I’ve long said here that I dislike the phrase ‘user-generated content,’ for all the usual reasons (‘users’ sounds dismissive, blah blah blah). Also, ‘user-generated TV’ seems to me an oxymoron.

Ved Sen puts it rather elegantly, in a critique of Mint Digital’s second UGTV conference (I laid into the first one last year; from the second we at least have photos):

Television, by design works at a large scale. Because of its technology, capital intensity and overall structure, it only works for millions of people at a time. It simply doesn’t work for a few hundreds. That’s why Youtube works – not because of the half a dozen videos that get seen by the whole world, but because of the thousands of videos which individually get seen by a few people. For User Generated content to go on TV – it needs to be good enough for a million plus audiences. How many pieces of user-content merit that kind of audience. It seems a bit like forcing a square peg in a round hole. Think of going the other way – imagine trying to create mass-Internet content. Why would you do that?

To me, the whole concept of UGTV seems not so much backwards, as inside-out. Which doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen – as Sen goes on to note, Current.tv is interesting because it targets a very specific niche for which the approach might just work. But fixating on UGTV isn’t necessarily a way to get things done in general.

Last week I was giving informal advice on a funding pitch. ‘It’s so hard to get decent news coverage in this field,’ said the people preparing the pitch, ‘So: we want to fund someone to identify good stories, and to push them to the media.’

I thought they were crazy – they’d be paying an amateur to do high-level PR. Their thinking is based in an out-of-date concept: that ‘the media’ = press and broadcast. Don’t get me wrong, printing presses and television transmitters are expensive bits of infrastructure, and there’s a certain sense in having newspapers and television companies as gatekeepers. But you no longer have to play that game if you don’t want to.

My suggestion was that they instead pay the staffer to get out and make the news films they wanted to see, and publish themselves. Their contention is that the stories are of interest to the public, but not enough interest to make it past news editors. Fine – offer your stories to the public and see if they bite.

“But… where’s the audience?” they worried.
“I thought you said these stories were of interest to the public?” I countered.
“Oh, come on. You want to target teenagers. What’s the audience penetration of BBC Local Radio News in that demographic, compared to – say – Bebo? And you see more risk in this approach?”

The BBC Local Radio News journo in the room didn’t look happy. But really, the only people with anything to fear are those who are too tightly-bound to the existing infrastructure and its gatekeepers.

People like… those at UGTV’07?