Users redefining online plans


Is user-generated content a passing fad or a revolutionary concept?

Fox Interactive president Media Ross Levinsohn said he's leaning toward the latter notion during a panel session Tuesday held as part of the Forbes Media Electronic Entertainment and Technology conference at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

"Now anybody with any talent has no barriers to get that talent out," said Levinsohn, adding that at the same time nothing in the current climate of Internet programming makes sense.

Roger McNamee, managing partner of private equity firm Elevation Partners, said the whole idea of content created by everyday folks is redefining not only how content is produced but in what format it is presented. What's also notable is how much time people spend in creating their mash-ups and the like.

"This notion of shortform (content) becomes more valuable," McNamee said. "The unit value of entertainment is going way up. Everything is shifting in the way we use time and space."

McNamee said that to him, the more profound point is how much time people are spending creating it.

Describing his company as built out of user-generated content, Gregg Spiridellis, co-founder of JibJab Media, emphasized the power of branding and noted the overlooked area of Web content that is neither professionally produced nor user-generated but falls somewhere in the middle.

"User-generated content in a lot of ways is a commodity, so you can create value by creating a brand, and we can create small properties that can be economically viable," Spiridellis said.

While Current TV CEO Joel Hyatt noted that different brands fill different consumer needs, he also said that shortform content is an important part of Current's approach, describing his company as the "TV homepage of the Internet."

"We picked an old-fashioned platform because it has a good business model, but what it hasn't had is the innovativeness of the Internet," Hyatt said about the medium of television.

With 120 million profiles currently on FIM's MySpace, Levinsohn said that innovation is only going to increase with greater content tools.

"Politicians are using sites like YouTube to deliver messages and create new businesses," Levinsohn said. "People are using these platforms to organize their lives."

An earlier panel examining "The Next Video Revolution" included executives Chad Hurley, CEO and co-founder of YouTube; Jennifer Feikin, director of multimedia search at Google; Nancy Liu, CEO of NeuLion; Jeff Macpherson, creator of Tiki Bar TV; and Robert Schmitz, chairman of Premium TV Ltd.

Noting the greater resources that Google will provide with its recent $1.65 billion acquisition of YouTube, Hurley said the success of any video-rich site still depends on the quality of experience.

"Google has built in a great system when it comes to advertising, but it's about how viewers use the content," Hurley said.

Feikin said there are no winners or losers with the emergence of user-generated content.

"The platform is so much bigger," Feikin said. "The Internet is creating new content now, but (traditional entertainment firms in) Hollywood and New York are definitely not going away."