Mainstream media sparking citizen journalism

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LONDON -- Former Vice President Al Gore, who launched his Current TV interactive channel here this week, is not alone in his desire to involve TV viewers in a new form of "democratic conversation."

Mainstream players across Europe and Asia are developing revolutionary citizen journalism strategies in a bid to maintain a dialogue with their increasingly fickle viewers.

Five channel programming head Lisa Opie unveiled plans last week to open its flagship news program Five News to video input from viewers, saying the network will move user-generated content from the fringes of its fare to center stage.

"Our relationship with viewers is set to change radically," she said of the relaunch. "Viewers are already encouraged to send in their own filmed reports and suggestions for stories. Instead of being an appendage, it will now sit at the heart of what we do."

Five plans to weave citizen journalism input -- user-generated video, messaging and short reports -- through its news and talk shows throughout the day.

Similar moves are being played out by other RTL-owned channels in Europe, including Germany's RTL and Spain's Antena 3.

The Spanish channel, 19%-owned by RTL, has begun hosting a Web site to allow viewers to post video clips for its "TuClip" news show before the best are selected to go on air.

" 'TuClip' makes the most of a reality that is becoming more and more prevalent," Antena 3 director of marketing Adolfo Alvarez said. "The audience is creating its own content, not just on the Internet but on television."

But quality has been an issue, he concedes. The month-old service has received more than 8,000 videos, but only about 15 have made it onto TV screens.

"We've set our goal for the first year not in terms of the percentage of videos that get used but in stability of the flow ... the ideal scenario would be that 'TuClip' feeds the channel on a daily basis," Alvarez said.

The traditionally conservative German media industry has rushed to embrace user-generated content, with commercial broadcasters ProSiebenSat.1 and RTL pumping money into IPTV ventures and launching crossover shows featuring viewer-produced content.

Both RTL and ProSiebenSat.1 are aggressively cross-fertilizing between their over-the-air and over-the-Internet operations. ProSieben acquired a 30% stake in portal MyVideo last year. RTL has built up its own site.

MyVideo has a show on Berlin-based network Sat.1 that picks the best viral videos from the Web, while "Webmix," a kid-focused Internet video program, runs on Super RTL.

Europe appears to be in the vanguard of the user-generated revolution. In Asia, despite the high broadband penetration across the continent, the employment of user-driven content on TV remains in the nascent stage.

In Korea, which has one of the world's highest broadband usage rates, SK Communications' Cyworld service is teaming with Korea's IPTV pioneer Hana TV to give the week's best user-generated videos prizes and then put them onscreen.

Singapore's monopoly broadcaster MediaCorp. last month added an audience participation slot to the nightly primetime news show on 24-hour news Channel Newsasia.

The "Your News" section includes contributions each day from across Asia, and is part of MediaCorp. News' efforts to interact closely with English-speaking audiences in the region, said MediaCorp. News' CEO Woon Tai Ho.

"We decided to have a daily segment and encourage people to contribute continuously, not just when there are disasters," Woon said.

Although Singapore maintains a strict official line on media content, censorship is not an issue for "Your News," Woon said. "It's more an editorial issue. ... We try not to pick the obvious stories."

Although digital technology and interactive audiences are driving the participation television revolution, contributions don't necessarily have to be in video form to make it to air, Woon said. "Sometimes they come on a postcard and we read them out. It's the story that counts."

Scott Roxborough in Cologne, Germany, Pamela Rolfe in Madrid, Janine Stein in Hong Kong and Mark Russell in Seoul contributed to this report.
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