Cable operators are reluctant to make big bets on user-generated content until they see proof it’s here to stay. The good news, however, is that getting an early foothold in the user-generated game as it evolves into more than a Web-based Internet fascination doesn’t cost much. After all, the users — not expensive studios and talent — make all this stuff on their own dime. MSOs need only create a platform that allows the user-generated community to grow, creating a bigger market for advertising and target-marketing opportunities — i.e., more ways to make money.
Time Warner Cable and others have alluded to plans to exploit the user-generated craze. But in February, Comcast became the first MSO to jump headfirst into the user-generated waters, striking a deal between its burgeoning Ziddio.com site (sort of Comcast Interactive Media’s answer to YouTube) and MySpace.com rival Facebook, which is almost certain to be gobbled up by a big media conglomerate at some point. Could that entity be Comcast? The MSO isn’t talking, but its deal to provide user-generated video to the social networking community could be the first step in something much larger — something that eventually will find its way onto TV screens rather than just the computer monitor.
The evidence is pretty clear: Not only have Comcast execs have been talking up user-generated content for months, but the Ziddio-Facebook deal contains an interesting TV convergence component: A new 10-episode VOD series in which Emmy-winning producer R.J. Cutler will weave his best user-gen video picks from Ziddio into Facebook Diaries. When it comes to Ziddio, that kind of migration to the TV platform could be the whole point. After all, why would Comcast want to take on a mammoth (and now Google-backed) force like YouTube on its own turf when the MSO could shift the playing field to the realm of the set-top box where it has the advantage?
Comcast Interactive Media SVP of content development Liz Schimel talks of even more sharing between the MSO’s broadband and VOD assets: "You’ll continue to see us rolling out features and sites, in particular [around] video. We’re tapping into the wealth and selection of video across Comcast."
The ability of Comcast and other MSOs to foster a user-generated culture among subscribers may be their best preemptive defense against competitors, which are going to have a tougher time peeling away triple-play subscribers who stand to lose access to a community rather than just a bundle of services. Bundles can be replicated. Communities, not so much. Cable operators have a big opportunity to lead the next generation of the user-generated masses — the User Generation, if you will. Those of us born before 1990 need not understand it. But we can certainly profit from it.
Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX Daily. He can be reached at email@example.com.