Couch potato uprising

Can user-generated content do for TV what Wikipedia has done for Web 2.0? Are we entering a new age when the airwaves will be programmed by communities of viewers, all wired up for contribution and collaboration? Obviously, we're not there (yet?), but Canadian broadcasters are dipping their feet into new ways of using citizen-produced TV.

Can user-generated content do for TV what Wikipedia has done for Web 2.0? Are we entering a new age when the airwaves will be programmed by communities of viewers, all wired up for contribution and collaboration? Obviously, we’re not there (yet?), but Canadian broadcasters are dipping their feet into new ways of using citizen-produced TV.

CTV hopped on board with the blockbuster-sized Spielberg/Burnett reality search for the next great filmmaker, On the Lot, which used an online UGC community hub to scout for contestants and showcase their content. CBC’s summer lineup includes Exposure, which brings the same premise to Canadians and adds a viewer-voting strategy to package the best of UGC for a July 29 premiere.

News and specialty nets, however, are harnessing the user-gen trend for brand building.

CHUM’s come a long way since the early days of Speakers Corner and the send-us-your-cardboard-cutouts on MuchMusic’s RSVP show. Citytv more recently added citizen journalism to the mix and embraced the tools of UGC in its news-gathering operations at Citynews.ca. With over 10 million page views per month, the company’s most successful online property opened the doors a little wider last summer with It’s Your Story, a sponsored site that allows users to upload content, which could hit the air or get followed up by journalists. The reward for participating, outside of winning a camcorder, is getting things covered at the local level.

VP content business development Maria Hale says CHUM’s UGC efforts moving forward will focus more on ‘contextualized submissions. It’s not about trying to be the next YouTube, where you upload whatever you want. For us, it’s really about staying on message and creating a community around a certain brand. We’re going to be launching new approaches. Right now, viewers submit a news story on whatever, but what we’re finding is that our audience needs a bit more specific direction.’

On the youth side, MuchMusic fans created CD cases for Finger Eleven (reward: the band chose one for distribution), uploaded snippets of a Hedley video (reward: the winning entry chosen by the band ran on air), and did their best impressions of the Sunsilk ‘Bride Has Massive Hair Wig Out’ for a whole weekend of branded on-air fun.

MuchMusic.com‘s Show Me Yours UGC community – usable via web or mobile – has already let sponsors in on the contest opps. The brand’s latest use of the platform let fans compete – via uploaded videos – for the chance to introduce a performer at the MuchMusic Video Awards, while CHUM’s Star! Daily tied Herbal Essences to an upload-your-best-pose contest for a chance to stroll down the MMVA’s red carpet in June.

MTV Canada has dabbled in UGC in conjunction with the U.S. shows that rank highest here. Fans of Cribs were invited to upload films of their humble abodes, which may one day end up spliced into the show’s profiled celeb houses. The music net also ran a Halloween UGC contest called Fight Club, which lured viewers to make videos of themselves scaring friends – for a cash money prize. They became highlight opps on MTV Live. Scarred, which was just greenlit for a second 10-ep season, goes behind the scenes of UGC – giving an inside look at the people behind the gruesome scars in the extreme sport blooper-type videos that rack up millions of hits on sites like YouTube.

MTV Canada SVP/GM Brad Schwartz says the net is now preparing a new online section that will get users uploading videos of VJ-style intros of their music picks and contributing to a community that, in the past, has highlighted celeb-created playlists. ‘We’re going to build out an area of the site that allows people to host their own playlist of music videos, essentially making them their own MTV hosts,’ says Schwartz.

In Quebec, TVA is tying its broadcasting power to brand-sponsored UGC efforts and moving toward on-air consumer-generated brand spots. In May, the station launched a UGC initiative for Johnson’s baby care, using on-air spots to drive viewers to

www.mamanetmoi.com to submit photos and content for a mosaic. The content was then highlighted during an early childhood feature on TVA’s Salut Bonjour (the Quebec version of Canada AM) and its own 30-second promo.

