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Post ESPNUser-Generated Content

Thursday December 13, 2007

A lot of popular Web sites are driven by what’s called "user-generated content". YouTube, Digg, even sports message boards – they all derive their value from the content generated by their users. Think about the folks at the BullDawg Blawg who put a ton of work into creating great highlight videos. While highlights aren’t original content, the editing and packaging does add value, and they drive traffic to YouTube.

A site like YouTube has thousands or millions of users happily adding content. It costs nothing to use, and if you’re good/lucky/quirky enough, you might even get a little fame or notoriety out of it. But when it comes time to cash in, the community of people through which these sites have become so valuable often see little or none of the payout.

Put another way, "user-generated content" is another way of saying "free labor." You do the work, the site’s owners make the money. That’s a simplification of course. The site’s owners still have an investment in technology and bandwidth and have provided the platform for all of this content. For most of the people providing the content, a little notoriety is more than enough reward. Free storage and bandwidth at our disposal isn’t a bad deal either.

ESPNU is hopping on the user-generated content train by launching their Campus Connection program which enlists students, professors, and athletic departments to provide content for distribution. Initially ESPNU will help coordinate assignments and provide guidance as students produce coverage for games including play-by-play, production, photography, and so on. Eventually, the operations should become pretty self-winding, and ESPN will have over 20 "bureaus" feeding them content. The University of Georgia is among the schools participating in the program, and that makes sense given the reputation of the Grady School of Journalism.

If you look at it in terms of a traditional unpaid internship, it looks like a great experience and exposure to the industry for these students. But of course ESPN isn’t doing this completely out of altruism. An ESPN VP notes that "There’s no question that some big advertising opportunities will come out of this."

The program gets underway in January.

PS: I’m glad to see that YouTube is now offering to share advertising revenue with users who pass an application process. (The content must be original, so those of us in the highlights biz needn’t apply.)

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