Monday, May 13, 2013

Back to Broadcast

About 3 years ago, I speculated in this post, that "user curated content" would become the next logical step to the "user generated content" wave unleashed by the interactivity of web 2.0. By and large I have been wrong.

What has happened instead is an accelerating professionalization of online content creation and a return towards the traditional broadcast model with a pronounced split between few creators who produce stuff and the many consumers who consume it.

True, there are still myriads of users engaged in some form of content creation, but increasingly only few creators matter. True the cost of creating and distributing digital content has been lowered to much below a level representing a serious barrier to entry, but more so than ever it takes a serious level of luck, perseverance and highly professionalized marketing to stand out from the crowd.

Maybe it is a sign of maturing for any new medium that a period of frantic and chaotic experimentation is followed by consolidation and professionalization, even though in this new medium there is hardly an inherent, natural monopoly and the only scarce resource is the attention of the audience.

It is quite telling that G+, the most recent and most contemporary of the major social networking platforms is based on an asymmetric relationship model of follower rather than friend and makes a clear distinction between profiles (for users) and pages (for corporate entities and brands).

Some of the most symmetric and egalitarian platforms like Facebook or YouTube, which date from the mid noughties, are now well into a process of retooling themselves into a place where increasingly the masses can in some form follow, subscribe to or endorse a relatively small number of online celebrities.

While the original notion of Facebooks "friend" implies a relatively small number of peer to peer relationships, today many facebook "stars" have millions of "friends", most of whom they would probably not recognize in the street. Many of those are not even people, but brands, which seem hardly capable of feelings such as friendship.

YouTube started out as a video sharing website, where every user could also be an uploader and the key purpose seemed to be sharing and exchanging amateur videos. Today, YouTube more clearly distinguishes between partners, who create content and viewers who consume it.

Yes, it is still possible for ordinary Joes or Janes to be friends with each other on Facebook or for any YouTube user to upload a video, but this is no longer the most relevant pattern of use.

Part of the reason for this change of focus may be that it turned out to be very hard to make money with user generated content. While it may be fun for a while to see a few random people's home videos or read about what they are having for lunch, in the long run, most of us favor for our entertainment some level of professionalism in content and production values. The platform operators also face an increasing pressure to make money and the easiest way to do this, is to cater to well funded entities who want to be your friend and want you to consume their content.

But while it's basically back to broadcast, back to being a fan, follower or viewer, the entities who are winning most of our attention are not necessarily the same old traditional household names.

Some blogs, like the The Huffington Post have become veritable new-media powerhouses or some musicians like Justin Bieber or Psy have managed to leverage their presence on YouTube into an A-list international career. And even at a less high-profile level, many talented musicians, photographers, writers or journalists, endowed with a certain knack for self-promotion, have managed to build for themselves a good career as new-media entrepreneurs or social media personalities.

With the digital media revolution, there is an exciting new world evolving before our eyes, but in some ways, it seems to turn out like the old one quite a bit more than I once had thought...