Friday, May 1, 2009

Whose content is it anyway?

Hulu's snagging up of Disney network as an equity partner begs that question. Whose content is considered more exclusive, more desirable, and consequently, more monetizable?

While youtube has always led the numbers game, in terms of all kinds of user-driven metrics, however, Hulu appears to be fast catching up on the more-important financial metric of bringing in monies. While ever-rising traffic at Youtube only leads Google to mounting operational expenses in terms of hosting and streaming costs, the converse appears to be true at Hulu. With all of its content monetizable, without legal baggage, Hulu offers advertisers a far more compelling proposition, and naturally, has been on a high. It doesn't help that under 10% (far less than this by other estimates) of videos at youtube are deemed monetizable.

What does this show? Well, for starters, that content continues to be king. And that's the good news.However, that doesn't mean that there is no space for user-generated content and scope for commercial exploitation of the same. UGC has been a hallmark of web 2.0 and will continue to remain so. However, online video sites as well as media players have to look beyond a model where there's a straight-forward content-advertiser relation. The Hulu model, for instance, seems atavistic for reasons more than one. It continues to build on the traditional advertiser-content owner angle and basically extends that practice from the Television on to the web. While the system in itself is a fine example of how the web can create all-round value, for all parties involved, yet, through its inherent reliance on large content companies, it fails to recognize the power of the web.

Youtube showcases all that is representative of the future state of the web, albeit at a staggering cost, and how UGC will continue to be one of the key producers of content. However, it has to make out a compelling case for a model where UGC can harmoniously exist along with professionally-produced content. The media players, and the UGC community, have to recognize the fact that compelling UGC has almost always come out of a right mix of both forms of content, and to that extent, neither is dispensable nor can be wished away and same goes for legalese involved in it all. All stakeholders involved need to recognize and appreciate the contribution of each of the parties involved, and build ad-supported/subscription models that are more reflective of the changed realities. Until that happens, it is going to remain a messy road for Youtube, while others such as Hulu will continue converting the web into a Television.
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