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.

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