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The Perfect Storm: 2006 Media & Entertainment Year in Review

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The year 2006 seems to be the year of colliding adages. And like a room full of monkeys typing millions of transcripts in hopes of someday punching out Act III of Macbeth, sometimes the signals and interpretations get messier before they get clearer. Once we’re a year further down the road, we’ll be able to tell if 2006 was the breakwater in a harbor of massive adoption of web-based video or an anomaly in the trend for mainstream media to move to digital transmission while maintaining a separate delivery medium. Somewhere in those reams of monkey-babble, however, are signs that 2006 will be viewed as a turning point in streaming media.

Consumers: Content Creators, Passive Viewers, or Next Year’s Mainstream Media Anchor?
2006 yielded a groundswell in consumer-created content. This consumer content uptick portends a day in which the separate adages "content is king" and "the customer is always right" will merge together into a truism along the lines of "consumer content is king, queen, bread, and butter."

From blip.tv’s innovative product, which CNN has licensed for its I-Report tool; to the video sharing sites like YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook; to sites like VideoJug and ViewDo, consumer content is taking the entertainment industry by storm. In some ways, this move to consumer-generated content is a natural extension of reality television, but in other ways it’s more the cousin of the text blogs used by grassroots thought leaders and bleeding-edge public relations firms as an equalizer for product or concept endorsements with more reality and less television, including lower production values that make the endorsement appear more realistic and less polished.

Consumer content-generation blogs rose to prominence in 2005 but remained on the web, separate from mainstream media and viewed by traditional media outlets with significant skepticism. Then YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook exploded onto the scene, generating more content in several months than many mainstream media and entertainment outlets generate in an entire year.

The entertainment and informational models these sites put into play was the polar opposite of the mainstream media model for rolling out content. Rather than holding content for several months prior to release, these sites allowed anyone with a few minutes to record and upload content. Rather than limiting reviews of mainstream, high production-value content to a chosen few film and television critics, viewers of content on these new sites can immediately respond with ratings, comments and—in a completely offhanded compliment—upload their own video responses to videos they vehemently disagree with or parody and mimic those they utterly enjoyed.

By mid-2006, though, the mainstream media began to take a different stance. In a telling sign of the coming shift in media, mainstream media took some of the professional bloggers—an oxymoron that is rapidly entering common parlance—to heart. By the end of 2006, mainstream media routinely quoted or interviewed bloggers, and a few video bloggers, such as Amanda Congdon of Rocketboom who had famously been UnBoomed, even found paying gigs in traditional media outlets.

By late 2006, at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam, it was apparent that even traditional media tools are being geared to take advantage of consumer video content creation. A Spanish company called Createcna, working separately from blip.tv, created a product called 3G News Mobile Studio that won the prestigious IBC Innovation Award. The product, which beat out many products from traditional content tool manufacturers, had a very simple premise: allow consumers to call in to a network television news program and report as stringers from anywhere on a 3G mobile network. Their content would immediately be broadcast live on a traditional news program across traditional cable and on-air networks. 3G News Mobile Studio, already in use in Europe, appears set to make its debut in the U.S. market in 2007.

The biggest question remains unanswered, though: Will consumer content be simply a passing fad or will it become the next publishing industry? Will mainstream media leverage the desire for 15 seconds of fame and use video bloggers as a much bigger base of stringers that it pays significantly less than its current crop of professional stringers and reporters? And will other viewers view the objectivity (or lack thereof) of consumers who are being paid for their views any differently than these same consumers view paid celebrity endorsements? Most of all, will the average consumer be savvy enough to tell the difference between authentic, unfiltered consumer-generated content and mainstream content generated by consumers?

Entertainment Media: Buy Once, Consume Anywhere; or Buy It Again for Every Device?
2006 also brought about the twisted adage "content yearns to be free." From consumers uploading to YouTube and MySpace copyrighted content that they had purchased or recorded legitimately but for which they didn’t own the rights—causing the former to craft a deal with several media giants just before its acquisition by Google, and resulting in a copyright infringement lawsuit for the latter—to the growing number of portable media players, consumers are clamoring for choice in their media viewing venues.

TiVo, five years after its rival ReplayTV was sued for creating the ability to share content between devices, has launched its TiVoToGo, based loosely on Sling Media’s Slingbox concept. Sling Media’s box allows viewers to watch their local television content regardless of where they are—more of a place-shifting than the time-shifting made possible by VCRs and TiVos. But interest is strong, especially for those who travel frequently, in being able to view content purchased once on many devices, no matter where they got the content from originally. A recent study by Gartner and Texas Instruments suggested that consumer interest will continue to rise and advocated technological solutions to deal with real-time transcoding that would make place-shifting and timeshifting easier.

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