Tuesday, December 19, 2006

More UGC in Broadcast

In another twist to online submissions for television broadcasts, Comcast's Ziddio site is collecting tapes "for proposed TV series to Ziddio" where the winner's show will be produced by Endemol, producer of many of today's reality shows. It seems Comcast and Endemol are joining the ranks of wanting to cash in on "people's urge to show off their talent by starring in their own videos".

Although Comcast is a major cable operator and Endemol is the name brand behind the reality-based television boom, how long will the major M&E's survive in this rapid democratization of UGC? After a while one must ask if these outlets will really exist in the next 5 years. Will television one day just become a PC in a living room where a tech company like Google owns the channel?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sign of the TIMEs

It's decided...the You-sers have won. In TIME Magazine's 2006 "Person of the Year Award, the winner is you". This year's upsurge in user-centric social media that TIME Magazine has deemed "a community and collaboration on a scale never seen before" has made this year's winner the average users behind this social networking phenomenon. "For seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you."

Noting that the "cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes." The article goes on to say that although this year's social networking craze was made possible by the Internet, and Silicon Valley's attempts to coin this phenomenon as "Web 2.0", TIME's technical writer Lev Grossman stresses that what is actually happening is a people's revolution. "It's a tool for bringing together the small contributions of millions of people and making them matter."

This clever acknowledgement of UGC by a major media outlet such as TIME, is the perfect note for social media to end the year on. 2006 will one day be looked back on as the year the world of information changed forever. TIME's editor Richard Stengel stated that "journalists once had the exclusive province of taking people to places they'd never been. But now a mother in Baghdad with a videophone can let you see a roadside bombing, or a patron in a nightclub can show you a racist rant by a famous comedian."

This revolution has not only stripped away the power of propaganda from major M&E's, but it has truly democratized media in a way that allows the whole world to form an unfiltered opinion about current events. Opinions about topics ranging from politics to fashion will forever be decided by the populations who have real-time access to information.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ready for Online?

As an interesting sign of how well Hollywood is adopting an online presence for it's content, CBS has said it is filtering the public comments that are posted around it's content on YouTube to avoid “profane, unconstructive criticism, and off-topic political vitriol”. Apparently CBS has requested that YouTube re-design the layout of it's CBS page by placing posted comments from users on another page instead of underneath the video as it does with other hosted content.

“We just want to make sure the front page is a little bit cleaner,” said Quincy Smith, president of CBS Interactive, adding that comments containing certain profanities are caught by an automatic filter, while the remaining comments are then vetted by someone who works at CBS or YouTube and moved to the separate page. “We thought it was a better user experience, and it gives us a second to weed out the completely unuseful comments.”

The CBS/YouTube deal has so far had positive results for the network. According to an announcement the companies made last month, CBS videos were among some of the most-viewed content on YouTube during the first month of partnership. CBS is using YouTube as a litmus test for how popular their content would be online, which would make user's comments not all together a bad thing. Mr. Smith added that "CBS was trying to provide the best possible interactive experience for the viewers, noting that many YouTube users’ critical comments are passed around the network."

It seems the love-hate relationship Hollywood has with the online video marketplace goes all the way down to the actual comments that users post about the content. The questions still remain: Will Hollywood conform to web culture? Will web culture embrace Hollywood content the same way it does UGC? I believe these minute details, such as user's comments, will add up to determine the success of HollyWeb. What is for certain is that if the M&E's go too far in restricting the interaction that people enjoy in today's online platform, they will see their popularity diminish for being unable to fully embrace the independent nature of the web experience.

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Battle Lines Being Drawn?

In the latest development of UGC in online and broadcasting, 4 major networks have come together to try and take on Google/YouTube. Reportedly, News Corp/FOX, CBS, NBC and Viacom are in talks to start an online site "to cash in on the fast-growing market of Web video advertising." Apparently Disney/ABC is abstaining from the talks to concentrate on their own brand. This unprecedented announcement only further displays that major Hollywood M&E's are panicking about the prospects of losing their viewers to cyberspace.

This aslo raises a lot of question's around what is actually driving the traffic and ratings in today's entertainment. Is Google/YouTube's success really about sharing video in a user-centric experience, or is it Hollywood's pirated content that is driving the masses to log on to the controversial site? Another question is whether grassroots vloggers would even use a mainstream hub, made by major networks, to post their videos on.

All this leads me back to the topic of "experience". What content is available on your site comes second to the actual experience your users have (from filling out account information to submitting personal videos to ordering A-list movies) when it comes to generating traffic. In today's information age, people want the ultimate choice combined with immediate access, regardless of price, content or technology.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

More On Yahoo & UGC

It seems that Yahoo is doing more in UGC than just joining forces with Reuters. Apparently the whole restructuring that is taking place will divide Yahoo into 2 main branches: "Audience" and "Advertising" and revamp the company to be more "user-centric". (Yahoo laid off Lloyd Braun, the executive hired to make Yahoo a major Hollywood entertainment powerhouse.)

This move by Yahoo underscores a major shift that many of the major Media & Entertainment companies are undergoing, including MTV and NBC. Why are these companies making such an aggressive push for a new grassroots digital infrastructure? The main reason is that they are performing poorly in their respective industries: Yahoo is losing major market share to Google in online traffic, and NBC is losing major television ratings to ABC. The solution? Reorganize your whole executive structure, layoff employees, and push for a more cost efficient "digital" business model.

