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Internet star tries to make it on her own

Amanda Congdon is hoping to make history as the first video blogger to cross over into mainstream media, bringing the 300,000 fans who watched her daily on Rocketboom along for the ride. By Jen Brown.
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No, that’s not Amanda Congdon on today’s episode of the video blog Rocketboom. (Although if you turn down the volume on new host Joanne Colan’s British accent it’s easy to confuse the two).

Congdon’s interview on “Scarborough Country” on Wednesday night was her first mainstream television appearance since her departure from Rocketboom on June 23, but certainly not her last. Congdon is hoping to make history as the first video blogger to cross over into mainstream media, bringing the 300,000 fans who watched her daily on Rocketboom along for the ride.

"What I would like to do hinges upon working on a television show and video blog that both are somehow linked but both have individual content," Congdon, 25, said in a recent phone interview. "I think I have a kind of unique way of making friends through video that I don’t think that many people have really tapped in on yet in the mainstream and otherwise."

Congdon was tapped by Rocketboom creator Andrew Baron to host the daily three-minute video blog in 2004. By reporting on current events, politics and popular culture with her signature quirky style, Congdon became an Internet icon and began to attract attention from mainstream media. But the growing success of Congdon on Rocketboom came to a screeching halt on June 23 when Congdon — a 49 percent owner of Rocketboom — said she was fired by Baron. Baron, who controls the other 51 percent of the vlog, says Condgdon left to pursue her interests in Hollywood.

The he-said-she-said breakup of Rocketboom’s founding team, which has played out in the blogosphere, seems to be moot now that Barron has debuted Rocketboom 2.0 with Colan this afternoon. Congdon is now clearly focused on pursuing opportunities in the mainstream.

Can Internet stars make the jump?
There are those who say the Internet is incapable of producing a mainstream star.

In an article for today titled "The Death of Mass Culture," Fortune senior writer Marc Gunther said, "The Internet is by nature a niche medium so it has not created any stars, and probably won't."

Congdon says that’s ridiculous.

"The blogosphere is in its infancy, and there will be a zillion stars that emerge from it," Condgon said via e-mail. "Democracy is inherently about having choices ... empowering the people. Niche content allows us to have an infinite variety of choices. Old media is scared, and understandably so, because they can't command our eyeballs any more. We have other alternatives."

Congdon, however, doesn’t believe the online media should replace "old media" or that old media should try to be something they’re not.

"I think that video blogging is best done online, and TV is fantastic," Congdon said. "My interest has always been to bridge the gap... I would never want to just focus on television. I would want to continue video blogs with anything else I pursue. This is really who I’ve become, and I can’t imagine not working on an interactive medium."

Interactivity is a big part of Condgon’s online success. Beneath the video clip on Rocketboom, fans can navigate to other sites discussed in the Webcast, make comments and suggest stories. Condgon said 25 percent of stories on Rocketboom were generated by fans. She also describes the fans she e-mails as some of her best friends.

That kind of host-audience relationship, however, doesn’t necessarily work on television.

"Some mediums work interactively and that’s why they work," said Rafat Ali, publisher and editor of paidContent.rog, which covers the business of digital media and content. "Whoever signs her [Congdon] has to be smart enough to realize the format that works for her might be the format that works for some time. It would be good for a TV network to debut her online and keep that aesthetic going and then transition parts of it onto TV."

An enthusiastic welcome
There are plenty of television outlets itching for the chance to harness the power of Congdon’s popularity. As of Monday, Congdon said, she had received about 2,000 e-mails, a quarter of them job offers that included "E" and every major network except CBS. Although, she added, CBS may have contacted her agent, Ari Emanuel, with a pitch.

Congdon said she plans to weigh her options in the next few weeks. (She said she and her boyfriend — former Rocketboom producer and director Mario Librandi — and her brother — former Rocketboom producer Andrew Congdon — are a package deal.)

In the meantime, she is living in her parents’ house in Connecticut and watching her successor on Rocketboom.

"I do think she looks like me," Congdon said of Colan when she was named the new host of Rocketboom. "She (Colan) has a British accent, so I’m very American, so I think there will be some differences, but it is a little bit freaky."

After watching the first episode of Rocketboom 2.0 on Wednesday afternoon, Congdon wished her former partner and successor the best of luck. She does, after all, still own 49 percent of the video blog, which would seem to entitle her to almost half of the future profits.