In the Spotlight: Derek Flanzraich, HUTV Founder, Harvard

On a cold day in Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University psychology professor Steven Pinker lifts a television above his head and then smashes it into the ground.  With the TV’s innards exposed, he proceeds to stomp on it and whack it repeatedly with a metal pole.

The uber-aggression aimed at this old media outlet served as the central feature of a promotional video last spring touting the arrival of Harvard Undergraduate Television.  HUTV is television 2.0, a one-stop shop for hundreds of Harvard students to create, edit, and air their entertainment and news programs for consumption worldwide- not via broadcast TV but the World Wide Web.  As Pinker implores viewers at the promo’s close, “Get with the times.”

For his time and spirit of innovation in helping shape television’s reinvention, HUTV co-founder and former president Derek Flanzraich, a Harvard senior, earns a spot in the CMM Spotlight, a chronicling of the mega-movers and shakers in modern student journalism and media.  In the exclusive chat below, Flanzraich offers insight into what makes HUTV tick and advice for students aiming to launch their own digital television revolutions.

Derek Flanzraich, HUTV founder, digital media visionary

What is HUTV?

It’s an umbrella network of more than 350 undergraduates at Harvard who share an interest and passion for media and entertainment. Of those, hundreds work in the actual production of media content at school. HUTV serves as the organization that enables and supports production and distributes their content- through our online distribution platform/destination site.

HUTV supports everyone on campus and gives absolutely any student who wants access to equipment or resources that opportunity for free.  Plus, HUTV is devoted to creating a true community for students interested in media and entertainment with social events and helps provide job and internship opportunities as well. There’s a bunch more to it- funding, show management, advertising, etc.- but basically it can be seen as the NBC-Universal of Harvard, with some added student-related benefits and more Conan O’Brien (an honorary board member).

Tell me more.

HUTV is not a TV station. There’s no cable in the dorms and, thus, no reason for broadcast. TV shows and other media content producers have struggled in the past with getting their material out to the student community- and for good reason. HUTV is a reinvention of Harvard Radcliffe Television (the organization it replaced) for the Web. It embraces the future, and reality, of television and media content and utilizes the Web to promote, support, and add to it.  Our Web site features our TV shows, released on a regular schedule, much like any Web series.  They are available online, anytime- and for always.  With this model, we save money and time on production in regards to how much we produce and what equipment we need. There’s nothing that’s live- so we can spend time in post-production doing the many things we would have had to buy expensive equipment to do or take time to learn skills for before.

Advice for students interested in traveling a similar online television route.

As much as production costs have plunged thanks to rapid advances in technology, quality equipment is still expensive. But the video quality we need for online video is profoundly different than broadcast television. Instead of a $4,000 camera, we can spend $400. In fact, if I were starting a college station today, I would buy 3 HD camcorders, some accessories, and just start producing content immediately. The more content that’s produced, the better it gets- and what’s important with online video is quality, relevance, and distribution. That’s it- that’s all you need. Make great stuff and people will watch it if you get it to them- and most won’t care if it was done with a professional camera in a well-lit studio or with an HD handycam in a local park. Sure, there’s a difference, but at least for college media, my advice is put your time and attention on building a killer team of creative students that are willing to do and learn how to do anything. That’s what makes for success, and what, I’d like to believe made HUTV what it is today.

Thoughts on social media’s role in the overall push for success.

The social side is the component that HUTV is still working on, and it’s crucial to any kind of media today. Opening up your content to anyone and allowing them to do anything they want with it (share it, mash it, slander it, watch it on Boxee!) is the inevitable future of all media content. And students need to lead that charge. Getting a Twitter account, making a Facebook page, and allowing comments on video isn’t enough though. That should be the basic package for anything, but we should be talking about the premium platinum package! And that package comes with a true commitment to honest communication, real relationship-building, humble feedback-taking, and proactive response-giving. It comes with accepting that we don’t know what’s going to happen, who’s going to love our content or come up with new directions for it- and we need to be ready to embrace whatever that brings and capitalize on it to succeed in anything.

What are the roots of your personal digital media passion?

My passion for transforming the world through digital media happened by accident, but my interest in media and the influence it can have on a community has been something I must have been born with. Ever since I can remember, I was starting projects to give people a voice in their community– from middle school, where I founded a semesterly paper called The Wizard Chronicles that published articles on student life all the way to “On Harvard Time,” the comedy news show (a la Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”) I founded freshman year of college that parodies/satirizes/lampoons what happens at a place like Harvard.

I’m personally excited about the value of media products and services that serve the end-user- those that can be tangibly seen making a difference (and also visibly built on to be made better and better and better). At the end of the day, perhaps it’s that I’m passionate about making people’s lives better. And, while I think that can be accomplished in many different ways, the way that has been most fulfilling and fun for me has been through media. Media are pretty magical. And we all know that making magic happen takes an awful lot of thinking, hard work, and perseverance. So I guess I’m passionate about making magic?

One Response to “In the Spotlight: Derek Flanzraich, HUTV Founder, Harvard”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] take: OHT is a fantastic new(s) media organization started a few years back by Derek Flanzraich, a guy I personally greatly admire.  The video is high quality, and its spoof of the original is […]