Viewer-created content, or VC2, makes up about a third of what's seen on this 24-hour, San Francisco–based, independent cable and satellite channel—and, not so incidentally, another non-Internet crowdsourcing venue. The work makes its way to the television screen by way of a voting system in which a community of viewers votes on whether a five-minute piece of film is worthy to be shown on the airwaves. But getting the green light from viewers still doesn't guarantee air time; Current TV's producers have the final say as to which of the viewer-chosen clips are ready for prime time.
Started by former Vice President Al Gore and entrepreneur fundraiser Joel Hyatt in August 2005, the channel had a number of early detractors. The Wall Street Journal ridiculed it, for example, as "newsless, often clueless, and usually dull ... a limp noodle." Based on what's happened in the intervening two years, it turns out that the Journal was the clueless one, seriously underestimating the power of wikinomics. Short videos made by up-and-coming filmmakers, citizen reporters, and the viewers themselves are constantly grabbing headlines, and sites such as YouTube, Google Video, and Yahoo! have shown just how popular audience-created entertainment can be.
And Current TV has a couple of very important advantages over these other sites. For one, it has a leg up in ad production. Companies such as Sony, L'Oreal, and Toyota show commercials made by Current TV viewers, and that typically means a member of the much-sought-after 18-to-34 demographic. So besides getting cut-rate deals on great commercials—L'Oreal paid $1,000 for a stunning and sophisticated viewer-created ad that would have cost it 150 times as much if produced in-house—the advertisers gain insight into the changing tastes of younger consumers.
Second—and, in the long run, maybe even more important—is the distinction between having one's video appear on a Web site and having your work shown on a bona fide television channel. Put another way, it's the difference between a dot-com company and all the baggage that term still carries, and a long-proven business model.
The pieces that make it onto Current TV are a varied palette of trendy cultural items and advocacy journalism that highlights issues such as the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East, poverty in Third World countries, the scourge of AIDs in Africa, and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. The Katrina piece, shot by a New Orleans resident, aired before network news reporters could even make their way to the city.
The essential element that unites all the businesses in this chapter is the willingness—indeed, the eagerness—of the community involved to create product. Year after year, we see improvements in the technology that allows the crowd to produce content. Year after year, we see new online entries that take advantage of the power of community. The opportunities are virtually infinite, limited only by desire and imagination.
In the next chapter, we explore another of crowdsourcing's amazing contributions. Suddenly, there are sites that provide financing for business ventures that might otherwise never get off the ground. Need a loan? Have an idea for a way to tap into the huge cash resources of the crowd? The next chapter is for you.