Guardian Changing Media: Care in the community – from new media to social media

Session chair: Emily Bell, director of digital content, Guardian News and Media
Kevin Anderson, blogs editor, GuardianUnlimited
Gavin Newman, executive producer, Virgin Media Television
Jay Stevens, vice president, sales and operations, MySpace
Joanna Shields, president, international, Bebo
Celia Taylor, director of programming, Trouble, Challenge, Bravo and Bravo 2 for Virgin Media Television (by video)
Patrick Walker, head of video partnerships, Google

Celia can’t make it today so in the spirit of the session, her thoughts are delivered via the internet.

Celia Taylor, at Trouble have been working with UGC for over a year, didn’t analyse it just jumped in. Didn’t take a genius to see it was growing, launched Homegrown which is a UGC web site. commissioned a half hour weekly user generated content (UGC) TV show called MyTV. Didn’t know if they’d get the content to sustain a strong TV show but it’s been a huge success. Constantly try to move it on. Doing a TV show felt old-fashioned, so wanted to be more inventive, Sunday morning, MyShout, send in material and be on air in minutes. Experimental, only going a few weeks. Important – in world of TV to have a strategy where you can be inventive and creative is exciting. Have strong relationship with audience, communicate well with them. Important for Trouble, risky but rewarding.

In terms of rights, users accept they have to transfer all rights in order to show it. Obviously need the rights to broadcast, so have to be organised about that. When they started, had to get sign off from the board and let them know that here’s an element of risk and in terms of music it’s not always clear if it’s been cleared. If there’s something that someone complains about on the Homegrown site, they take it down. Contributors are generally thrilled to get their stuff on to TV or MyTV website, so no problems or accusations of exploitation – the opposite. They have made a significant number of TV shows, no problems so far, feel they have a good relationship.

People worry about copyright infringement, but came at it from a different angle. How can they work with copyright owners, so work with record companies, e.g. Oasis allowed people to download a track and make your own videos, and ran as a competition. Copyright owners working to connect with their fanbase. Done it with Justin Timberlake and Gwen Stefani. Also did it with movie companies, Rocky Balboa. Did paid-for campaign with Step Up, and potentially monetise this, which is what people are interested.

Come at it creatively first and foremost, rather than think about making money, has allowed it to be a success.

How do you monetise it? Come at it from a different variety of ways – MyTV was ad funded, sponsorship opportunities are there, advertisers working creatively thinking about how to use UGC for their brands. Find the right people to work with. Not going to be a huge pot of gold but it’s about ‘can I actually make UGC commercially viable as well as creatively viable”.

The future for UGC and Trouble as a company is quite exciting. Making Homegrown into a social network site, much richer experience. Still moderate it, and now with Virgin Media Television that’s opening opportunities and are very excited about what’s coming up.

EB: Not a large pot of gold. But Viacom took out a case against YouTube/Google.

SL: Important to remember YouTube isn’t just UGC, it’s an open platform so rights holders can put their own stuff up too. Important to recognise that it’s open, and it’s meant for east of contribution and sharing of video content on a global scale. Very clear guidelines and policies regarding content submission. Proud of the platform, and are fulfilling their legal obligation, but in many ways it’s an attack on the DMCA, and the safe harbour of ISPs that that provides.

People take different approaches – BBC and CBS are really taking advantage of it instead. Developing policy.

EB: Their approach is that they can put up poor resolution clips, and if you want a higher resolution one they’ll add advertising. But is Viacom going to do damage?

SL: It’s really about DCMA and this will affect all web domains that provide content to users, as they don’t have to police the content just take down content when they are informed that it’s infringing. But this might take several years, but most importantly usage of YouTube has grown, and the number of partnerships growing, so don’t think Viacom is going to impact the business.

EB: Is there an emergent model for giving back revenue?

SL: Absolutely. When our partners do well, we do well, and we distributed a lot of money to our AdSense partners. but there’s a lot of experimentation, so trying to engage rather than just extract revenue, so it’s about ease of use, trust of users, and it’s a place for them to express themselves. Perception of the need to monetise, but other objectives too, .e.g. might be promotional. So CBS uploaded clips from late night chat shows and saw a rise in audience numbers as soon as they did that .

EB: Two speed approach to copyright. Copyright is broken on the one hand, but the reach of copyright keeps getting extended. Who wins that debate?

SL: It’s important for content creators to think about clearance for all formats right at the beginning. But one thing that’s encouraging is the willingness of people to take risks, and think we’ll see a lot more of that, even whilst there’s uncertainty – e.g. mashups, how do you deal with that?

EB: Google used to be quite techy, now it’s much more about communities. How well is Google adapting to do that?

SL: Google is a very geeky, tech-driven company, and that’s good because we focus on our position as a search tech based organisation and where we’re adapting is in partnerships, bringing in people with different areas of expertise that don’t necessarily have a tech background. Company growing very quickly.

EB: Is there a danger now that there’ll be more concerted efforts by content producers that they will want to close you down because they are threatened?

SL: Depends on which services you are thinking about. I don’t think anyone can say that you don’t benefit from having more people sent to you via search. But YouTube, people want to keep control of their content. But we didn’t invent the internet, we just want to make it easier for people. But that’s threatening to those who prefer to keep things behind a wall. Those who understand this, they can partner with us in ways that protect their traditional business and extends their reach. So BBC is doing well – promotional, introducing their shows to new people, and providing people with content that they love to help build the brand.

You can’t just put stuff up, you can’t speak at an audience, you have to have a conversation with them. So Chelsea FC wanted to put up a clip from Chelsea TV, and they had a huge umber of comments, in all sorts of languages. Became a dialogue between them and their fanbase, so it’s a different environment.

