Videos looking for a home
Amateur video artists are being elbowed offline by websites turning to more commercial fare.
Whether it’s the dog on a skateboard, a fictionalized personal video journal, or clandestine footage of an Iranian political protester’s death, user-generated content (UGC) is to many the soul of the Internet. But bandwidth is not yet free and this sort of grass-roots creativity has not been a moneymaker for the many sites, such as Crackle and Metacafe, that provide homes for the amateur creations. Even the cyberbehemoth YouTube, now owned by Google, is still struggling to turn a profit.Skip to next paragraph
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Now, say media analysts and creators alike, the need for paying customers is putting UGC in the back seat on many websites: Metacafe is not sharing ad revenue with content creators; Crackle shut off user-generated uploads; Yahoo closed Jumpcut; and YouTube has begun striking deals with premium content providers such as the BBC, Starz, and PBS.
The trend concerns many advocates of a free and open Internet.
“In the rush to monetize the Internet, the little guy is getting pushed out,” says Benjamin Wayne, a digital media strategist and CEO of Fliqz.
“We do not know what we will lose because this emerging culture is only beginning to find expression,” says Patricia Aufderheide, director of American University’s Center for Social Media in Washington, D.C. “But we can expect that there will be less grass-roots spontaneity.”
In a market economy, however, it is inevitable, says Lance Podell, CEO of Next New Networks. “The early days of the Internet were like the ’60s heydays of free expression,” he says. “And now, like the day the ’70s dawned, the party is over and it’s time to get down to business and make some money.”
Shoestring Stephen Spielberg hopefuls acknowledge the terrain is shifting. Just a few short years ago, Jordan Riggs and his buddies were undergraduates at UCLA. The housemates began to find their own dorm dramas rich entertainment and bet that other students around the Internet would, too. They cobbled together rough mockumentary scripts based on their own stories of first loves, parties, and other staples of dorm life. The rough, to-be-shot-on-the-super-cheap, short “webisodes” caught the eye of Web producer Garrett Law from Attention Span Media. He worked with the students, eventually landing the series on sites such as Hulu and YouTube.
Fast-forward to Nov. 25, 2009, when the first season of the online show “Dorm Life” was released on DVD. The show now has franchises in several cities and followers all over the globe. Halloween costume parties themed to student woes depicted in the Web series blossomed on campuses nationwide.
“We were really lucky,” says Mr. Riggs. “But given the pressure on our kind of content to make money these days, it would be a lot harder [now] than it was before.”
While the drive to make money is real, media analysts say, the prognosis that UGC can be reversed by mere market forces is premature. Rather, they say, it is evidence of a profound social transformation.