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Last Updated: Monday, 27 November 2006, 06:04 GMT
Future of TV: Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais (right), Stephen Merchant (left) and Karl Pilkington (carried)

Ricky Gervais is one of the first big stars to create original video and audio material just for the internet.

The Office and Extras star's radio-style audio podcasts on iTunes have become record-breakers, while his video podcasts have also attracted a large following.

Why did you start making audio shows just for the internet?

Anything that increases artistic freedom is exciting for me. We didn't have a boss. We didn't have rules or restrictions that you do on radio.

We could do it when we wanted, for as long as we wanted. We could put it up there and then people would go to it at any time.

But I suppose the most exciting thing is that it's global. If you've got a computer and an MP3 player and a phone line, you can listen to it all around the world. And they did. And that's because The Office is shown in 80 countries.

What has the response taught you about how people want stuff on the web?

I think that first series got about four to five million downloads. And it's still going. That's a lot of people. That's quite a big TV show. And I think it was Karl [Pilkington, sidekick] who said: 'Why don't we charge for it?' He'd just given up his job.

Ricky Gervais with two Bafta Awards
I don't think you'll ever be able to sidestep TV or DVD
Ricky Gervais
We honestly didn't do it for the money - we did it as an experiment. We thought - would people pay? And I think they did because they didn't have a choice, it wasn't available free any more.

But I think they also thought it's only a quid. And it wouldn't have worked if it was a breakfast show every single day of the year for 10 years.

In all now we've had about 10 million downloads, but that will do for now. It's not going to be the main part of our business because I get bored very quickly. I have the attention span of a child.

We'll do some more but it was never meant to be a realistic business venture. It was more like I wonder if it could be a business venture. It worked out for us.

Are you going to start selling original TV-style video online or do deals with websites to create original video?

We put out some free videos. We just made little films, little sketches. Sometimes it was just us chatting.

Now I don't think we could do that as a business venture because with audio, you can compete with anything. You can compete with comedy records or with radio shows if you've got a decent microphone and something to record it on and something to listen back on.

Whereas you can't compete with great DVD and video. You can't knock up an episode of The Sopranos or 24 on a little handheld digital camera. So I don't think that would work.

I don't think you'll ever be able to sidestep TV or DVD. But TV companies will embrace it. With the American Office, they did things called webisodes where some of the peripheral characters had their own storylines and they did little 10-minute things and put them out.

Now that's exciting for fans, it's like a DVD extra or something. And it's an advert. You might come across that before you've actually sat down and watched The Office on a Thursday night on NBC.

What if someone like Google offered you a lot of money to make a TV-style show - but just for their site?

I could see it happening but I'd think - what's the point?

Ricky Gervais (right) and comedy partner Stephen Merchant
Ricky makes his podcasts with comedy partner Stephen Merchant
If it's going to be as good as watching it on TV, then it's probably going to be as expensive. And if it's as expensive, then why don't we just put it on TV?

I don't think TV's got to be running scared yet. And of course it's fighting back. One of the greatest inventions of the past few years is Sky+.

The good thing about watching things online and watching things on Sky+ is that you do them when you want - no-one tells you when.

The bad thing is it loses a bit of the common consciousness. There is something nice about everyone sitting down and watching a programme at the same time then talking about it the next day. That's exciting as well.

How do you feel about people who watch Extras or The Office on illegal sites, which may prevent them from buying the DVD?

I don't know that it does. I'm guessing here and I'm sure record companies and networks would say it is damaging. But is it?

I'm sure when the BBC first launched, they were going: 'Ah, not many people have got tellies. Who's watching this?'
Ricky Gervais
I haven't seen it being too damaging because at the moment, most people aren't downloading. Your aunts and uncles, they're not going on YouTube or scouring the internet to find On the Buses.

But they will see it in Woolworths if someone re-releases it and says On the Buses Retrospective. So that's still the bigger business at the moment.

What is exciting about this is choice, and we don't know where it will go because we don't know how many people soon will have a computer and an iPod.

I'm sure when the BBC first launched, they were going: 'Ah, not many people have got tellies. Who's watching this?' So it's good to get your act together. And then people catch up with the know-how and the means to watch it.

Have you got any favourite online viewing?

I still wouldn't call myself a big internet buff. I've got e-mail. I Google things now as opposed to going to the library or Encyclopaedia Britannica.

But there are half a dozen websites that I go to - the BBC, some entertainment websites and YouTube. And that's about it.

I probably spend an hour a day online and that's enough really. Whereas it would still be three hours in front of the telly. So telly's still winning.




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