Ankit Ajmera

FICCI Frames 2008: User generated content is the future of online media

A panel of experts discussed how Web 2.0 has led to the democratisation of online content and what lies ahead for Internet companies

Online advertising forms only 6 per cent of the overall global advertising pie at present. But the ad spend on the medium grew by almost 28 per cent in the previous year and stands now at US$40 billion. An advertising dollar spent on online advertising is said to be much more effective than one spent on a traditional media because of its measurability and because it is much more target specific.

The panellists at FICCI Frames 2008 discussed the scope and opportunity of engaging huge audiences through online media platforms. The panellists included Vikram Chandra, chief executive officer, NDTV Networks; Sanjeev Bikhchandani, founder and chief executive officer, Info Edge India; Sushmita Vij, product director, Microsoft USA; Kamal Gianchandani, chief operating officer,; Leonard Brody, co-founder and CEO, Now Public, Canada; and Ringo Chan, vice-president, wireless and interactive content, development and distribution, Asia Pacific, Turner.

FICCI Frames 2008: User generated content is the future of online media
Sanjeev Bikchandani
FICCI Frames 2008: User generated content is the future of online media
Vikram Chandra
FICCI Frames 2008: User generated content is the future of online media
Sushmita Vij
FICCI Frames 2008: User generated content is the future of online media
Leonard Brody
FICCI Frames 2008: User generated content is the future of online media
Ringo Chan
FICCI Frames 2008: User generated content is the future of online media
Kamal Gianchandani
Bikhchandani said Web 2.0 has led to the democratisation of online content. The technology has facilitated creativity, information sharing and collaboration among users online. The technology is device agnostic and accessible on PCs and mobiles. It’s been found to be very successful in user engagement and experience, attracting traffic, eyeballs and page views. Some examples include FaceBook, YouTube and MySpace.

Bikhchandani pointed out that nevertheless, Web 2.0 is not very friendly for the mobile medium. Most mobile users today use the Internet to check e-mail, rather than to browse. It is still not possible to access data, find information or conduct search in a speedy manner on the mobile. In the Indian scenario, the audience has got used to surfing, but has still not become an active participant online. Bikhchandani said that the scope of engagement through the Internet is growing in India, but Indians rarely write blogs or upload videos on the Net. There is still low penetration of broadband Internet in the country.

Vikram Chandra of NDTV gave the example of his own organisation. He talked of how more users can be engaged online through the integration of TV content with websites. NDTV has been creating campaigns such as properties on TV with news topics such as the Jessica Lall murder case and the Save the Tiger campaign. These properties invite participation from viewers by urging them to log on to the Internet or to use mobiles to have their say. Chandra said that with SMS and Web 2.0, these campaigns take on a life of their own. With growing technology, people today can participate through various media, which was not possible 10 years ago.

Sushmita Vij from Microsoft USA stressed that the future and centre of entertainment was the consumer himself. It’s the consumer’s control, consumer’s choice and consumer’s devices that will drive future Internet companies. According to her, the Internet was the only medium that allowed advertisers to learn very specifically about the user they are targeting and thus create specialised messages for each one of them.

Leonard Brody, who runs a participatory news network, Now Public, stressed the significance of user generated content. According to him, people around the world are more interested in reading the news feeds on their FaceBook account than the normal news on TV and the Internet. This is because the Facebook news is about their friends and caters to their hyper-personal personality. It will definitely interest them more than any event that is being force-fed to them.

Brody predicted that citizen journalism would become the future of news reporting with almost everybody on the globe owning a camera phone. He said news was about being present at the event as it happened. If news companies tapped the power of citizen journalism, all human beings would become their news providers. He offered the example of Saddam Hussain’s hanging, which was captured on the phone by a person present in the room and later released on news sites, blogs and mobiles worldwide.

Brody claimed that his company produced 700 stories per day with the help of citizen journalists. The number of stories is much more than any news organisation in the world is capable of producing with a limited team of reporters.

Ringo Chan of Turner agreed that citizen journalism could improve the quality of content for news companies. Chan gave the example of the shootout at Virginia Tech University in the US, which was captured on phone by a student. The video was later bought by CNN, which ran a breaking story on its news portal.

The panel argued on whether giving editorial control to users with respect to news and information could lead to distortion and misrepresentation of facts. But taking the context of the user generated content on Wikipedia, the argument was brought to an end. The panel agreed that user generated content could definitely enrich content for news companies, but a professional journalist would be required for further details on a news report.