berlin Cameron United, of United Network. Jake (Septimus) was working as Creative Director when I started doing intern/music work for him, so the relationship did exist prior to launch.
They don’t dictate what we put on the site, but they might have some pretty dope techie tools for us to experiment with in the future. We retain creative control and try to bring the user the best possible experience.
It’s tricky to talk about commercial work in the context of “underground” culture, but you have a Commercial channel. We love seeing that – it shows the complex relationship content consumers have come to have with creativity in all its forms. How do you think people’s perception of creative authenticity has evolved in terms of all the great work out there that still falls within the commercial realm?
Banksy himself said:
The thing I hate most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative, and ambitious young people leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little.
While I think most people find the majority of advertising to be nothing more than an annoyance, the stigma of ‘selling out’ has definitely dissipated within society. I also think creative authenticity depends on the product, budget, and client. People will give premium liquor or perfume ads more creative leeway than say Pine-sol, allowing the advertisers to do some really interesting work.
That being said, if an advertiser really gets pop culture they could create truly brilliant ads with nearly any brand.
What’s your long-term vision for Chunnel and its growth as a cultural agent? Any exciting developments in the works?
We’d like Chunnel.TV to fill the void MTV left when they went mainstream. We hope to capture the imagination of the culturally curious, and introduce people to art, music, film or other content they might not have otherwise seen.
We’re working with indie filmmakers to bring exclusive shows to The Chunnel. Our first batch of shows are Reel Review, Jamaica Originates, and Duncan and Eddie, and we expect to have more.
We’re also going to open up our platform to guest bloggers and our user base. People are going to have the ability to post articles up on Chunnel.TV, which will be put up on review before published. Also, we’d like to implement a lot more interactive features so us like-minded people could better communicate.
It’s going to be an exciting few months for Chunnel.TV.
If you could speak at TED, what would the title of your talk be? Will you get a Standing O?
Haha, I see you have a TED talk fetish as well. My favorite TED talk is Benjamin Zander on music and passion, so I’d like to perform in a similar vein. My talk would focus on leadership, the benefits and hardships of standing above the fray, and would end in a slow blues jam.
I think I’ll call it Electric Ladyland — unless that’s already been taken. As for the standing ovation, one can only hope.
Well, thanks for letting us pick your brains. Any last thoughts left unpicked?
Again thanks for your time, I really do love your site.
As for everyone else, please check us out at Chunnel.TV and follow us on Twitter or MySpace. I can also be contacted at matt[at]chunnel.tv.
Published March 11, 2009