That user-generated content can be a mine field for advertisers is nothing new. Most brands don't want their commercials playing around lewd, inappropriate or illegal content, but user-gen is now a fact of life. As digital video begins to take root in different arenas of our lives, advertisers are going to need to tap into it to ensure they're reaching their targets. Those publishers that win the trust of advertisers will be those who identify where engaging user-gen content is coming from and make it safe for their clients.
This past month was a great month for music. The CMJ festival crammed several indie-bands into back-to-back lineups around the city, and headliners stormed the Garden and Radio City. I personally got to witness Colin Meloy of The Decemberists orchestrate a massive dance contest in the balcony of the Hammerstein Ballroom. At another concert, Ben Folds got the audience to lock arms and sing along to a piano rendition of Dr. Dre's "B*tchs Ain't Sh*t." Because the glow of dancing lighters has been replaced by the glow of dancing cell phones, and because of cases like United States v. Martignon, which put the distribution of live performance recordings into a gray zone, both 2006 concert moments were online before I got back to my apartment.
More than a thousand people watched audience-collected clips of each of the shows I was at, and the venues only held about 2,500 people each.
User-generated (user-recorded) content that captures a moment and shares an experience is extremely engaging for its audience, and is a giant leap away from the "lets-see-what-happens-when-we-play-monkey-in-the-middle-with-a-cinder-block" type of frat house videos people generally associate with user-gen.
Some user-generated content can be near-guaranteed to be advertiser-friendly, and there are ways that publishers can monetize it without hiring an army of human screeners to watch each uploaded clip.
Aggregate the content intelligently
Publishers who urge users to create videos about specific subject matters stand a better chance of receiving advertiser-friendly video than those that simply urge users to "Give us your video." Why would someone who produces snuff films upload video to a site focused on travel content or consumer product reviews? (Publishers who aggregate video for their user base also make inventory easier for media planners to buy and legitimize since what's being sold isn't just AN audience, but a relevant, engaged audience.)
Institute non-advertising areas or view-minimums as a litmus test
Every party has a pooper, and anytime publishers open themselves up to content from the outside world, they risk exposing their users to other users who have exposed themselves. That said, publishers need to utilize player technology that allows viewers to easily call the publisher's attention to potentially inappropriate content. In addition to this, publishers need to make sure that user-generated videos are viewed a minimum number of times by a specific number of unique users before ads are sold around it. While these numbers will vary per site, if a certain percentage of a publisher's audience deems the video appropriate, then it's likely that advertisers will see that there is no harm in being associated with the content.
For those users whose content is repeatedly flagged, penalties such as suspension or revocation of their upload rights can be enforced. This type of punishment, especially in the evolving world of social networking, effectively banishes the user from the land, making a pariah of them… and no one wants to be a pariah.
Technology for better screening
Even when you've got users creating content for a specific purpose, and you've got your audience functioning as a virtual watchdog group, a dedicated human resource can be very effective, if not necessary in screening video content. To aid that person, technology exists that can both pull out key frames of videos every few seconds and present them as jpegs, as well as analyze video files for certain audio key words. Running users' videos through these types of flash plug-ins during the encoding process can help flag content before it goes out to users.
When all is said and done, some user-generated content is really good, but while its popularity is growing, it is still not easy for advertisers to get comfortable with. As users capture more and more video that web audiences want to watch, though, publishers are going to need to make sure that the content is as advertising-friendly as possible, and in this evolving new media world, that might be all advertisers require in order to ensure they reach their markets.
Got other ideas on making user-generated content advertising-friendly? I'd love to hear them.
Bradley Werner is the director of marketing, The Fifth Network. Read full bio.