Turning chores into television

Playing with pandemic edutainment

Over the last couple of years, our family has made a somewhat conscious effort to study the growing phenomena of “Chore TV” or videos made by farmers engaged in their daily chores.

These range in quality and focus, and if we are to consider them a genre, then the category is as diverse as “nature” or “outdoors” or similar vague groupings.

Yet what they have in common is an evolution of the reality television concept, with a little more reality, and an invitation to a world that is either foreign to the urban viewer or coveted.

PEACHAM, Vt. — The sweet smell of hay rose off the earth on a recent evening, as Morgan Gold strode across his farmyard in heavy boots. He crossed the paddock, scanning for new eggs, water levels, infected peck wounds, rips in the fence line.

But mainly — let’s be honest — he was looking for content.

Though Mr. Gold sells poultry and eggs from his duck farmin Vermont’s northeast corner, most of what he produces as a farmer is, well, entertainment.

Mr. Gold, who is short and stocky, with the good-natured ease of a standup comedian, does his chores while carrying a digital camera in one hand and murmuring into a microphone.

Then, twice a week, like clockwork, he posts a short video on YouTube about his exploits as a neophyte farmer, often highlighting failures or pratfalls. Keeping a close eye on analytics, he has boosted his YouTube audiences high enough to provide a steady advertising revenue of around $2,500 to $4,000 a month, about eight times what he earns from selling farm products.

The streaming and digital media industry is large, and growing. A by-product of the digital giants like Google (YouTube), Amazon (Twitch), and Facebook, who help popular content creators make money off of the attention they game from the algorithms.

Farm or Chore TV is a tiny subset of the larger marketplace, but one that has grown during the pandemic as many people fantasize about rural or country lifestyles.

In some cases we found these (mostly) YouTube channels to be informative, or entertaining, however we felt it was something we could do just as well, if not better.

While we’re fairly small, we do have a great human pedagogue in Jeanette, who is the brains behind the micro-farm.

For the months that we dreamed of having a better Internet connection, we shared ideas on what a chores show could be.

In the summer we produced a few pilots using a range of cameras, with the intention of editing the footage and uploading it after the fact. Here’s one of the rough drafts:

It was a good exercise in reviving my editing skills, but it was a lot of work for a single episode. And the time it took to upload was a huge disincentive.

However one of the consequences of having video cameras, along with animals who are genuine characters, is that I found myself watching the evening chores on a regular basis. Jeanette and Murley wouldn’t perform, but the act of doing the chores themselves was often a great show.

As I started to dig into OBS, learning how it can be used and experimenting with its features, I quickly realized that it would be relatively easy to do a live chores show.

After all, the chores get done anyway. Twice a day (at least), no matter what. And just about each time something happens with the animals that is at the very least amusing. Why not share it? Why not use it as an excuse to further explore media production, media platforms, and the algorithms that amplify them?

Mind you, were still in the early stages of iteration, and we’ve only had fibre Internet for a week, but we’re already enjoying the show we’re putting together.

Since the show is live, the editing is done in real time, and that work is done when the chores are done. With each show we’re learning what camera angles we need or what work best. Staging, stage craft, and situational awareness.

In the morning we’ve been streaming the chores show via Reddit. The algorithm on Reddit is more accessible than other platforms, and our third attempt reached 74,000 views. Our version of a morning show has the least structure and action.

In the evening we’ve been streaming the chores via Twitch. The algorithm on Twitch is less accessible and active, so we’re starting from zero. This show has more structure and action, and generally incorporates what we learn from Reddit.

Twitch however provides a kind of (content) factory floor that makes it easy to generate content and export/share it elsewhere. For example this highlight from a Twitch stream uploaded to YouTube with a single click:

We don’t have any delusions about making money (directly) from this activity, but enjoy engaging in the media production and improvised narrative. We’re going to be making some additional changes in the next few days and will once more share that iteration so you can get a sense of how this “show” is being developed.

As with most things my interest is just as much “meta” as it is in the production itself. I grew up in a world where making television was expensive and done exclusively by elites so it blows my mind that it has become as accessible as it currently is.

The metaview here is not just the content of the show but the means by which the show is being produced. The plan moving forward is to produce more shows like this, not just about the animals, but the range of subjects we cover in this newsletter.