September 13, 2005 in Business

Ready for a New Age of television?

Bert Caldwell The Spokesman-Review
 

Mike Oehler, Boundary County’s underground man, has seen the light. The author and teacher of back-to-the-land living wants to follow the likes of Bill Gates into Internet broadcasting.

He just needs a tiny slice of Gatesian wealth to get started.

With slightly more than $900,000, Oehler plans to launch Hipnet.TV, which should have some cachet on the strength of the name alone. He has already outlined concepts for three programs that would be recorded on his property southeast of Bonners Ferry, and in a studio in his log cabin office. Oehler does not want the titles disclosed; suffice it to say two are consistent with the lifestyle he has been living and teaching for 25 years. The third would be his satirical take on conventional American life and its comic book superheroes.

Unconventional might understate the life Oehler lives on his 46 acres of bottomland and mountainside that he navigates in a balky old Ford flatbed. Since 1978, he and a cast of friends and students have carved several homes out of the hillsides. Less underground than extremely bermed, they are by no means cavelike, and include amenities like wood heat. Plumbing is another matter, but one does have solar electricity. He is working now on Ridge House, a notch cut into a ridgeline that will eventually afford panoramic views to the south and north. A man-made pond is planned.

Smart and entrepreneurial, Oehler has become an expert in subterranean living. His “The $50 & Up Underground House Book” has sold almost 85,000 copies since the first edition was published in 1978 by his aptly named Mole Publishing Co. The well-illustrated book is now in its 12th printing, and Oehler has created a three-video set that goes with it as part of a $95 package that still sells as many as 200 copies a year. He also wrote “The Hippie Survival Guide to Y2K” and a novel, “One Mexican Sunday.” He is working on a fourth book.

Meanwhile, Oehler has embraced video. In addition to documenting his underground building projects, Oehler taped the demonstrations at the 1999 Seattle meeting of the World Trade Organization. “The Battle of Seattle” won him a kind review from “The Rocket,” a Seattle bi-monthly. Homestead Video, his production company, continues to sell copies at $9.95 apiece, plus shipping. Oehler himself has appeared on the BBC and Home & Garden Television.

But his early work was analog. To go digital, Oehler loaded up his credit cards to buy equipment and work on his editing skills. He has become a voracious reader of publications exploring the voluminous demands for new content by all manner of broadband and wireless pipelines. His business plan for Hipnet.TV compiles quote after quote about the expanding media horizons, and multiplying revenue streams. To Oehler, it’s a flood from which a niche company need dip just a cup to prosper.

He’s particularly enthusiastic about the potential of “mobisodes,” snippets of video edited with cell-phone viewing in mind.

“It’s television and computers and phone all wrapped up in one,” Oehler says. “It’s an incredible opportunity.”

He envisions revenue from advertising, product placement, tours, DVDs and items branded to Hipnet.TV or the shows. The ultimate pot of gold; sale of Hipnet.TV for millions, not necessarily the gargantuan sums paid pioneers like Spinner.com and Broadcast.com. a few years ago, but enough to make the company an attractive investment. He projects profitability from operations within 18 months.

He can start with as little as $100,000 to hire technical and acting talent, and another $15,000 for the equipment he does not already own.

Working from North Idaho, Oehler notes, will cut production costs drastically compared with those in Los Angeles, for example, yet still allow Hipnet.TV to tap a wealth of local artistic and production talent.

“We’re talking here about equipping, staffing, programming and operating an international television network for less than a million dollars — about the fees paid for a minute and a half of advertising time on a hit program,” his business plan says.

International television network? Oehler says the little guy can do it thanks to IPTV, Broadband and Internet Protocol Television. That’s if traditional broadcast media aren’t interested. He’s so ready he expects to tape a first episode Friday, although a full-scale startup would take several weeks. He’s so ready he is prepared to buy, and wear, a business suit, a sartorial moon shot for a man known to walk barefoot in winter.

At age 67, maybe there’s a new age for a New Age spirit and technocrat rolled into one. Hipnet.TV could be coming soon to a tiny screen near you.

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