Looking back, looking forward

This morning’s Observer column

This year was also the one in which old-media companies came out of denial about what they had hitherto regarded as an oxymoron, ‘user-generated content’ – text, audio, imagery and video created and published by mere amateurs. (Think of blogging, Flickr and YouTube.) Having awoken from their slumbers, the Time-Warners of the world reasoned thus: how can we exploit this garbage? After all, there’s a serious financial opportunity here.

If you’re an old-media outfit, creating ‘content’ is an expensive business: you have to hire producers, directors, studios, actors, writers and a host of other low-life types, pay them good money up front and wait until they produce the goods. Only then can you start to make money from it. But the explosion of user-generated content suggests that there are millions of schmucks out there who are willing to do all this for free! So the question for the old-media world was: ‘how do we cash in on this racket?’