Next-generation innovation: UGC and news production

What should come first: innovation or need? Should we focus on developing new technologies for specific requirements, or should we adapt existing tech to serve new purposes? I don’t want to sound contrary, but in my mind, the answer is both. And this is particularly true in the world of broadcasting, where the cutting edge always needs to be close by. But as we see user-generated content (UGC) from citizen journalists used more and more in news programming, one thing becomes clearer: consumer technologies are shaping professional news production.

The lessons and promise of social media

Social media platforms can reveal news trends and crowd sentiment. They can serve as the first point of call for politicians’ reactions and statements. And in recent years they’ve become the go-to sources for user-generated news content.

With just a social media account and a smartphone, citizen journalists can become one person mobile broadcasters, able to share anything with the world at the press of a button. The quality of content produced using these tools is constantly improving, thanks to 4K smartphones and easy-to-use video editing apps, while the rollout of 5G should bring universal connectivity. But more importantly, social networks have developed incredible content distribution mechanisms.

Using geo-location and behavioural data, platforms can promote relevant and specific content to particular audiences. In a world awash with content, cutting through the noise is tough, and an engaged audience is worth its weight in gold. If news organisations could use similar mechanisms, they’d improve both content sourcing and distribution. This data would help with near-immediate access to eyewitness accounts of news events, cutting time-to-air for the best content. But looking further ahead, it would mean the ability to localise and – to some extent – personalise news production, and cater to narrower, more engaged audiences: the right content to the right audience, faster. And the appetite for video content is clearly there.

Rising demand for news

News is already the most common genre of video content accessed on mobile devices outside the home, according to IHS Markit consumer research. Almost 40% of mobile users access it daily, with almost three quarters accessing it once per week or more.

But, as more video views lead to more videos produced, and vice versa, we can expect these figures to rise, and augmented reality and wearables could push this trend upwards even faster. Whether it’s glasses, watches, or some other lifelogging tool, these devices are designed to enrich our experience of the world on a near-constant basis. And this could encourage an always-on approach, resulting in continuous recording of our surroundings and vast quantities of UGC.

We’re already set for UGC to account for just under 10% of all online content by the end of this year, according to Sony’s report with IHS Markit. But the forecast is that this will hit just under 20% by 2025. Little wonder, with around 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube alone every minute. And as these terabytes upon petabytes of content continue to grow, the way we handle, manage and use them becomes more important.

Management & co-ordination

Gone are the days of newsreels living in dusty basements or scattered on editors’ desks. Archive shelves and newsreel trollies have been replaced with server racks. But digital content presents numerous challenges for competitive news organisations – particularly for those looking to use UGC, as well as their own content. As volumes shoot skywards and workflows evolve, the requirements have become clearer:

  • Storage – keeping content secure, in huge volumes, and archiving for the long-term.
  • Collaboration – smooth, easy sharing of content between journalists and editors.
  • Formats – the ability to handle any audio, video or image file format, from any platform or device.
  • Anywhere access – cloud-based, to remove the limits of location.
  • Speed – whether recently ingested or long-archived, all content should be accessible. Fast.

These were the keystone ideas behind the design and development of our multi-platform production system, Media Backbone Hive. Our goal is to streamline broadcast workflows, and our system was designed to make news production quick, smart and more efficient, whether content is owned or user-generated. That’s how we innovate.

What else is coming?

More and more tech is being put to use for journalism, whether hardware, software or algorithms. Drones are making aerial recording cheaper and safer, as well as reaching places where reporting would be impossible. Facial recognition programs have helped with identifying faces in a crowd, and the same capability could be put to use to identify landmarks and verify the authenticity of UGC. And when it comes to UGC itself, we – as an industry – are reacting to what citizen journalists are producing. Long may that continue.

IHS Markit Report – Citizen journalism: The value of effectively leveraging user-generated content for news provision