Winegar: User-generated content boasts buisness profit, nothing for you

By By Bridger Winegar

By Bridger Winegar

YouTube is probably the most blatant example of the ever-blooming trend of user-generated content, but it isn’t alone. From corporations to music groups, it seems everyone is interested in exploiting this new content stream.

The process goes something like this: Company provides users with a free platform to display their work, users provides company with free content, and company provides itself with the profits gained through ad revenue and other sources.

What many people fail to realize is that by uploading their latest creation to one of countless user-driven websites, they are essentially volunteering their camcorder skills to purchase someone’s private jet and getting nothing in return.

It’s been nearly two years since Google purchased YouTube for $1.65 billion, and the company has yet to turn a significant profit on the 21st Century version of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Google doesn’t seem worried, though, and it shouldn’t be. The company has proven its ability to transform its dozens of acquisitions into moneymakers through streamlined interfaces and clever advertising.

Google has in YouTube something every business would move its operations to South East Asia for: cheap labor. And unlike Nike or Kathie Lee Gifford, YouTube doesn’t need adorable children with a knack for sewing in order to produce goods – just adorable children with parents willing to film them.

According to an ongoing study by the Digital Ethnography group of Kansas State University, YouTube was home to 78.3 million videos as of March, with an average upload rate of more than 150,000 videos a day. Of those millions of videos, 95 percent are non-commercial efforts. When it inevitably finds a way to monetize YouTube’s massive amount of content, Google could very well have the world’s most enthusiastic non-paid work force.

Others are using the internet to find people who are not only willing to give away their work, but who are happy to pay to give it away. Radiohead held a contest throughout April and May in which fans could compete by remixing the band’s song “Nude” and uploading it to a website where a vote would take place. Outside the promise posted on their website that the band would “listen to the best mixes,” the contest held no actual prize for winners. The band provided five different “stems” from the song available for purchase via iTunes to make the remixing process easier, meaning entrants to the contest would be paying as much as $5 to simply enter the competition. What’s more, the contest’s official rules stated that once a remix was submitted, it became property of the band’s corporate record label Warner Chappell Music, meaning future profits from remixes will never be seen by their creators.

The potential to have one’s remix heard and the possibility of being able to someday brag “Thom Yorke would be slightly less wealthy without me,” are certainly exciting, but the 2,252 remixes displayed on the competition’s website submitted to the prize-less contest provide an excellent example of the willingness of content creators to be manipulated.

Arts and entertainment aren’t the only fields being mined for the “Will Work for Comments” generation. Both CNN and the Fox News Channel have launched user-driven news sites, the brilliantly titled iReport and uReport websites, respectively. The idea of anyone having the power to report news is exciting until one realizes that it’s been this way all along, except people were once paid for doing so. These user-generated news sites endanger the possibility of a person receiving compensation for a newsworthy photograph. After all, why would CNN pay one random eyewitness for their photo when the person standing next to them has already uploaded their photo to iReport? The user agreements on the websites for the Fox and CNN programs allow for the organizations to claim the rights to profits from user-submitted material.

It seems that a bit of attention and the shred of a chance to be “discovered” are payment enough for those creating user-generated content. It’s difficult to blame those willing to take advantage of such users when they show so much enthusiasm to provide their work for so little. However, as profits from user-generated content grow, creators of such work should be prepared to fight for part of the success. A million views of your two-minute clip may be a great cause for bragging to friends, but a slice of the ad revenue the video produced could be an even better reason. The next time you’re ready to hit that video upload button, consider who is really benefiting from your window-washing squirrel.

[email protected]