Al Gore Was Ahead of His Time Again

Three Years in, Current Has Helped User-Generated Ads Blossom

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Al Gore's Current TV, launched in 2005 (the same year as YouTube, but before that site took off), is now probably what he imagined it would be: an almost seamless digital blend of TV and online. Current's audience can experience the brand on their terms, either watching the live stream on TV or in segments on the website, -- you know, like with YouTube. There are plenty of other TV sites that allow you to watch the same content online, but I'm not aware of too many others where you can watch it all, instantly, ahead of time.
What's also interesting is that, for the most part, the program stream doesn't matter. As with the non-video news stories on the Current homepage, the audience votes on the video segments, with the most popular ones surfacing to the top. It's the collective intelligence (or tyranny?) of the masses -- you know, like YouTube. But unlike YouTube, there seems to be a lot less crap on Current (perhaps thanks to their in-house editors and producers). This last statement is subjective and may be unfair but it's encouraging that YouTube is taking steps to address the quality of its videos.

None of the above is especially new but serves as context to establish where I really think Al Gore and company are ahead of the curve: user-generated advertising. Sure, Current has been doing this for awhile but it's worth another look as there's now a good stable of work that roots the offering in some sort of concrete reality.

Just as Current uses its audience for generating content, it has developed a plug-and-play way to use its audience to generate advertising creative. My favorite example is a Prius ad, but there has been a lot of good work.

The process is simple: Viewers are given a brief, have a deadline and then their videos are chosen to run either exclusively within Current TV or, with rights secured by Current, anywhere else as desired by the advertiser. These ads have run on TV but can also be briefed and designed to run online as well.

What's so attractive to me is that Current and its audience can help its advertisers connect in an authentic manner, through the voice and lens of an 18- to 34-year-old. Dubbed VCAMs, these spots are of surprisingly high quality and feel very appropriate to the media environment. In media, we often speak of editorial environment and context -- many of these ads fit the Current vibe so well that they almost seem like content. With a major tab on the site dedicated to viewer ads and opportunities for other viewers to comment, you could argue that the ads ARE content. There is a lot of professionally created work that I don't see working on Current as well.

I'm not endorsing Current's implementation as necessarily the best but rather a good example of how to enable user-generated ads. To our friends on the creative side, fear not -- these viewer-created ads will not replace the work of creative agencies for a number of reasons, most obviously because the correct direction and high-quality assets are needed. But this could be a great way for them to source new talent.

UGC and user-generated advertising by themselves are not a panacea but having creative designed for a particular medium by its audience is a universal concept that I think Al has gotten right -- and he's been nice enough to give us a simple way to do it. If only global warming were so easy.

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As associate media director at San-Francisco based digital media agency Mediasmith, Eliot Kent-Uritam drives digital and offline media strategies for both consumer and B2B clients and has worked with brands such as Autodesk, American Express, Napster, Roxio Sega, Shutterfly and Webex. His areas of expertise include target definition and analysis as well as emerging media strategy. In 2000, Eliot was among the first to bring post-impression/view-through metrics to Mediasmith's clients and anticipates additional advances in metrics, especially in search/display attribution management.
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