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Thursday, July 27, 2006

From AlwaysOn: `How Far Will Consumer-Generated Media Go?'

I stopped in at the AlwaysOn conference at Stanford yesterday to catch a couple sessions, do a few interviews, and meet with a couple folks.

Most interesting to me was a panel titled `How Far Will Consumer-Generated Media Go,' which featured YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley, the CEO of MP3 Tunes, and execs from Yahoo and Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment. There may be archived video of it on the AlwaysOn site, but I sure couldn't find it. (The entire conference was Webcast.)

Top-level ideas: The panelists all seemed to agree that consumer-generated content isn't going to be a meteor that renders professionally-produced content extinct. They also seemed to agree that it's hard to monetize content that comes from the grassroots... since consumers don't like it when ads start cropping up on sites like YouTube and MySpace, and advertisers are wary about the kind of content their messages are associated with (risque, political, copyright-infringing, etc.)

Hurley said that YouTube was "built for personal media, but has been used a lot for professional media. It's a platform to distribute media...a new way to get in front of an audience."

Michael Arrieta of Sony Pictures Digital Entertainment predicted (hopefully) that people will "still watch movies, as well as user-created stuff."

Hurley downplayed YouTube's impact on old media. "We're not trying to replace the experience of TV or a movie theater," he said, noting that YouTube streams videos at fairly low resolution. He said that he expected advertising to help carry the company to profitability, and that YouTube had been part of the development of "a new clip culture." Users' attention span, Hurley said, is about two or three minutes, and he doubted the site would see longer-form content take off. He said that over 60 percent of all Internet video streams in the U.S. originate from YouTube, and that their nearest competitor (MSN Video?) was in the teens.

Arrieta said that he believed in the Internet as a new tool for discovering talent. "Sony's investment in iFilm," he said, "was because we saw it as a way to source talent." He acknowledged that they hadn't yet found the next Steven Spielberg, but that Sony had hired several filmmakers, discovered via iFilm, to work on small projects for the studio.

Arrieta said he's skeptical that the average person sitting at a computer in Des Moines is going to start cranking out feature films, but that he thinks they might create movie trailer mash-ups. Of course, the problem with letting users get their hands on studio content, he said, was "talent agreements and all sorts of copyright issues."

Hurley predicted that Internet video would "take a few years to leap to the TV set."

Funniest moment: when Wall Street Journal reporter Kara Swisher, who was moderating the panel, asked Hurley how it felt, at the Allen & Company Sun Valley conference earlier this month, to "be licked up and down" by the assembled media moguls.