User Generated Content and misguided strategies
I was at the Singapore Digital Media Festival 2008 pre-event dinner just today, where we had a pretty interesting discussion about user generated content.
I won’t go into all that we discussed, but I’ll highlight some interesting points.
What’s “user generated content”?
They even have an acronym for it – UGC. When we talk about user generated content, we tend to think of content on sites like YouTube. It’s amateurish, it costs little to produce, and it’s produced by some unknown individual (before they get famous).
But what if it’s a professional-quality video on YouTube that costs thousands to produce? And produced by some large corporation? Is it still considered user generated?
Or what if it’s amateurish, costs little to produce, on YouTube, but created or funded by some large company? Is that video considered user generated content?
I’m being a little pedantic about definitions here, but I found that some of the discussion wasn’t too productive because everyone was using the same term but with different definitions in mind.
The inability to properly define user generated content may lead to unprofitable discussions; the inability to understand its appeal leads to unprofitable endeavors – which is far more costly.
The appeal of amateurism?
Ben Koe made the observation during the discussion that user generated content tends to be amateurish, and there is some appeal in that.
But many a large media company has made the unfortunate mistake of thinking that producing something amateur-looking would make it appealing the way a funny home video on YouTube is.
The funny home video on YouTube appeals not because it’s amateurish, but because it’s authentic.
We’re forgiving of the shaky camera handling of the amateur because we know it’s done by someone who can’t do any better. It’s real.
But amateurish-looking videos produced by Big media don’t have the same appeal because we see them as professionals pretending to be amateur (I’m thinking of RazorTV). They aren’t authentic.
Those that still manage to be successful are successful because they have very good content, or they are good enough for the viewer to suspend judgment, despite being inauthentic.
In other words, they still have to be really good.
Thus, Big media should do what they’re good at and have the resources to do – produce top-quality content that is beyond the capabilities of grandma. There are too many grandmas and grandpas and moms and dads and everyone else out there producing content – don’t compete with them. Don’t compete with everyone.
The cheapening of content?
During the discussion, Daniel Goh observed that people are less willing to pay for content, and in many areas, content is expected to be free. I completely agree.
People love music, but kids these days don’t believe in paying for them. The same goes for video content, which is why BitTorrent is using up a significant amount of internet bandwidth – people are using it to music and videos for free.
While people are paying less for content, they will pay for experience.
While kids can download movies over BitTorrent, they still pay to watch the movie in a cinema. Many bands are coming to terms with this trend, realizing that they actually make more money through their concerts and events, and not through CD sales.
Or more recently in Singapore, people were willing to pay ridiculous amounts of money (in my opinion) to watch the Formula 1 race at the track, having to endure crowds and other hassles and getting their eardrums hurt, when they could have watched it live in the comfort of their own homes. Crazier are those who flew over here from Europe or the US just to experience the race.
But the overwhelming reaction from those who were there was that it was worth every cent. Hearing the deafening roar of the race cars blasting away the eardrums was an exhilarating experience, even for those who weren’t F1 fans.
Companies are missing out on these trends at their own peril.
Many are still clinging on to their content-for-sale model, while others that realize the need for change jump onto the amateurish track instead of the authentic one.
I’m planning to attend the Singapore Digital Media Festival (was invited), and I hope to see some enlightened companies there.