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FICCI Frames: Chasing the money in user generated content -- the debate continues

By afaqs! news bureau , afaqs!, Chennai | In Media | November 19, 2009
At the end of the session, generating revenue from user generated content seemed like a work in progress

Rajjat Barjatya, managing director and chief executive officer, Rajshri Media, is hanging on to one of the better kept secrets in the industry. That secret may make or break perceptions about the Indian experience with user generated content (UGC), as far as copyright owners go.

For Barjatya's Rajshri Media claims to be the largest Indian channel, based on the viewership they generate from 15-16 million streams per month on Youtube, driven by over 10,000 official -- and therefore, legal -- videos the group has uploaded on the site.

& #BANNER1 & #Thus, while he professes complete satisfaction with the experience so far, including revenue expectations that have "exceeded their best hopes"; till the numbers are revealed, one suspects that we will never quite have a clear idea of just how many converts Barjatya is likely to have in the group of satisfied content owners.

For the overall mood in the session, "Generating revenue from user generated content" -- moderated by Neeraj Roy, managing director and chief executive officer Hungama Digital -- was clearly one of unanswered questions and unresolved dilemmas.

Thus, Kalyan Manyam, CEO, Indyarocks, stressed that rather than blaming technology that makes it easy to infringe precious copyrights, it needs to be seen as an enabler that one had to learn to use.

Vijay Lazarus, president, IMI (Indian Music Industry), made a passionate advocacy for a "fairer" deal for content owners, and more responsible behaviour from platform owners.

Amit Sibal, advocate, Supreme Court as well as the Delhi High Court, gave the legal perspective, quoting extensively from the US trends in lawmaking in the area to declare that now that technology to filter out copyrighted content was available, platform owners may lose the benefit of a "safe harbour" or low liability for copyright violations on their site through their users. As of now, he said, as long as they responded quickly to "take down notices" from content owners, they were safe from prosecution.

Speaking from the platform owner's perspective, Kalyan claimed that even advertisers did not want to be associated with pirated content, and that had driven them to look aggressively at alliances with original content owners -- a win-win situation for everyone in the business.

Barjatya pointed out that Rajshri has been authorised by Youtube to sell ad inventory in the 'Rajshri channels', with Rajshri paying Youtube a fee for the presence. This move was bound to improve realisations even further for Rajshri, according to him.

Roy, heading probably the most successful firm when it comes to monetizing 'creative' content in India, had a note of caution to add here. He pointed out that as the internet user base grows in India, the supply of UGC and hence, ad inventory, would go up sharply, putting more pressure on rates.

Pointing to the superb success achieved with caller ring back tones, a case where almost 100 per cent of the content has been monetised successfully, thanks to the control telecom operators had on the process, IMI's Lazarus hoped that a similar option could be discovered for digital.

The dawn of 3G, while not on the radar yet for the music industry, remained an issue for the industry. As no framework has been achieved on sharing revenues in that case, the situation could turn out to be much like digital.

Roy pointed out that Indians were among the leading contributors as well as consumers of UGC; so, it would be important to find answers to the issue of monetisation to ensure phrases such as "death of creativity", or "fighting technology" or even "crushing the little guy", did not become bywords for the debate in coming years.

If that wasn't enough, the pool promises to get even more messy in the future, if WIPO (World Intellectual Property Rights Organisation) proposals to include separate rights for performers fructify, which would add a third party to the debate. A point eloquently made by Richard Cardran, media strategist.

If Barjatya, the man in the happy minority, can show us the money next year, we might just have some answers too.