Yahoo's approach is to make the online experience more user friendly for their customer base and NBC plans to rely heavily on cheaper reality shows rather than scripted comedies and dramas as well as digitally streamline their news bureau. The correlation is that these media companies, from both online and television, have realized that UGC/reality-based type of entertainment is not only popular but cost effective.

This sounds like a win-win for these M&E conglomerates and their audiences, but there are losers as well. As these companies rely more heavily on UGC type material, writers, actors and directors are left out in the cold. In a luncheon for the Hollywood Radio and Television Societies this week, creators of some of television's hit shows complained that broadcasters are using reality based programming as a "crutch and an excuse for the networks not to develop great scripted shows".

It is becoming clear that M&E is making a major transformation from a legacy of scripted, creative programming to a more do-it-yourself type experience where users are in control. I do not believe that the UGC phenomenon will ultimately make the television experience like viewing YouTube or MySpace online, but I do think that it will force television broadcasters to adopt a more non-linear approach to their programming where users have more choices.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

User Generated Content

This is the first posting for "Ready for Broadcast" and I am blogging today about the current state of UGC in relation to the online and broadcast television platforms. Today was the launching of another major player in this arena: Yahoo/Reuters joint collaboration of the "You Witness News" program. Basically the premise is the same as other ventures... open the floodgates for users to submit video (or pictures) of something they witnessed to the major news outlets, and these outlets will review them and determine if it is newsworthy or relevant enough to air. Somewhere under the dotted line may be terms for actually compensating users if their content is deemed valuable, similar to Revver.

In order to understand how UGC's popularity will evolve in the future, we must first make a distinction and decouple the UGC topic into 2 categories. First, is the major push by the masses to immediately share and publish their videos in a blogging or "vlogging" social context. Second, is the question of what platform is more popular to watch this content on (TV or The Net), the latter topic being the more controversial of the two.

Sharing personal media is not a new concept, I would guess that the minute someone learned to record visual and audio data there was probably the urge to share it, but there is something about the raw unscripted nature of UGC that attracts everyone's attention like a car accident. The first actual aggregation of UGC content for a massive audience was introduced in the late 80's with Americas Funniest Home Videos. Producer Vin Di Bona created the first reality-based viral video television show whereby people from all over the U.S. sent in tapes of funny moments that AFV screened and chose to air. This system of submitting and screening is no different than what is happening today with programs such as "You Witness News" but one is obviously for comedic entertainment rather than newsworthy occurrences.

This phenomenon was then taken to the next level with the introduction of vlogging on sites such as Google Video and YouTube, where videos were immediately posted after submission for everyone to see. YouTube has so far won the most traffic of the Internet video sites, which led to its sale to Google, because videos were much less screened than its competitors. This attracted millions of people to use YouTube, like MySpace, as a place to see and be seen. (There is also the fact that there is a lot of copyrighted material on YouTube but we will address that in another blog). This popularity of watching newly posted videos is what is disrupting the Film & Television industry where until now, people have been a predictable captive audience for more than 60 years.

The issue of "where are the eyeballs?" is the billion dollar question for broadcasters and advertisers. Since the inception of the newspaper, big business has figured out how to combine the advertisement of consumer products with news and entertainment. This was made even more lucrative with the invention of the television where companies selling products paid big money for "airtime" around popular shows. Now that the home audience is migrating to the computer to watch video, where other average people are controlling the content, these media businesses (that are heavily dependent on scripted shows) are scrambling to keep up. If no one is watching television, what's the point in advertisers paying billions of dollars for air time?

There are some major hurdles for the Film & Television industry in simply adopting the Internet as their new medium and applying their business models to it. Although Internet video sites attract millions of viewers much like television shows do, the reason is different. People flock to a specific video on the Internet mostly because their peers point them there by messaging or emailing a link. If the video is outrageous enough, it could garner hundreds of millions of views or "hits" unlike television where people are engaged in scripted acting by famous personalities.

So why cant YouTube just make deals with the advertisers? 3 reasons.... Advertisers are weary of putting up ads next to home made videos that run the risk of being too raunchy or politically incorrect. On the flip side, users who are posting videos do not want their footage to be inter-stitched with big name brands. The third reason is that there is no guarantee that these millions of viewers will be back the following week to that specific site like a television channel. In television, ad spots are sold based on the strength of the ratings of that show, where broadcasters can predict that same audience will return to see what happens. It is however, interesting to point out that around the same point in time that video blog sites like YouTube were gaining popularity, "Reality TV" was becoming a huge success for broadcast television.

The mixture of reality television with the new pop-culture of video blogging has led to some interesting new ventures in UGC, such as the one from Yahoo/Reuters. Similar to Yahoo's "You Witness", other News orgs have made something similar such as ABC's "Seen and Heard in America" and CNN's "Exchange". On the entertainment side, VH1's "Web Junk 2.0" and Bravo's "Outrageous Viral Videos", simply broadcast popular viral videos from around the web on their channel. In the middle of the news and entertainment UGC is Al Gore's CurrentTV, where users are encouraged to mix their own footage and actually apply some form of journalism to what their submitting. Carson Daly is also picking up where Vin Di Bona left off with NBC's "Its Your Show". As with AFV, "Its Your Show" will give $100,000 to the person with the best viral video, but unlike AFV they will be collecting the videos via Internet in addition to collecting tapes in the mail. Herein lies the interesting topics: How easy will it be for people to share their videos with these outlets? Will these outlets get the same traffic as YouTube? Will people submit their videos as willingly if there is no immediate reward for doing so? Will the quality of the UGC videos on broadcast television be acceptable? I believe these factors in addition to many others will determine the success of UGC in broadcasting.....stay tuned.