The CGM Revolution

Two things happened last week that made me contemplate the state of the media world as we know it. Peter Jennings died, and my colleague Troy Young, our lead strategist, introduced me to Current, Al Gore’s Internet news network. Cosmically, the two events seemed somehow connected. The über-anchor passed away, the people’s news was born. It’s a profound metaphor for the enormous, fundamental change we’re seeing in the media world.

The first wave of change, the advent of the Internet, promised revolution. But the Internet bubble burst. For five years, money and talent fled. Big ideas were scarce. Now, they’re back. There’s a quiet revolution underway, but this time big money and big names are behind it.

Some revolution highlights:

  • Traditional content businesses struggle to grow.As a result, the line between big media and new media is blurring. Yahoo hired network executives to build its content platform. Fox purchased Myspace.com to shore up its online presence with the youth market. “The New York Times” bought About.com to expand its online presence. The bright spot in the declining music space comes from ring-tone downloads (an estimated $500 million market this year). “Billboard” magazine now produces a Hot Ringtones list. Video games surpassed the movie business in revenue and are becoming hot advertising properties.

  • Consumer-generated media (CGM) is exploding, and new distribution models are emerging. Blogs, vlogs (define), podcasts (define), and a bunch more new formats are creating a rich, diverse array of content. New syndication and distribution models (e.g., RSS feeds) are being developed that bring content to ever-fragmenting audiences.
  • Users are in control. The iPod and TiVo have reached critical mass. They’re changing radio, music, and TV as we know it. The user is solidly in control of content… and advertising.
  • We live in a multiscreen world. It’s no longer about TV or the PC. Each screen is now part of a larger experience.
  • Local becomes global, at least in importance and accessibility. Through A9.com, Amazon.com is taking photographs of local businesses, mapping their locations, and making all of them searchable. Google Maps promises many new location-based services, as does MSN. Already, hackers are using the Google tool to create interesting new applications by connecting it to sites such as hotornot.com (find a hottie nearby).

It’s now the people’s media: what they want, when and where they want it.

Launched August 1, Current is an excellent example of the people’s media. Viewers contribute a portion of the network’s content, which is organized into “pods,” or two- to seven-minute videos, covering such topics as travel, current events, jobs, and technology. Hosts then weave several pods together to create a show. You can watch the show on the site or on cable TV. It’s now available in 20 million homes, and was just picked up by Comcast.

Current is intriguing because it aggregates the increasingly hard-to-find youth market into a community. Users are producers, directors, writers, editors, voiceover talent, actors, and programming executives who green-light “good stuff for TV.” The Web site becomes a platform, a portal, and a literal studio for the truth.

Traditional news isn’t going away anytime soon. But CGM is no longer marginalized to the Web’s outer reaches. No matter what consumer-facing industry you’re in, this trend will affect you — if it hasn’t already. For Internet marketers, it means if you have a brand with a powerful connection to users, it might be time to think about a sponsored community.

Spend some time on Current’s site. You’ll see why I believe the CGM revolution is well underway. Tell me what you think.

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