TVA’s media creativity team, headed by media creativity consultant Franz Fontaine, pushed for even more open dialogue with the consumer in a Web 2.0 campaign for the May launch of McCain Pizza Pockets, tying the effort to parentco Quebecor Média’s social media site, espace.canoe.ca. Three action sports communities were created at espace.canoe.ca for amateurs to interact and create skateboarding, inline skating and BMX content – driven by a win-a-trip incentive leveraging relevant destinations such as Woodward Skate Parks in California. Backed up with print and electronic mailing and word-of-mouth strategies, the Pizza Pockets campaign – depending on the UGC created – could get spin on TV.

Heading into its fall season, Fontaine says the broadcaster is emphasizing an ‘open dialogue’ strategy for engaging viewers – one that will ultimately see consumers creating

30-second brand spots for TV – with a viewer-voted elimination contest selecting the best entry, of course. ‘We’re asking the viewer to create something about the brand that he or she has seen in a show,’ says Fontaine. ‘We’re going to take this and air it. So TV drives to online and then re-driv[es] it to TV.’

Also this fall, Toronto-based Alliance Atlantis plans to tie more of its HGTV, Food Network and Showcase program hosts in with the UGC community at blogTV.ca. The site has already presented live events with Henry Rollins, who hosts a talk show on IFC, Duff Goldman from Food Network’s Ace of Cakes and Showcase’s Trailer Park Boys.

At the end of May, design duo Colin and Justin showed up on blogTV.ca to promote Home Heist for HGTV – with cross-promos on HGTV.ca driving the channel’s viewers to the event. In May, blogTV.ca counted 50,000 subscribed ‘broadcasters’ with about 1,000 new faces showing up each day. About 600 shows were being created daily.

Alliance SVP digital media Claude Galipeau says tying in live video chats with the caster’s hosts will be a key engagement strategy, supported by pre-roll ads, banners and other sponsorship opps. ‘We’ll be doing more of those host events,’ says Galipeau. ‘I expect in the fall we’ll also be doing more competitions related to our properties, whether it be cooking or home decorating.’

Will any of the UGC on blogTV.ca ever make it to the airwaves? ‘It’s possible, but this is not about TV,’ says Galipeau. A number of regular users of the social media platform do, however, show potential. ‘If we find people who create shows that are extremely promising on blogTV.ca, they’ll be noticed by our talent scouts and our production executives. You don’t plan the discovery of talent. You merely open up avenues to actually find it. That’s what we’re doing.’

CMT used the talent scout approach to UGC by launching a contest search for its summer on-air host, encouraging viewers to upload audition clips online. At contest launch, CMT.ca boasted 3.7 million monthly impressions so it made sense to put the power of choice in the hands of viewers and fans. The contest launched mid-April and 16 semi-finalists were presented on the CMT Casting Call website mid-May for voting until the end of that month. The top five finalists were given a final audition video assignment to be submitted to CMT by June 14. On June 28, the winner was announced on CMT’s Central. He or she will spend the summer in Toronto, working as a host on the net.

It’s the first time, but likely not the last, for the talent-scouting strategy. In this case, the possibility that the on-air host may one day incorporate UGC into a daytime videoflow programming block is strong, as the net doesn’t necessarily have to worry about filling entire slots. ‘We’re a video network, so we’re used to short-form content and we’re used to this kind of mobility,’ says CMT director of programming Ted Ellis.

With one of the highest-rated single format websites in Canada, CMT.ca will edge toward more UGC-friendly applications. Ellis says the site will be adopting ‘a Wiki-based model’ in the fall. ‘Right now we get pretty good traffic on static artist pages. What we want to do is open up some widgets to let the viewers actually go in there and talk about the artist, and talk about the bio, and maybe show some photos from the recent concert they were at, or talk about their favourite songs,’ he says. ‘The labels could even go in and talk about merchandise offers they have or tour dates and releases. We’re the middleman. We’re the aggregator of the audience.’

With all the voting going on, the TV landscape should be getting a little

more democratic.