Raymond Snoddy on media: User content won't kill off old media

Predictions about the future of the media are as common as cut-price mince pies at this time of year. But some deserve more attention than others - few more so than the annual Media Predictions from consultants Deloitte.

It's usually time to duck when the predictive tomes start flying at the turn of the year. This piece of work is based on input from more than 5000 managers in the technology, media and telecommunications sectors and interviews with 36 chief executives.

What have they all come up with? User-generated content (UGC) is going to devastate the professional media? Not exactly.

The activities of bloggers, citizen journalists and amateur film-makers will come to complement the established media's output. 'However ... owning a professional-quality video camera, a PC or a mobile phone is unlikely to imbue the majority of people with talent,' notes Deloitte.

In fact, in many cases the quality of UGC may actually prove to be a vindication of the media industry and its standards rather than an assault upon it.

And, by the way, the online channels that specialise in UGC will also be excellent promotional vehicles for the traditional media, as well as an effective medium for scouting for new talent.

Lots of good sense here and, by chance, consultancy Screen Digest comes to similarly realistic conclusions in a report this week on the user-generated online video market. It believes the honeymoon period is already over for the market that saw YouTube spring fully formed into the world, and that revenue will be slow to develop in future.

In the US, user-generated material accounted for 47% of the online video market last year, a proportion that could rise to 55% by 2010. Despite such dominance, UGC will by then account for only 15% of total online video revenue, most of it coming from advertising.

Deloitte is even sanguine about traditional print publishing. Interactive advertising will continue on its way to becoming a $20bn (£10.2bn) industry worldwide, but 439m people will still buy a newspaper every day.

'Digital and paper will retain their distinctive strengths and may often be able to promote each other,' say the Deloitte specialists, who believe that over the course of this year it is going to become increasingly clear that print and pixels can enjoy a symbiotic, profitable co-existence.

People also shouldn't be getting too carried away with the Long Tail theory - the ability to use the internet to sell the back catalogues of media companies.

This may generate nice additional revenue, but not every title in the library is going to turn into a goldmine and the internet may, if anything, serve to strengthen the position of blockbusters.

Broadband and video on demand (VOD) is going to be big - but not that big. Deloitte estimates that less than 5% of about 300m consumer broadband connections may be fast enough for high-quality VOD. As a result, media companies, at least for now, should regard VOD as just one of a number of routes to market rather than a panacea.

Traditional TV companies will win some compensation at least for sharp falls in advertising revenue from increasing levels of audience participation through voting, competitions and TV shopping.

Media Predictions also includes a heartfelt plea for the creation of metrics that provide like-for-like comparisons between traditional and new media performance. The need is becoming ever more urgent.

And, if that's not enough predictions for you, here's one from The World Advertising Research Centre: if you can hang on for long enough, advertising in the UK could be worth £22bn by 2018 - up from a mere £16bn last year.

30 SECONDS ON ... VIDEO ON DEMAND

- The world's first commercial VOD service was launched in the early-90s in Hong Kong. However, immature technology and the lack of a pay TV culture in the region led to heavy financial losses, and the service was eventually discontinued.

- After a number of small-scale trials by cable companies, HomeChoice was the first full VOD service to launch in the UK. Going live in 1999, its service was limited to the London area. HomeChoice was bought by Tiscali last year.

- VOD allows the viewer to select content to view either over an interactive TV network or via broadband to a PC; it is either downloaded in full before viewing or streamed from the broadcaster's servers. Sky has used a slightly different peer-to-peer distribution method.

- Earlier this month Sky announced that it will add VOD capabilities to its Sky+ boxes this year.

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