EB: Joanna, UGC really is your site. How do you monetise it?

JS: 30m users of Bebo, 8.5m registered users in UK, largest social network in their demographic, under 30, mainly 16 – 24. Most interesting things about Bebo and its community is that the idea that kids go online to express themselves. Highest engagement of any site in the UK. Frequency that people connect with Bebo – great opportunity for advertising, brands, even politicians to engage the audience.

One of the things that’s different about Bebo is that much more progressed on the profile, and media is a personalisation tool. People post the music they are interested in, write blogs, share photos, all about personal expression. So when someone adds a clip from a media rights holder, it’s more about ‘this is what I like’. It’s not a channel. Need a different discussion – if someone uploads a video of themselves that’s great, but if it belongs to someone else, that’s a challenge. There’s impressive economics for brands, need to com up with a model to help them to communicate, and delivers revenues.

EB: When you talk about being in the profile business, is that the key driver for your economic health?

JS: Largest no. of page impression comes from profile views. Helping brands and media companies to promote their content. But we’re a new site, just 32 people running it. Almost 1 member of staff to 1 million users ratio.

EB: Do you publish your revenues?

JS: We don’t, but we are profitable. When people are spending that much time, it’s more about sponsorship than page views. We’re trying different models and we’ll take it.

EB: Hackneyed old question of fads. Is there just another format that will come along and everyone will migrate?

JS: There’s always a chance that there’s going to be a new technology that will challenge us. But when we do get a winner, it’s big, and sometime the things that bring people in are very simple. It’s about constantly innovating. At our core we’re a technology company, and we just try to perfect that technology and keep it fresh.

EB: Kevin, what’s your take on this?

KA: For news organisation, talking about monetising community it’s putting the cart before the horse, as they don’t have a community to monetise. Readers aren’t a community. News organisations are often still mired in anger and denial, and there’s a lot of fundamental outreach to do. They think it’s a ‘build it and they will come’, but there’s never been a field of dream on the web, you need outreach.

For news organisations, we’re in a competitive market with things we don’t understand. What was state of the art a year ago gets tired quickly and we’re not used to having to change technology so quickly. How often do we buy a new printing press? Gannett rolled out social tools, and found that blogging and social networking worked best. But you have to keep things new and fresh and try to be as nimble as a start up, which doesn’t describe too many news organisations. Lots of cultural changes to go through.

EB: Audience here comes from a one-to-many model. What are the basic rules?

KA: Biggest mistakes is not looking at what is of community interest for their audience. People think ‘news’, and that’s the first thing they go to, but perhaps that’s the last thing they should look at – there are opportunities in news, but mainly it’s orthogonal areas. How much lived experience do you include? Also, participation trumps celebrity – celebs who are not interested in engaging with their audience don’t make for successful sites.

Listen to your audience. Too many times, it’s like a zoo – we throw scraps out to our audience and let them fight over it. Need to have a feedback mechanism, needs to be a virtuous cycle, it can’t just be content out/comments in.

Pete Cranston, Oxfam GB: Will colonisation of these spaces by charities drive people away?

JS: Underestimate young people, they are dying to express themselves, and they are very serious about charities and the environment, and to build charities into the network and help them communicate is important. Last Friday had a Red Nosed Day competition to design the site, and the outreach that happened on the site was inspiring. They wanted to engage and help.

GN: It’s about supplying the tools to allow people to say what they want to say.

EB: Gavin, do you ever want to hasten the end of channels?

GN: We are an entertainment focus, so we’re about giving people an incentive to participate, and giving them a platform.

EB: Fame over fortune?

GN: We’re trying not to take the celeb route, but to nurture talent, and give people a voice. Whilst it’s entertainment it can still be serious.

Jemima Kiss: Ben Hammersley at a conference yesterday announced that nobody cares about media brands. His point was that what people are really after is the content. IF someone wants to watch lost, they don’t care which channel it’s one. Do brands matter?

GN: I think that’s quite true actually. Channels would like to put themselves as the brand people come to, but it’s the opposite, it’s the content people are interested in. So we work closely with the record labels and film production houses, so we’re allowing users to engage directly with the copyright holders.

SL: For those who don’t engage in content production, it’s more of a challenge. People look for Lost if you can’t get it.

EB: On YouTube?

SL: But that is a challenge for those who don’t have a certain relationship with the produce itself. You can have a branded presence, but people don’t go to the content via a linear model. The vast majority of our traffic comes directly to the video assets themselves, not to the names of the broadcaster. Important to have that information, to build a halo effect of your brand, but it doesn’t drive interest.

EB: Do you have to give people content rather than brands?

JS: Kids love brands.

GN: Brand is often more important to the industry than the users.

SL: We see that, brands that focus on their products do really well. Also brands look down their noses at unbranded content, often to their detriment. It’s about the idea, the creativity, and immediacy.

KA: The way that we think about brands is different to the way that consumers think about it. they don’t think ‘I have a brand relationship to Buffy’, no human beings think about brands like that. People don’t enunciate it like that – it’s an over-intellecutalised way of thinking about it.

EB: Kevin, you said audience isn’t a community. How would you define community?

KA: There was talk of an engagement model, and whether you look at blogging, or whatever, we’re moving away from a passive audience that consumes content, the sites that are successful have engagement. What we’re trying to do at the Guardian is to create various levels of participation on the site around our content, but give them different ways to engage, and whether it’s on-site, or off-site and we’re a hub, that’s the real shift, from being passive consumers to active engagement. Just thinking that because you have a loyal audience so you have a community is a misconception.

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