Dialogue: Media tunes in Second Life

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Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab, is the driving force behind Second Life, an online venture that has become the source of increasing buzz. The growth of Second Life has put this virtual realm on the real-life radar of many a media company that are setting up shop there. Rosedale recently spoke with The Hollywood Reporter digital media editor Andrew Wallenstein about what Second Life could mean for the media business, from its impact on advertising to the inspiration to be found from "Mystery Science Theater 3000." The following was adapted from their conversation.

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The Hollywood Reporter: Do media companies who want to play in virtual space necessarily need Second Life? Can't they go it alone?
Philip Rosedale: There are two problems with that. One is that Second Life as a code project is a staggering amount of technology. The code base to the Second Life world is five gigabytes of code. There's never been a case in history where a media company has built something that complex. The bigger problem is community. It's only in an open, bottom's-up entrepreneurial environment that a real community flourishes. No one will come if you build media that is top down, monochromatic and under your control. It simply won't work. People seem to be willing to do that experiment again and again and have it fail. But walled gardens which are directed at any top down experience will never make it.

THR:
What kind of role does advertising play in Second Life?
Rosedale: Second Life is different than the real world because of the marginal cost of making it bigger. If you buy billboard space (in the real world), there's an ability to impose online advertising on people that is pretty leveraged. That amount of leverage does not exist in Second Life because people are in control of their own attention. You don't have to sit and listen to beer ads. On the flip side is that what many advertisers are doing in Second Life are way more interesting than what they're doing in reality. They'll consume happily because of the sheer novelty. Take the Nissan Sentra. There's a giant Nissan vending machine (in Second Life) where you can check out the cars. I think there's an opportunity to get access to people's time in Second Life where, as an advertiser or a media company, to do interesting things with that media that make it consumable and more intriguing than what we have through existing channels.

THR: What is it about Second Life that lends itself to community building?
Rosedale: The reason it's interesting is the nature of the conversation you have, the debate -- it's different. It's a different way of communicating. It's not like chat because there's an extremely strong sense of personal presence. Chat and forums have a certain laws of physics to them that encourage a certain form of discourse. Blogs and comments on blogs are subtly different. Second Life is really much closer to how we're talking right now, but where we're both on truth serum basically. It's like Burning Man, it's like taking a drug. Both of us are here, but we're much more comfortable with each other. Technology temporarily made us insular in the way we consume media. But rapidly it's going to go the other way. With Second Life, you go to a drive-in theater, and there are 40-50 people. Half of them are not from the U.S., a quarter of them don't speak English. And they're all watching a movie or TV or whatever someone wants to present. If you're in Second Life and you own property, you can put up media.

THR: What kind of applications lend themselves to this social dynamic?
Rosedale: If Second Life offers something to the movie world, it's "Mystery Science Theater 3000." Conceptually, it has so much power. Every week you can air a movie, but you get a studio audience in Second Life to watch and talk about it at the same time. You can have your buddies come over and watch football. The one I haven't seen yet is college sports. Wouldn't the coolest thing be where every school has a bar, just one, and you build that bar? Build the bar somewhere in Second Life, and you go watch the college game there and you can go see alumni. That's pretty cool. Or you can go to a competitors' bar.

THR: If I post media on Second Life, are there legal issues I need to be aware of?
Rosedale: When you're watching a program in Second Life, you're looking at the window of a media player. From a legal and rights perspective, it's the same thing. I do think there are some extremely interesting more like fair-use issues that can and will come up around Second Life content consumption. In other words, if you take a Slingbox and you put up in your house on Second Life, you can't have more than 100 people there (watching).

THR: Media companies are all about controlling the experience of an event, but from what I've read about Second Life, control is not easily achieved.
Rosedale: There are still cases in Second Life where people get in and make a spectacle and piss everybody off. But the same is true in real life. The capabilities are going to be there for individual land owners to control the nature of the experience. What you can't control is how an emerging world uses your brand, and that's a fair statement. But the smart media companies are embracing that. People are going to remix this stuff a lot.

THR: Will Second Life be the next YouTube or MySpace?
Rosedale: We're not there yet, but the kind of exponential growth we're seeing suggests we'll get there. And with respect to media consumption, there's absolutely no downside. All media today can be easily consumed there just as easily as on an iPod. Look at the demographics and usage stats on Second Life: It is 43% women. Average age is 32. This is an audience you want to get to. What's more important is that the rules of the game have substantially changed for what it means to be successful getting people there. Do I think Second Life or its cousins or descendants is something media companies have to deal with? You better believe it. Second Life is a mirror of the real world, only in many ways better. It's more global, it's faster, has a faster growing economy, it's a lot easier to do a lot of things -- and you could fly.

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