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Media Execs See Peril And Promise In User-Generated Content

Accenture and Hitwise stats released this week question whether user-generated content is really a threat to mainstream media companies.

Media company executives see the growth of consumer-generated content as a challenge, but the rebel army turns out to be smaller than most believed.

This week, Accenture released the results of its annual survey of media and entertainment company executives. Some 57% of survey respondents cited the proliferation of amateur videos, podcasts, and online social publishing as one of the top three challenges they face today.

"This is just the beginning for a rapidly changing landscape where the media content environment grows more fractious and the user gains more control and power," said Gavin Mann, digital media lead for Accenture's Media & Entertainment practice, in a statement. "Traditional, established content providers will have to adapt and develop new business and monetization models in order to keep revenue streams flowing. The key to success will be identifying new forms of content that can complement their traditional strengths."

Yet at the Web 2.0 Expo on Tuesday, Hitwise's general manager of research, Bill Tancer, revealed that his company's data showed that far fewer users contributed content to community media sites than expected. A mere 0.16% of YouTube users upload videos and only 0.2% of Flickr users upload photos.

Wikipedia showed substantially greater participation, with some 4.6% of users editing the site's articles.

Such findings call into question whether user-generated content is really a threat to mainstream media companies. America's Funniest Home Videos, after all, wasn't exactly a stake through Hollywood's heart.

Times and distribution models change, however. Ted Shelton, VP of business development at Technorati and one of the panelists in a Web 2.0 Expo session on "How Web 2.0 is Transforming Media," argues media professionals are right to be concerned because a small percentage of a huge number of users is still substantially disruptive.

Pointing specifically to bloggers -- 2% of people online, according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project -- Shelton explained in an e-mail that "2% of a billion people online is still 20 million people writing blogs on a regular basis. Those 20 million people are often closer to the subject then a journalist can ever be -- they are domain experts, they live in the area, they are experiencing the event in real time. Very few of those 20 million people actually worry about getting paid for what they do. People under 25 are much more likely to blog (and contribute content of other kinds) so this may be a phenomenon that is increasing."

"So if I were a media exec, I wouldn't be worried about what is happening today," Shelton concluded. "But I would be very worried about the trends."

In a blog post, Jupiter Research analyst Barry Parr also sees user-generated content as more significant that Tancer's figures suggest. "Just because the participation rate on any given site is low, that doesn't mean that posting by Web users is limited to a small number of people," he said. "In a recent survey, we found that nearly a third of online consumers have posted content to a social network, blog or media site." That survey should be released shortly.

The Accenture study indicates that most media company executives think they're up to challenge. Sixty-eight percent of the respondents said they expected to be making money from user-generated content within three years.

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