Pseudo Gets Real

Suits Can Staffers, Go Mainstream

Employees at Pseudo.com, the edgy, Manhattan-based webcaster, knew something was amiss. Amid rumors of a "restructuring," they went to work on June 23, and found boxes placed around the offices.

"You know a company has gone corporate and 'restructured' when they have stacks of those white, corporate boxes--as in 'Take your shit, don't let the door hit your ass on the way out'—set up on each floor," says one Pseudo music producer, who requested anonymity. "We are the people that are producing content, then they hire TV people for higher salaries who may have worked on some big television shows but don't have any vision about what they want to do with Internet TV."

Before the boxes appeared, Pseudo seemed like anything but a corporate scene. Club kids and ravers hung out at the studio on Broadway and Houston to watch Velocityand freQ, the live dance-music "happenings." While viewers tuned in on the Net, the live audience grooved to big-name house, techno, and jungle DJs strutting their stuff.

Now the company has scrapped its 10 autonomous channels, including two of Pseudo's most popular destinations, 88HIPHOP.com and Streetsound.com.The company fired 58 people—many of them producers—and shifted some 30 employees into the other Pseudo shows. Currently, Pseudo goes "live" 40 hours a week; as early as late July, the site may air live programming from noon until midnight on weekdays, with eventual plans to beon-air 24-7.

The changes reflect CEO David Bohrman's vision. Bohrman came to Pseudo in January, after holding top posts at ABC News, MSNBC, and CNNfn. Senior Vice President of Marketing Jeanne Meyer describes Bohrman as a tech-savvy businessman who created ABC News InterActive in 1989. Says Meyer: "He's not a suit."

Bohrman says the restructuring was a practical decision for the site, one that founder Joshua Harris supports. Bohrman praises the authenticity of the music shows, but says they were expensive to produce and brought in almost no revenue. He rejects the notion that he's an old-school exec who doesn't understand Pseudo's underground scene. "Bullshit," he writes in an e-mail interview. "Not only am I 'in touch' with what Pseudo was doing, I was 'in touch' with trying to help it survive as a business."

This pragmatic move might save money, but it could also endanger the site's popularity. Before the cuts, music took up roughly one-third of Pseudo's airtime. Electronic music and hip-hop dominated, with 88HIPHOP and Streetsound consistently among the site's top four most-watched channels, according to Meyer. And Pseudo's always-available archives made live shows a point of reference for obsessive record collectors (called trainspotters) and fans who would normally never see sets by Marshall Jefferson, LTJ Bukem, or Mixmaster Morris.

In the new format, Meyer explains, Pseudo will offer daily electronic music "segments" mirroring some of the previous content, with subgenres like house and drum'n'bass rotating throughout the week.

But the former music producer points out that in firing so many producers, writers, and editors, Pseudo literally sent much of its in-house knowledge and street cred packing. "How is Pseudo going to be dedicated to any electronic music—house, techno, drum'n'bass, hip-hop, dub, turntablism, dancehall—when they have completely severed every tie they had to any of these musical undergrounds?" the ex-staffer asks. "The very people who are the experts in these industries and have credibility have all either been fired or quit of their own accord. They can't do anything but play the archives on repeat."

At press time, much of the programming plans were up in the air. Meyer couldn't comment on which shows would be reworked, how they'd be presented, what they would be called, or whether popular hosts like Velocity's DJ Dara and freQ's JC would remain on the air. "I'm afraid I can't give you that much detail," she says. But she insists any changes will reflect "the creative direction that the new CEO wanted to take the company."

Pseudo staffers say the changes came just when the site was gaining momentum. "It seems really strange to me to do that out of the blue," says one, "to take something that was running better and better, and running smoother and smoother all the time, and just sort of scrap it."

For those who will miss Velocityand freQ, the shows will still be accessible—as archives. Says the former producer: "It'll be a musical museum."

 
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