Thursday, September 28, 2006

Part 6. Amateur / Professional

This is Part 6 in a multi-post series on the topics of Participatory Media and Consumer Generated Content.

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You hear, as one might expect, dismissals and criticisms of social media and "amateur" content by professionals that work within the traditional media establsihment. The 3 biggest are:

1. Amateur content just can't compete with professional.
2. People will always prefer slick, professionally produced content.
3. Amateurs may be capable of one-off hits, but the entertainment industry "machine" is necessary to produced serialized, quality content on a regular basis.

The terms amateur and professional are becoming less and less meaningful for me. This seems to be another instance where, beyond describing content that has been monetized and is expected to make money, "professional" means very little. At the end of the day I don't think that people care very much if a huge industry act or a kid in his basement made a song they are listening to. It's either a good song or it's not.

The place a piece of content occupies within the shared cultural experience IS an important factor. As I've described in previous posts in this series, one of primary functions of cultural content is to give us a sense of connectedness to one another, to bind us into tribes of like-minded people. A professionally produced piece of content is more likely to achieve a bigger position on the cultural radar, to have more shared value, but that is a very different issue than whether or not a piece of content had "professional", corporately backed origins.

Corporate structures used to play a very important and much needed role. The creation of content was too complex and expensive to be done without the level of organization and financing they provided. Not only is this no longer true, but I believe that in the drive to realize more and more profit they have seriously erroded their ability to function effectively as generators of content that has meaningful value.

Take a survey of the output of media companies over the last 3 years.

The movie industry is capable of producing very little that isn't based on content that has a proven track record. The big franchises are all based on remakes and classic comic characters. The movie industry used to look down its nose at television, today, old hit series are one of the biggest sources of ideas for studio movies. Even rehashed Broadway revivals are a primary source of ideas.

Broadway itself doesn't seem capable of producing much original content. One of the few show show I've enjoyed in the last 5 years was Urinetown, which originated as a Fringe Festival Piece. What can you expect from Broadway this season? The Grinch, a remake of a much loved and very old cartoon.

Televison has knuckled-up in the last couple of years but it is still primarily sitcoms of the archaic, formulaic variety and reality shows. If it were not for the example set and pressure applied from cable programming we probably would not have shows like 24 and Lost. I still can't figure out why, with so many channels showing "nothing" or re-runs why a show like "Arrested Development" would be cancelled. Can someone explain this to me?

"500 channels and nothing on" is a cliche, but it's true. In fact, a lot of what is on those channels I don't consider to be content at all, I call it the "display of data". Real estate listings, stock prices and weather information are not communicative content, it is the display of data.

I have a friend that, after purchasing a massive, flat-panael television realized that he spends most of his time "watching the wall". He explained that most of the time he is watching shows and movies that he has already seen and he might as well be staring at the wall.

This is all going to change. The means of production continue to drop and continue to get more and more sophisticated. New models of creation and distribution are begining to emerge. This really is just the begining. The truth is, the bloated corporate entities that were once relied on to produce content have become too expensive to themselves to be effective at generating content. It's no wonder, and it should be no surprise that YouTube has become so popular so quickly.

The drive to maximize profit beyond reasonable expectations has been destructive in other American industries as well. Advertising and automobile manufacturing are good examples. One of the ways that the automobile industry created efficiencies was to create shared vehicle platforms. The basic idea here is the creation of underlying parts that can be repurposed on a number of vehicles. Taken too far this has resulted in vehicles that all look the same and a lack of differentiation accross brands. Ford is no longer the #2 automaker and soon GM won't be number one.

Re-runabouts. The Ford Expedition and Mercury Navigator. Are they really that different?

In the quest to squeeze out a little bit more and a little bit more they're chocking the geese that lay the golden eggs. You can't squeeze much more than shit out of a dead goose, and that is exactly what's happening.

• • •

On Participatory Media and User Generated Content. A multi-post series.

Part 1. Talking to Ourselves
It's what people do!

Part 2. What Are We Talking About?
Defining the terms and context.

Part 3. Its Gotten Personal
The points of connection are now directly to, and between, individuals.

Part 4. The Relative Value of Content (is Dropping)

Part 5. Distortions in Truth & Reality and a Crisis of Credibility

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