User-Generated Content: Is Anyone Watching?
When you take out the extraordinary amount of content on the "user-generated" sites that is really stuff caught on TiVo, will anyone really care to watch the stuff that "users" actually make?
My first posit is that when you go beyond the "pirated" TV and movie content that exists on UGC sites, the next category is "almost TV." Content that the creators want to broadcast but which TV won't "pick-up."
As an example, I read an article the other day about two guys who started glacier calving surfing. This is when you go to the base of a glacier, wait for it to calve, and then surf the resulting wave from a massive sheet of ice dropping into the water. Their exploits are readily available as a series on YouTube and other video sites.
That type of UGC is a fantastic use of the medium. But that type of content is still created by a relatively minute percentage of the "user" public. Let's leave aside how few people can actually glacier surf because one man's glacier surfing is another man's how to make a cabinet, and so on.
The point is that those videos are clearly shot with some very professional video equipment and involve quite a bit of editing and effects. Although I don't know those two brave souls, I imagine their dream is to be on the National Geographic Channel or the History Channel and become the next "Ice Road Truckers."
That isn't content that Everyman is going to create. I am well aware of the argument that each of us has something we really like doing and are good at it and someone will want to watch. Yes, true, but only to a point.
Just as all of us who take pictures don't publish postcards, all of us who enjoy cooking or dancing or glacier surfing won't be inclined to devote the time and energy to make a video series about our exploits.
If that is all that UGC becomes--decently produced hobby series, upstart comedians and the occasional "caught on camera" expose of celebrities behaving badly--more power to the medium. Basically, we use Web UGC to go from 500 channels on TV to 500,000 on-demand channels.
But is there another level? What about the 5 billion channel on-demand system? If all of us start capturing and posting videos of relatively low production value and presumably of little "broader" interest, who will be there to watch?
The answer to that question is in the phrase "of little broader interest." That isn't a problem as much as a positioning statement. True UGC--defined now as the stuff we all post, on the fly, in whatever "grainy" quality we shoot with our unstable hands and cell phone cameras and camcorders--will succeed as part of something JuiceCaster calls Social Broadcasting.
We define Social Broadcasting as sharing the content you care about with the people who care about you. Videos of me singing Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" at 2 a.m. at some bar in Hermosa Beach are only rolling-on-the-floor hilarious to the people who really know me well. The people who know that I am basically never up at 2 a.m., never at a bar, and never sing.
That concept is social broadcasting. Sharing your videos with the people you know. Those people will care. While the core of social broadcasting is socializing with the people you know through videos, social broadcasting does expand out in concentric circles.
The video of me singing is funny to my friends. One of my friends may have a friend who always does karaoke, but does not know me, but will find that video funny 'cause he just did karaoke to the same song I did, and so my video will expand outward.
Perchance my singing video (or one in a million other such videos) might just have crossover appeal to the people at large. Maybe it's that funny or interested or thought-provoking that my friends and friends of friends soon become the "world" looking at my video.
So, to answer the open question--yes, people will watch true UGC. Maybe just one person, maybe five, maybe fifty and maybe five million. But the sustainable basis for true UGC to exist, particularly in a "right now" medium like the cell phone, is the emergent notion of social broadcasting. Your videos to the people you know.