UGC in News

It‘s a genre which is seeping into all the nooks and crannies that mainstream content producers cannot penetrate. But going by industry speak ‘user generated content‘ for now is a fancy word that is still a few years away from fruition. Where it has made its biggest impact is in the newspace.

Crises like bomb blasts, terrorist attacks or accidents have brought to the fore people initiatives with still photographs and moving pictures. CNN IBN‘s Citizen Journalist won awards even as other news networks jumped onto the bandwagon. While one may argue that this usually works in fits and spurts and only around big crisis events, CNN IBN is also looking at including stories from everyday walks of life and converting them into feature segments played out as part of their news bulletin.

Internationally, BBC World relied heavily on user generated images during the 7 July and 21 July London bombings. In fact, the BBC website has a UGC dedicated segment on the site- Making a point on the effective use of people generated content on news channels. Cellcast and Sumo.TV CEO Pankaj Thakar says, "During the London bombings the content on news channels was skewed to almost 30 per cent broadcast news and 70 percent people generated content. That‘s the kind of impact UGC can have within news. Unfortunately, we feel happy about small scale initiatives like Citizen Journalism….why cant user generated content be more mainstream?"

While the public broadcaster did use ‘people generated content‘ within mainstream news, it is still early days for UGC to claim the same space as news programming. Would a BBC weekly show like ‘Your News‘ be weaved into news programming?

UGC in Entertainment

The Ficci Frames convention held in Mumbai had a very interesting session on User Generated Content. A lady in the audience very passionately debated that ‘once the material or content is out of the hands of the user, he has no more rights on what or how the buyer may use it so long as he has been paid his price‘.

This is exactly the question a lot of users are now asking themselves. Posted online videos are no more secure and how they are used may not necessarily be appreciated by the user. In the current scenario, the freedom to post his thoughts or videos and make it available to people he wants - is the real driver.

This is the premise that music channels like Channel [V] and VH1 have used to create music programming and a music video respectively. Channel [V] had an enthusiastic bunch of bloggers who got together to shoot the Big [V] concert which was later telecast as a series. Says Channel [V] head Amar K Deb, "‘Made by you‘, the blogumentary that spawned a series of music shows was a first of its kind experiment. But it fit in perfectly with Brand ‘V‘. People want to participate in our shows, be a part of the process. By definition, television is perceived to be a passive medium but with UGC it takes on a more interactive format. Whether it‘s our promos or music programming, our viewers want to contribute."

Deb also reveals that with the success of ‘Made by you‘, Channel [V] will ‘look at the blogumentary way even with upcoming shows like Channel [V] Launchpad and Get Gorgeous 4 where the model aspirants will be asked to maintain their blogs.

Close on the heels of Channel [V]‘s initiative, VH1 the music and lifestyle channel also announced Shot by You. Pushing ‘user interactivity‘ into the mainstream media, viewers were invited to listen to the latest track by Pentagram - ‘Voice‘ posted online and use their camera phones or video recording devices to shoot footage that would best suit the feel of the music and send it to VH1.

While the response to the Nokia and VH1 partnered Shot by You initiative was impressive, the quality of video clips or pictures sent weren‘t always up to the mark bringing into question the quality of user generated content meant for traditional media.

Talking about the challenges the team faced during the making of the video VH1 General Manager Keertan Adyanthya said, "Since the use of digital media in our country is still at a nascent stage, many of the entries did not meet television standards. Very often the resolution of the footage sent was not suitable for use. Some of the footage sent was copyrighted material and again could not be used at all."

But music channels are all gung ho about introducing UGC as part of their programming. Deb goes so far as to say that UGC based programming allows the channel a "one to one platform. It also gives the viewer a chance to engage with the medium."

So why are platforms like Sumo.TV taking so long to establish themselves in India?

The channel which was to launch early this year has pushed back its plans by a few months. Thakkar however believes that the ecosystem will evolve by the end of 2007, and there will be some good UGC shows on TV. At the end of the day it is television more than online media that is considered conducive to UGC. "TV is more accountable and requires moderation," explains Thakkar. That kind of moderation is easier in the already structured television set up.

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