Here’s my latest OnlineSpin Column in MediaPost:
THE PEW INTERNET & AMERICAN Life Project recently issued its Home Broadband Adoption 2006 report, which rightly devoted significant attention to consumer-generated media (CGM). Based on two U.S. telephone tracking surveys, the report estimated that:
- At the end of March 2006, 42 percent of Americans had high-speed connections at home, up from 30 percent in March 2005, or a 40 percent increase.
- Overall, 35 percent of all Internet users–or 48 million–have posted content to the internet (CGM), and this included having one’s own blog; having one’s own Web page; working on a blog or Web page for work or a group; or sharing self-created content such as a story, artwork, or video.
- An even higher percentage of home broadband users–42 percent or about 31 million people–have posted content to the Internet. This group accounts for 73 percent of all home Internet users who were the source of online content.
While Pew offered no comparable past estimates for CGM creation to determine growth, the findings nonetheless suggest that CGM creation is a huge deal and its link to broadband is inextricable.
Why? Because CGM creation (and consumption) are generally online activities, their frequency and intensity naturally will increase as users adopt broadband and benefit from a faster, always-on experience. That’s a general trend we’ve all known for years. It applies to virtually every popular CGM platform, from USENET to message and live discussion boards, to blogs and even live one-on-one chat among others.
But beyond more textually-based CGM platforms come emerging platforms for consumer-generated multimedia, such as images, audio and video. Consumer-generated multimedia, or CGM2, are often highly engaging and entertaining, offer immediate gratification and usually are among the most emotionally impacting (seeing is believing). But there’s a caveat: these platforms require broadband from the start. No question.
Consider uploading and downloading still images to and from a photo-sharing site, sharing or viewing a home movie on a video site, or creating and subscribing to podcasts. All of these platforms are destined for greater adoption, if not ubiquity, but they all require broadband access. Chances are slim that you would even post text-based information about multimedia content to the Web if you don’t have broadband to begin with.
This points to a powerful, perhaps mutually dependent, relationship between CGM and broadband; they support each other’s continued demand and growth. The more people adopt broadband, the more people will be able to engage in and enjoy CGM. And the more people who benefit from CGM, the more they will need to adopt broadband (the network effect).
This will be a critical trend and relationship to watch, as there will be numerous ramifications. Here are three:
First, more CGM2 and broadband will lead to greater involvement and consequences for marketers. CGM2 often equates to richer, more emotional experiences–similar to television–so we’ll see many marketers intrigued by that. Conversely, intensified CGM creation and the emergence of CGM2 will result in more unintended consequences for brands. There’ve been several high-profile examples of brands being impacted both negatively and positively by consumer-created video, but the frequency of both outcomes is going to increase.
Second, a proliferation of CGM2 will mean that traditional programmers and publishers–including radio and television–will have many new niche competitors jockeying for their viewers’ and readers’ attention. This will drive greater thirst and expectation for more niche content, on demand, juxtaposed with interactivity and affinity community. It will drive consumers to question the value of the network, when none is needed to deliver desirable content.
Third, increased broadband penetration and corresponding CGM adoption will add an interesting twist to the net neutrality debate. PCMag.com recently reported that accusations began emerging in the blogosphere that BellSouth was denying customers access to YouTube and MySpace, services which store and play back consumer-generated videos. As this case proves, the issue of net neutrality goes beyond neutrality for content and services between businesses and consumers; it now apples to content and services between consumers themselves.
But the BellSouth example makes one thing clear: Citizens themselves will be perhaps the most influential force in encouraging and policing net neutrality among the corporations which support broadband infrastructure. Those heavy users of CGM platforms are the people most sensitive to any impartiality, and precisely the ones most likely to raise their hands and protest loudly.
How do you think continued broadband and CGM proliferation will shape our mediascape?