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The Next Mass Medium, One Chunk at a Time
December 24, 2007  | By David Bianculli
In my book Teleliteracy, I warned that when broadcast TV as we knew it ceased to draw a large enough audience on a regular basis, there would be, for the first time, no new mass medium to take its place. Just lots of fragmented audiences, watching things on tape and computers and other things without ever again enjoying that national shared experience than defined half a century of television. I may have been wrong.

paul pottsLast Friday on ABC's Nightline, I watched a feature on a British singer named Paul Potts, who had won the talent competition on this year's Britain's Got Talent. Worldwide, more than 19 million people already had downloaded the video of Potts' emotional audition, in which the unassuming 36-year-old cellphone salesman shyly approached the mike, told Simon Cowell and the two other judges that he was going to sing opera, and - to Cowell's eye-rolling disapproval - began singing Puccini's "Nessun Dorma."

I wasn't prepared for what happened next, because I hadn't seen it. I'd seen America's Got Talent, which hadn't impressed me, and the British version hasn't been televised in the States, even on BBC America, so who knew? (Millions of computer users, but more on that in a minute.)

But Potts killed. Killed. The audience roared, and one of the judges, a woman named Amanda, cried. ABC showed me what British viewers, and savvy YouTube users, knew already. So what did I do next? Hit the Internet, where my enthusiasm for this gorgeous singer, and touching Cinderella story, led me in other directions.

(To the complete audition, where Potts stunned the crowd, and even Cowell)

(To other Britain's Got Talent auditions, like that of 6-year-old Connie Talbot, who sang "Over the Rainbow" to an even more initially scornful Cowell)


And after watching a lot, and being touched each time by the heartfelt reactions of the female judge, Amanda, I searched on the web to learn about her, too. Amanda Holden, a British actress who hasn't done anything of note in the United States - but I may be in love.

Oh, and before the weekend was out, I found and bought several copies of Potts' debut CD, One Chance, as last-minute Christmas gifts. You can do the same thing - or, if you can take your time, order it here.

The point is, I came to Potts late, but caught up fast, and spread out from there. Because the writers' strike has had David Letterman and Jay Leno in reruns, Nightline has led in late night for the past two weeks, averaging almost 4 million viewers. That's only a portion of its YouTube audience to date, but it's another link in the chain.

And if the chain is long enough, and strong enough, it becomes a mass media phenomenon. TV started the Paul Potts frenzy in England, the Internet carried it from there, ABC borrowed it for a bit on Nightline, and the snowball continues to roll.

Network TV, as we knew it, was all about overall audience. The next mass medium, it appears, will be all about what cable TV calls "cume." It's a place where patience isn't just a virtue. It's a necessity.




Tanya said:

First let me say that I always enjoy your commentary on Fresh Air and have added lots of "Season Passes" to TiVo because of your recommendations. I was a little disappointed that two of my favorite programs were not on your top ten - The Closer and Rescue Me.
I first saw Paul Potts on an Oprah episode and was blown away. He really is an exceptional singer. I downloaded his album on iTunes that same day.
Keep up the great work!

Comment posted on December 26, 2007 6:51 PM

Arthur said:

I remember the first time I saw Paul Potts on YouTube; a friend from the UK insisted that i watch some cellphone salesman do opera. I thought it was going to be funny; instead, I was touched. Potts looks like some git you'd have a pint with at the pub, not a guy who can sing one of most difficult pieces in opera.

Watching Simon Cowell speechless just makes it even more special. Seeing Potts win Britain's Got Talent was one of those moments that reassured me that sometimes, the right thing does happen...

Comment posted on December 27, 2007 7:05 AM

Michael said:

I went to You Tube to watch Potts, and like you, watched many other clips from Britain's Got Talent. It is curious to think how You Tube will lead me all over the place. From Potts, I watched many clips, including the free runners, which led me to watching a half dozen parkour clips.

The next day, I am out with a date and some friends, trying to explain what parkour is. "It's French. Historically, they're good at running away."

Comment posted on January 3, 2008 2:42 AM

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