User-Generated Content is King, or it will be soon online, if it isn’t already. With the explosive, exponential growth of blogging, podcasting and vlogging/vodcasting the power to influence and entertain online eyeballs rests with any individual with a good idea.
Now I’m not going to type endlessly about blog triumphalism and how old media structures and distribution/supply chains are going to suddenly crumble overnight. Radio was not killed by television and television will not disappear because of the internet, though it may severely change the business and render our current notion of broadcasting obsolete. Think all the hype about “user-generated content” is nonsense? Consider the following:
Google is getting ready to monetize it’s “experiment” beta site, Google Video. How are they going to make money off of freely-submitted video? Well, they’re going to share profits with the submitters, the actual people who create and upload all the crazy, viral, funny stuff on Google Video when they move to a pay-to-play model. Of course, they could also slap AdWords onto all the search results and video pages (using keywords or tags) and make money that way.
Imagine if a traditional content company (a TV network, independent producer or film company) wanted to distribute original content in this manner? They could defray serving costs to Google, get the benefit of search results closely tied to Google’s search index, and they could easily monetize their efforts based on AdSense revenue or pre-roll/post-roll video ad units. Of course, Google wants to be the anti-iTunes (Via MicroPersuasion) and is pursuing user-generated content and smaller publishers/producers, but still.
Yahoo! could likewise make a big play in the user-generated video space if they hosted content. As it is, their Video Search portal is all about the search aspect and doesn’t even tap into the contextual text ad network they have at their disposal. Great if you want to funnel traffic to the eBaum’s Worlds of the internet, but not so great if you want to make money off of video.
But maybe money shouldn’t be the standard by which we measure user-generated content. Maybe reach should be a factor? But online (thus far) doesn’t appear to have the reach of a broadcast TV, syndicated radio or cable original. Does this even matter? In an era when advertisers and marketers want to reach very specific core demos (mostly young men), the internet routinely delivers all kinds of content to these people – from viral videos to game and music reviews to community. Online and broadband are the most direct pipeline to people – because it gives them only what they want, on demand.
So now we have this whole rise of user-generated content feeding a connected world of similar users. Those who watch the videos and read the blogs are just as likely to turn right around and remix the whole thing for their own blog or podcast. So where does that leave the entire entertainment industry going forward?
Well, you could create your own related content (like Bryan Singer’s Superman vlog) and distribute it through TiVo (I made this argument last week). Or you could take your product or service and ask folks to evangelize it for you, just like Firefox has. Or, like Google, you can simply be the conduit for the content and share the money you make with the folks who did the creating. Seems people like that idea.
The real success of user-generated content is in it’s ubiquity. It’s everywhere online. The text you read is just as likely to be an hilariously funny account of going to the supermarket as it is an online version of a newspaper article or television story.
So what is my point after all this yammering? User-Generated Content is King. Media companies in all their varied and sundry forms cannot compete with the avalanche of amateurs producing and distributing their creations. The scale is so immensely in favor of the “little guy” in this equation that the only option left is to climb on board the new model for distribution (via RSS to iPods , TiVos and whatever else comes along).
The fact is that user-generated content speaks to people in an honest voice and meets them wherever they are – online, jogging at the gym, or sitting on the couch. It doesn’t restrict itself by country or “region” or anything else.
“Big” media needs to open the gates to the content is hoards (or start creating original content for the new “channels”) before all the eyeballs decide they’d rather watch Rocketboom over CNN or TikiBar TV over Friends and Seinfeld. It’s already happening. Sprint just announced full movie downloads on it’s phones (Via Gizmodo), so maybe there is hope.
So I know I sound like a broken record or an overly-excited early adopter, but the search engines are the TV Guide/on-screen channel guide/movie listing page in the paper of the digital 21st century. If they’re already leading folks to user-generated content to the detriment of “Big” media and to the joyous relief of users, AKA real people, then maybe folks should take notice of that fact and react accordingly.
Of course, I’m just a ranting producer for the website of a cable network. What do I know?
And just as I’m about to hit “Publish” I get a new post from Dave Winer that codifies another perhaps hidden point in all this talk of user-generated content:
Aggregation can now be customized, and it can be done by machine.
So it’s the whole notion of value in bundles of information that’s going by the wayside. Bundling is not going to be a way to make a living in the future. It’s a bad bet.
The value of your content is only as good as the folks that chose to see it, and unless you meet them where they live (online) you’re invisible. You might as well broadcast a test pattern.
The message here: produce good stuff and the audience will find it. Simple but yet very different from the prevailing model of mass entertainment for the past hundred years or so. Maybe that’s the rub; “mass” entertainment may be outmoded when you can get only those people who really care about your content without all the folks too lazy to change channels.
UPDATE: Dave Winer trumps me again, saying that getting folks to what they want – directing them with links and sending them away – has a boomerang effect. The more folks see cool stuff by virue of your links, the more folks come back to see more. Perfect analogy and all the more reason why content should be more freely available, to allow folks to evangelize and market it for you.