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FICCI Frames 2010: Seizing the opportunity in user-generated content

By Surina Sayal , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media | March 19, 2010
The panel discussed how user-generated content is making an impact in all arenas, from social networking to entertainment, news to research, copyright issues online and control over content

The morning sessions on Day Three at FICCI Frames 2010 kicked off early, with full attendance. One of the first sessions was on user-generated content (UGC).

The panellists comprised Narendra Bhandari, director, Intel Software and Solutions Group, APAC, Intel Corporation; Jagdish Sagar, head of copyright and entertainment law, Anand & Anand; Vikram Chandra, CEO, NDTV Convergence and NDTV Networks Plc and Anuj Poddar, senior vice-president, corporate strategy and business, Viacom 18. The discussion was moderated by Neeraj Roy, MD and CEO, Hungama Digital Media Entertainment.

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The panel discussed the rise of UGC sites -- new opportunities, the business model of UGC sites, their sustainability, the potential threats of operating these sites, risks to content owners, role of third parties such as advertisers, managing UGC content, technological advancements mitigation of risks and other related issues.

The panel started off by discussing user-generated content, which refers to various kinds of media content, publicly available, which is produced by end-users. UGC is making an impact in all arenas, from social networking to entertainment, and news to research.

Citizen Journalism, which was initiated some time ago by news channels and publications, was one kind of UGC. This involved people, who reported on what they saw and heard and photographed, and shared that with the community.

Moderator Roy shared how the in-demand UGC site, YouTube was set up when two friends, the founders, wanted to share a video of a dinner party with friends who weren't present that night. This was the beginning of a legendary UGC tool in 2006.

He informed that in Internet stock guru, Mary Meeger's Morgan Stanley report, the trustworthiness of the Internet had gone up to an all-time high of 79 per cent; and UGC was certainly responsible for this.

He also shared that currently, online advertising is worth $250 million. He added that India is the fourth largest Internet market in the world, and will eclipse the third largest market, Japan, by the end of this year. It is also the second largest mobile market in the world.

The discussion veered towards traditional media sites, such as NDTV.com or Viacom18's colourstv.in playing their content, versus YouTube and other sites, which relay information and videos from traditional media sites.

Chandra of NDTV said that it would be in the interest of both traditional and social media to sit together and find a win-win situation. He felt that for UGC, a sustainable model had to be created. "A lot of the bull is coming from traditional media. We built NDTV Social, because people wanted to interact with the top journalists."

He also pointed out that a lot of the social networking and tweeting happens around film stars and prominent journalists, who have thousands of followers and who are being re-tweeted.

"Why has Twitter become so big in India?" he questioned. "It is because celebs like SRK, Karan Johar and others have used it. People want to follow them and people like Shashi Tharoor, and know what they have to say."

The panel then went on to discuss copyright issues and content being leaked online, which causes huge losses for the parties involved. Discussing copyright issues in the case of UGC, Sagar of Anand & Anand (which works principally on disputes relating to patents) said, "Copyright is a leaky right. The problem is not with the law, but with enforcing it."

Roy pointed out that in some countries, ISPs (internet service providers) already follow the 'three-strikes' legislation. According to this legislation, ISPs have to send warning letters to users found to be downloading illegally, followed by cutting off their Internet access after a third offense.

Poddar of Viacom 18 shared that there are three ways to control piracy. One is the technological solution, where content is fingerprinted; another is educating consumers about the importance of copyrighted material. The third is by sending notices, which Viacom 18 has done a number of times.

He explained that before Viacom 18 can upload shows like Balika Vadhu on to their own sites, there are people out there who upload it faster on sites such as YouTube.

To another panellist's question on why that should be a problem, as long as the eyeballs are coming in; he answered, "Watching content from a traditional media site, such as a Viacom site, versus through YouTube, is like buying a shirt from a Tommy Hilfiger flagship standalone store versus buying it from a mall, which sells other shirts as well. While it is true that more shirts will sell through the mall, rather than the flagship store; but Tommy Hilfiger should get the money from the mall store for its sale. It can't go for free. That's the issue at hand here."

Bhandari piped in, saying that this directs viewers back to traditional sites. "The pie is expanding significantly. Marketers want eyeballs, so here are the eyeballs. The challenge is how to monetize it."

The panel also discussed the issue of 'controlling UGC'. People upload a variety of videos, pictures and comments; but and not everything could be suitable for the website and the viewers. Thus, it is imperative for sites to scan the content being uploaded. But Chandra said that they were still grappling with the question of, "Till what level do you control UGC; how much control must one exercise?"

The panel also discussed the pay model for online and creating special content for the Web. Poddar of Viacom 18 explained that the pay model on the Web has taken off neither in India nor internationally.

On the subject of creating specific content for the Web, he spoke about how MTV Roadies, a show which is a big hit on TV with 13 participants each season, was recreated online. It was called Roadies Battleground and had 120,000 participants. People then voted for participants. This show was later taken to TV.

"So, to produce content and then take it to the Internet doesn't work for us. But this route worked; and this is actual user generated content going from online to TV," he said.

Bhandari of Intel left the audience thinking with a suggestion about a hot topic, Mile Sur Mera Tumhara and the sequel, Phir Mile Sur: "What if another version was made by the community and videos collated?"