Mumbai: When Channel [V] India celebrated its 13th birthday in January, the music channel’s executives decided to celebrate by relinquishing control. They had amateurs film a 12-hour birthday concert, called The Big [V] Concert. The footage, shot with rudimentary video cameras, was grainy, shaky, and had an unfinished look to it, just what the channel wanted for a mini-series that went on air in February, Big [V] Concert: Made By You.
The channel believes that was the perfect start to a fundamental shift towards more user-created programming. “It’s going to be the new way of doing things,” says Amar Deb, the channel’s head, adding the focus on user-generated content will be stronger than on any other sort of programming.
News channels, including CNN-IBN, which pioneered the concept in India, ask users to contribute video clips and stories that can be aired, part of a trend they term citizen journalism. One channel recently aired a video clip of passengers left stranded and hungry after another interminable delay on the part of a discount airline; the company was stung enough to compensate the passengers. Another news channel, India TV, asks its viewers to send in ‘news, inspirational stories, social issues, or crimes’. The reward is usually about being on television although India TV also rewards the best entry of the day with a prize.
There’s a good reason for broadcasters’ new-found focus on user-generated content. Advertisers like the idea. Channel [V] generates around Rs2 crore of advertising revenue from each half-hour episode of its mini-series, according to an executive at the channel who did not wish to be named.
The executive adds that advertising spots on the programme command a premium of 25%. Broadcasters are also realizing that user-generated content gives them an opportunity to lower their programming costs and increase their engagement with the audience. Loyal viewers, after all, are critical to the channel’s ability to earn money from advertising or subscriptions.
Perfetti Van Melle India Pvt Ltd, a confectionery company whose Mentos brand sponsors the programme on Channel [V], found it a useful advertising vehicle. “We wanted to associate with our target audience in an environment where they were comfortable,” says Sameer Sahiya, the head of marketing for Perfetti. “And the programme works because it engages them.”
“We’re going to introduce the ‘Made By You’ element in all our concerts, and inject many of our programmes with it,” adds Deb. The channel’s plans for user-generated programming include some of its other shows, such as reality TV show Get Gorgeous and travelogue Freedom Express.
Mobile phone maker Nokia and VH1, a music channel, recently launched a promotional initiative called Shot By U, asking users in India to listen to a track by the local band Pentagram and submit a music video for it. “The response for it was tremendous,” says Sandeep Dahiya, the director of communications for VH1 in India. He adds that a couple of similar initiatives are in the pipeline.
User-generated content will have a role to play in the channel and website targeted at the youth being launched by Mumbai-based television company UTV. Executives at the channel were reluctant to talk about their plans but justified inviting users to create content. “It’s like a mirror,” says Zarina Mehta, the chief operating officer of the company. “Why does user generated content work? Why does a Marathi channel work? Local works,” she adds.
“These are just initial stages (in user-generated programming) we’re seeing, but the format will develop,” says Rajesh Jain, national industry director, information, communications and entertainment, of audit firm KPMG.
On the Internet, websites such as YouTube, which deal in videos uploaded by users, have witnessed their visitors grow by millions. According to the online user-moderated encyclopedia Wikipedia, BBC has a permanent team for user-generated content, and in 2006, the US movie studio New Line Cinemas added suggestions from Internet fans to its movie Snakes on a Plane.
Right now, channels have chosen to allow users generate specific kinds of content, rather than letting them send in anything they want to.
Channel [V], for instance, gave the amateurs cameras, but asked them to cover designated areas. This doesn't bother Sachin, a 21-year-old native of Mumbai who shot the concert, and who now interns at the company. “We could choose what to do, but within limits.”