Four issues spring to mind when talking about the threat to traditional broadcaster models from the invasion of user generated content (UGC).
Issue 1: Getting something for nothing!
Ever since the industrial revolution ‘free' trade has been seen as a generator of wealth. From foreign merchants being able to carry British goods in the 17th Century to Microsoft's decision to allow outside development of compatible software, letting others do the ‘work' for you has always been a good route to financial success!
So is UCG a wealth generator? It's got all the same attributes; creation, production and ingest of material is provided free by the content generator whilst only the distributor financially benefits from the advertising surrounding the material.
Whether it is YouTube, MySpace or the now common use of Text, MMS and videos sent ‘rights-free' from ordinary viewers via Websites or MMS gateways, the broadcaster is benefiting from low asset generation cost at no risk.
Issue 2: Cult of the amateur
Out of the democratisation of creation, production and distribution of this content has emerged the ‘Cult of the amateur' as an insidious but undoubtedly real threat to broadcasters and media companies.
“The new winners - Google, YouTube, MySpace, Craigslist, and the hundreds of start-ups hungry for a piece of the Web 2.0 pie - are unlikely to fill the shoes of the industries they are helping to undermine, in terms of products produced, jobs created, revenue generated or benefits conferred. By stealing away our eyeballs, the blogs and wikis are decimating the publishing, music and news-gathering industries that created the original content those Web sites ‘aggregate.'
Public broadcasters are seeing their viewers migrate away into a Web 2.0 world complete with no censorship, no warning, and no professionalism in 99% of UGC. Take a good look at YouTube (apart from media companies using the channel for free marketing) and you can see offensive and pornographic material buried in a mire of un-scripted, un-edited and un-produced rubbish. It may be a good breeding ground for TV's next generation of producers, directors and editors, but is its insipient growth taking the place of well-written, well produced material?
Issue 3: Any channel will do!
The present use of Myspace by music companies to find, launch and support artists, using fans to drive interest on a network that's free to use, could be one real pointer to the inherent benefits of a consumer ‘channel' explosion in customer engagement with ‘TV' Media on the PC.
Issue 4 Citizen Reporters
Another area of the opportunity comes with the inevitable arrival of 3G / Wi-Fi enabled video phones with in-built high quality camera's (5 Mega-pixels+, zoom and flash) with fast web services that can facilitate ingest directly into a news room environment, live or edited into a professional news story.
This ‘broadcast' UGC' use can give the broadcaster real ‘global' coverage for raw footage and in extreme situations direct live feed from the scene by a ‘citizen' reporter
The technological capability is there to do this but needs to be cost effective and understood as part of news ‘ingest'. It also has many ramifications for legal and operational standpoints but already influences news programming (Sky News is a frequent user of viewer UGC).
All four of these issues could be viewed by broadcasters as ‘wait and see', by sitting back and watching how UGC becomes part of their world.
Or they could seen as something to examine, use and provide technology and guidance to facilitate its benefits in order to limit any future threat.
The question is should broadcasters try to control the growth of UGC or run the risk of being radically changed by un-controlled adoption?
Allen McCaskill is a principal consultant within Ascent Media Global Consulting Services. His primary focus is on the planning to implementation of multi-platform distribution strategies.
What is your experience of UGC? Have your say below.