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Last Updated: Friday, 22 September 2006, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
TV embraces the online clip age
By Marc Cieslak
Reporter, BBC Click

Peter aka "Geriatric 1927"
Geriatric 1927's video blogs were a surprise hit

Millions of us are now sharing and watching home-made videos on the web, so will it soon be a case of "television is dead, long live the web"?

Not quite, but with TV audiences dwindling and interest in online video content on the rise, it seems that audiences do not just want to watch TV shows any more.

They want to make and star in them too.

Freedom to share

Dubbed web 2.0, there has been an explosion in sites that promote freedom to share and use content driven by the user.

People don't want to be filtered and they don't want somebody else to decide when and where what they say can be viewed
Patrick Walker, Google
Microsoft wants a piece of the action, launching a user generated video service for MSN called Soapbox.

It is hardly surprising when sites like YouTube have become such popular web destinations.

Google's Patrick Walker believes a number of factors are coming together at the moment to facilitate this.

"First of all there is an incredible amount of bandwidth available. People have broadband at home so the speed is much faster than ever before," he says.

"Couple that with really easy tools of production from a basic webcam and being able to record that, to filming something and plugging your camera into a PC and doing some basic editing. Also storage cost has come down considerably."

He adds that, when this is matched with the amount of pent-up demand for self-expression, it gives rise to the current explosion of user generated content.

Surprise hits

Comedians, video bloggers and first-time film-makers are fuelling this growth, often with some surprising results.

A 79-year old British pensioner's musings about his life have become a huge hit on YouTube. It is not my cup of tea but can 975,000 viewers be wrong?

"In one sense user generated content is just the evolution of reality TV," says Angel Gambino of MTV.

"We've had lots of programmes where people can send in their videos. They've just done it in a much more arcane way.

"I think what we have right now is a real opportunity to tap into creative talents that weren't quite visible before," she says.

Patrick Walker believes the line is becoming blurred.

"I think people have to accept that roughly shot or badly filmed content might be just as compelling or interesting as things which may have cost a lot of money," he says.

Big business

The massive amount of traffic these sites generate has forced traditional media outlets to sit up and take notice.

For a lot of bigger media brands there are higher risks in letting the audience do whatever they want
Angel Gambino, MTV

They were initially spurned by US TV networks over copyright infringement fears. But CBS and NBC are now both uploading clips from their shows on their own YouTube channels.

Multinational media concerns now regard these sites as potential money spinners.

In just one year, YouTube has become the market leader with 100 million video clips watched each day.

It is not just TV networks that are taking advantage of this site's popularity.

Warner Brothers Records has signed a deal to bring their library of music videos to YouTube.

A further deal between YouTube and EMI could see the site bring both music publishers' entire video back catalogues online. These would be free to view because they will be funded completely by advertising revenue.

It is not all roses though. Universal Music Group is preparing to file a law suit to force YouTube to remove material which it believes breaches its copyright.

"Early days"

Search engine giant Google has hit back with its own video service, which it hopes will challenge YouTube's dominance.

Patrick Walker says, "Google video is still a very 'early days' product.

"There are certain things we are doing today to experiment with different types of monetisation, such as download-to-own in the US, and in advertising supported video.

"As far as user generated content goes, there's still a lot of things to consider.

"People want to share their ideas, they want to share their thoughts. They don't want to be filtered, and they don't want somebody else to decide when and where what they say can be seen and can be viewed," he says.

And, after 25 years making music television, MTV hopes to reconnect with its audience by launching MTV Flux, a TV channel and website where users can choose which pop videos and shows go to air, as well as creating their own content for web and broadcast.

Angel Gambino says, "I think that for a lot of bigger media brands there are higher risks in letting the audience do whatever they want, and that's a risk that you have to balance.

"But with new brands that don't necessarily have those long-standing expectations or legal requirements, they have really created an environment where people can take advantage of all the benefits of the Wild West of the internet," she says.

It is clear that user generated content is going to be around for a while.

In a broadcast landscape where viewers' habits are becoming ever more niche, garage video's ability to create programming for the people by the people means anybody can become an online superstar.



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