Post

UGC is More Than Just Hamsters on a Piano

October 14, 2009 , , , ,

During the discussions that PK has been involved with around the National Broadband Plan, video has been a reoccurring theme. Everyone seems to agree that the next big thing to drive broadband (adoption, speeds, capacity, whatever) is the delivery of video over the internet. Someone will point to Netflix streaming, to Hulu, to Amazon, to Boxee, to YouTube, and say that they are merely the tip of the iceberg. Soon everyone will be sending and streaming video all over the internet, which is why we need more capacity.

In every one of these conversations, no matter what the context, there is always a point where people start to discuss what the video actually will be. And in every one of these conversations, a dichotomy quickly emerges: there will be user generated content (UGC) and there will be “real” or “studio” or “professional” content. On the “real” side goes stuff from television networks and movie studios. On the UGC side goes stuff uploaded to YouTube.

Either explicitly or implicitly, there is an assumption that the UGC is essentially commercially worthless – it is all first grade ballet recitals, dogs jumping up and down, or kids falling off of skateboards. The real action (and money) is around the “real” content. Since the money will only come from the professional content, the concerns of today’s professional content owners (usually having to do with filtering or kicking people off of networks) tend to dominate the discussion.

I’m going to set aside judgment about the value of what most people think of as UGC for the purposes of this post (well, at least mostly – ask someone who now makes a living doing parkour stunts in movies and commercials or is learning how to cook, speak Spanish, or to fix a bike if it is useless) and focus on the dichotomy. People who divide the video world into traditional content and low quality UGC are missing the changes going on around them.

Increasingly, there is a third category of internet video. It has high production values, is created on a regular basis, and is not made by existing television networks or movie studios. This content exists to do more than simply capture a moment. The third category of video includes content created by established companies that are using the internet as an opportunity to expand, such as the New York Times and Washington Post. It includes websites that are beginning to dabble in videos that provide entertainment, information, and analysis, such as the Onion News Network, GigaOM Video, Boing Boing Video, and our own PK TV. It also includes entire online networks with a slate of shows, such as Revision3, Vuze HD Network, nuDia.tv, TWiT Live, Pixel Corps, NextNewNetworks, College Humor, and Funny or Die (let me know the favorites that I missed in the comments).

While the existence of this third category of content is well known to many people, in policy discussions it tends to be forgotten. It is true that the coming wave of internet video will include established studio content, but it will also let new studios spring up. Just because the third category is mostly short form now, that does not mean that it will always be more cartoon cat in a Moroccan bazaar than NBC Nightly News. There will be plenty of “real” video content surging across the internet that is not being represented by people who work for television studios and the MPAA in Washington today. It is not safe to assume that today’s established studios have the best interests of their future competitors at heart.

Oh and for the record, I am not judging that hamster on the piano.