Log Off: The Year of the CGC Plague

There's no stopping the spread of consumer-generated content. Thank goodness

As broadband numbers grow, with no signs of cessation, the inevitable has occurred: As of 2006, video is an Internet star.

Some thought this would turn the Internet into the home of 30-second spots. Others saw new opportunities for interactive advertising. But the most critical result  what makes video even more important than blogs  is that consumers increasingly choose video as their preferred means of expression.

Not long after those first thousand video uploads to YouTube, the advertising industry coined a new acronym: CGC, for consumer-generated content.  The industry's first response was to embrace the phenomenon. In fact, there was more than a little lip-smacking at the potential. Maybe the ad folks could get consumers to "engage with brands" via branded videos. This would both meet their clients' goals and prove the agencies' deep understanding of consumers.

The agency folk barely had time to congratulate themselves before a chill wind blew on Madison Ave., as consumers were fundamentally changing the ads, revising them and  the horror!  sometimes even making them better. Clients complained louder than ever about the rising cost of advertising and looked speculatively at the infinitesimal cost of the consumer-made alternative. Fear spread through the advertising community, fueled by editorials claiming that consumers would put agencies out of business. The audience was taking over, and they weren't even charging a fee for their creative.

As the inclusion of copyrighted materials in mash-ups became commonplace, the fear of CGC reached Hollywood and the TV networks. Faced with low ticket sales and even lower ratings, they skipped the idea of embracing these uploaders and went directly to "no." But this didn't halt the onslaught; it just made it a more enticing way for hundreds of thousands of consumers to spend their time.

Time was at the root of these fears: Time spent creating and viewing cgc is time that might be spent at the movies, watching TV, or renting the latest DVD release. For this reason, CGC may be the worst of the many curses the Internet has brought upon us, from Madison Ave. to Hollywood. And, funded by the likes of Rupert Murdoch, the CGC plague is bound to spread.

But is it really possible that people will forgo a trip to the cinema to see "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" to stay home and watch videos on the Internet? Would anyone actually choose to watch "How to Fold a T-Shirt" on YouTube instead of the latest episodes of "American Idol," "Survivor," or "24"?

Yes, it is possible. It is happening  but not for the reasons you may think.

A very basic and human urge drives the CGC phenomenon: to share one's experiences or sensibilities with the world. You create content in hopes of expressing yourself, or you view content in hopes of finding someone with similar experiences or sensibilities. This is not a replacement for going to the movies or watching TV, but rather an extension of social behavior. These are not ad-man wannabes, but regular human beings looking for others to whom they can relate.

That's not to say CGC isn't time-consuming, or that the time to create and view it doesn't cut into other leisure activities. But it can just as easily be time stolen from socializing at the local pub as time allocated to viewing the last episode of "Survivor." Different time, different value, different marketing opportunities.

In the end, CGC is not a plague on the house of advertising and entertainment. It's a social phenomenon that is reshaping the way people communicate with one another. So let's go back to our original impulse: Embrace it, and discover how we can leverage this trend for our clients.

Kathy Sharpe is CEO, Sharpe Partners, Inc. (

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