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Media owners beware the barbarians at your gates

As consumer-generated content commands more audience attention amid the growing power of communities, media owners need to change the way they think about doing business in the online world.

Both online and traditional media face their toughest competition yet - their own audience, as material posted by amateurs begins to command more attention than professionally generated content.

This is the view of Jovan Regasek, founder and CEO of ITWeb, a pioneer of online publishing in SA and a rare Web-based business success story. Regasek gave his views on "The changing face of the media [consumer]" at an online industry summit organised by KUGM last week.

"To remain competitive, we need to change the way we think about doing business in the online world," he said. "However, the phrase 'content is king' was coined, or at least became popular, with the emergence of the online media. The online world proclaimed content is king and everybody believed that content was the key to cracking the code of commercial success."

According to Regasek, rather than king, content has become a commodity. A weak currency, losing value all the time.

"The killer app of the future is perhaps the application that would help us making sense out of everything. Perhaps the online media will be turned into that direction. Refining the information chaos into intelligence." He said this increases the value proposition of the online media - their future lies in their ability to provide relevant and intelligent content.

The future of online media lies in its ability to provide relevant and intelligent content. "Readers lost their faith in media independence. Readers think traditional media is either under influence of government or big businesses or even both. And they are losing faith in the independence of the professionals. The trusted sources for them are people they trust - their real life or virtual peers. Not experts, not authorities.

"This is the time of the amateurs," explained Regasek. "The time of the bloggers. They are calling the shots. They do it themselves. They create content. They disseminate content. They have full control. They are in charge. They have full freedom with no responsibility. They don't subscribe to the media ethics.

“It's painful for our professional pride, but the amateurs can attract more audience than the most successful professional media. A video clip on YouTube can attract up to 40 million views."

Online media and old media are used in a similar way, he opined. There is a clear division between providers and consumers of information.

"Communities drive and control the Internet. The most successful online stories are linked to the rise of communities. Communities are emerging as the most important format of virtual life. The other formats - including online media, search engines, online commerce sites - will continue to exist, but the community model has a profound influence on all of them."

Communities are inherent to the Internet, he said. They date back in the eighties from the early days of the Internet, starting with bulletin boards and forums to culminate in the Second Life social network - a fairly faithful mirror of the real life.

"Community is a perpetual mobile. The more it grows, the more it grows.

“A community generates a vast amount of content, through interaction with each other, contributing to the common knowledge. Many will argue that the consumer-generated content is the most democratic contribution to the humanity's culture," Regasek added.

Virtual communities are bad news for the marketers. They are anti-commercial by definition, he explained.

"The shift of power is more dramatic in the media than in any other industry, the reader/viewer is overpowering the media," concluded Regasek.

“The media as we know it will continue losing control over content creation and distribution and, as a painful consequence, its influence on its readership."

To remain competitive with our own audience, we need to change the way we think about doing business in the online world.

The Barbarians are at the gate.

ITWeb

ITWeb is South Africa's leading technology-focused publisher, with media products and services that span online, print and events. ITWeb online reaches over 80 000 readers a month and services a large client base through its Virtual Press Office offering. ITWeb's print titles include Brainstorm, iWeek and a series of ITWeb Informatica reference books.