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It's not TV--It's MPLS.TV, the witty web "station" that loves the twin cities in its own oddball way







Log on, tune in, and you might see a local buzz band playing on a rooftop, or a correspondent wandering last weekend's funkiest neighborhood festival, or a locavore exploring the rich food possibilities in our own backyard.
   
Or you might see a bunch of profane puppets bickering about acts we can't describe here. Or a foul-mouthed fashion reporter confronting club kids about their attire. Or a hung-over, chain-smoking weather dude giving you the day's weather report.
   
It's not TV. It's MPLS.TV.
   
MPLS.TV is a fifteen-month-old experiment in web video by a collective of self-proclaimed "broke, clueless twenty-somethings." Each weekday for the last several months they've managed to post a new short video to the site, whether it be a comic sketch, an interview or live performance, or a roving man-on-the-street segment. The only common thread is that they ooze with their producers' pride in the city and its culture.
   
"The Big Reason We Do It Is the City"

"We fight sometimes. We get mad at each other. Sometimes it'll be five o'clock in the morning and we're up editing something and it's like: why?" says co-founder Chris Cloud. "The big reason we do it is the city. The city of Minneapolis is such an amazing place, and there's so much stuff out there."

Cloud and his co-producers hope it'll be easier to get more people involved in their project now that they've moved it out of Cloud's house and into a real office space on Central Avenue in Northeast Minneapolis. They were painting the walls and putting the space together last week. Meanwhile, a website redesign is in the works, too, which they hope will be ready to launch sometime in October.
   
MPLS.TV began as the website for a half-hour-long public-access television show Cloud started early last summer with a friend from high school, Kevin Albertson. (They still air Thursday nights on MTN Channel 17.) They also pulled in their friend Ryan Warner, whom they knew from a kickball league. Each episode consisted of a series of sketches tied together with a Minneapolis-related theme such as Uptown, the Lakes, or breakfast. The main plot of one episode revolved around an argument between Cloud and Albertson about how late Al's Breakfast in Dinkytown is open.
  
 After half a dozen full-length episodes, however, the crew was left feeling burnt out. They hit a creative rut trying to write the follow-up to their Valentine's Day episode (which premiered at the Suburban World theater and drew hundreds of views online). They decided to scrap their format and do something different: short, daily content Monday through Friday.

What's On
   
Each day has a theme. Mondays are music. Tuesdays are comedy. Wednesdays: interviews. Thursdays are devoted to food and drink, and Fridays to local events. The most popular series has been the Monday "City of Music" series, in which director Dan Huiting takes a local musical act and films a live music video in a unique setting (Chris Koza's Rogue Valley band on top of the Wyman Building in downtown Minneapolis, or Charlie Parr by the banks of the Mississippi River.)
   
That series has also netted a couple of sponsorships (City Pages and Shure microphones) that help fund the volunteer-run operation. They estimate more than 100 people have touched the project, from friends who have agreed to play roles in various sketches to students and professional writers, editors, directors, videographers and others who have contributed their expertise. The site also posts videos from other independent video producers, including The Perennial Plate, a weekly series on Minnesota food, and Transylvania Television, an adult puppet show about a TV station run by a family of misfit monsters.
  
 "If you put a price tag on some of the videos we've done, we've had eight cinematographers and a professional editor--you're talking, at a firm, about $100,000 worth of video," says Warner.
   
The site has no advertisements, and that's the way they like it for now. ("We're in a spot where we don't have anyone to answer to," says Cloud.) The business model, for lack of a better term, is probably most comparable to a local band. They're spending a whole lot more on guitars and amps, or in their case, lights and cameras, than they can expect to make from any of their gigs for the foreseeable future. Instead, the payout is having fun, following a passion, and dreaming big about the possibilities.
   
There are some more tangible benefits, too. Huiting, who directs the "City of Music" series, is only a second-year student at Minneapolis Community & Technical College, yet the series has already helped him find a full-plate of work on other video projects around town, says Cloud. There's also the rush that comes from being recognized around town with a "haven't I seen you on TV or something?"
 
For the Long Haul
  
Still, the MPLS.TV dudes want to make their operation sustainable, so that they don't have to worry about burnout in another six months. They're building an audience--their Facebook and Twitter following has grown from about 60 to 1,500 since the beginning of the year. The next question is how to convert that audience into a resource that will sustain their sky's-the-limit optimism.
  
"You don't have to have lots of money or resources to make something that's really high-quality," says Cloud.
   
They're soliciting donations via the website. They're considering a regular new volunteer orientation to help get more people involved and spread the workload. And they want to partner with more people who are already producing content--either video producers who want to share their programs or bloggers or podcasters who want help turning their work into a show.
  
"The potential of what we can do here," says Cloud," is pretty much insane."

Dan Haugen is The Line's innovation/jobs editor. Contact him at innovationnews@thelinemedia.com.


Photos, top to bottom:

Chris Cloud, Kevin Albertson, and Ryan Warner, the MPLS.TV dudes

Albertson joined high-school buddy Cloud to get the ball rolling.

Warner shared a passion with Cloud and Albertson: kickball.

Cloud: "Minneapolis is such an amazing place."

Cloud and Warner on a roll. "The potential of what we can do here is pretty much insane."

MPLS.TV's new digs in Northeast

All photos by Bill Kelley


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