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This morning, the Connected Creativity Forum kicked off with a panel session on new ways to make money from content – the hot topic in the digital arena right now.

The panel (l-r): Claire Tavernier, senior EVP at FMX and worldwide drama at FremantleMedia; Sylvain Audigier, director of networks innovation and new technologies at TF1; Noel Penzer, VP of media and business development at AOL; Patrick Walker, senior director of content partnerships EMEA at YouTube/Google; and Luke Bradley-Jones, MD of BBC.com and global iPlayer at BBC Worldwide.

Walker kicked off. “The biggest change we’re seeing is… trying to create consistent experiences across devices. This is an opportunity and a challenge for YouTube.” Why? The opportunity is that consumers expect to get content across all their devices, but the challenge is building a unified experience across those platforms, many of which are closed.

Penzer was next: “Video is core to our strategy and business,” he said, talking about AOL’s acquisition of Go Viral, which distributes branded videos, engaging with more than 350 million users each month. He said AOL’s challenge is to take that from just distributing branded videos, to distributing non-branded content, with brands wrapped around it. And how to do that worldwide.

Over to the BBC’s Bradley-Jones, who said that the growth of its iPlayer catch-up TV service has been “extraordinary”, and is overseeing the launch of iPlayer internationally this summer. “We’ve seen growth over the last 12 months of between 50 and 100% of our video content across our key markets around the world,” he said, stressing that this is for the videos hosted on BBC.com, since the iPlayer is not yet available outside the UK.

TF1‘s Audigier was next to give his views. “The biggest change that is taking place right now is still digital terrestrial, with switchover still going on,” he said. But in the next 3-5 years, connected TV and second-screen viewing are on the agenda. He also highlighted the debate on how business models should be constructed between broadcasters and big internet firms.

“We have two main areas of concern – first, there are big differences in regulation between TV broadcasters and internet players,” he said. “Our second concern is about piracy, because with connected TVs it will be easier for people to access pirated content.”

Penzer – a former music industry exec – was asked for his views on the lessons from that industry’s battle with piracy. “There’s plenty of threat, and the reality for any content producer today is that piracy is already rife. If you try to block it, consumers will find a new way to do it… We have to look at the value chain and see how we embrace it.” He quickly clarified that he meant how to make this kind of behaviour part of the value chain.

Walker talked about the need to narrow TV industry windows – “it’s unavailability that’s causing the problem” when it comes to piracy, said Walker, who maintained that YouTube has always respected rights – to laughs from moderator Robert Tercek – but the technology to detect infringing videos on YouTube has improved immeasurably, before going on to talk about connected TV.

One of the reasons you don’t have a lot of services launched in Europe is because of regulation,” he said. “People are being more cautious to make sure they comply.” This is why no launch date for Google TV has been announced here in Europe.

However, TF1’s Audigier said broadcasters want connected TV manufacturers to “respect our rules” – down to points like having a remote control that takes viewers to the broadcaster’s interactive services when pressing the red button, rather than somewhere else. Tercek wondered if this isn’t just another example of a crumbling walled garden: “What you’re proposing is a new set of rules for the web! I can’t imagine any web developer signing up for that…”

Walker said any such attempt to control and package internet content on the TV is doomed: “It doesn’t scale: users are smarter than that”. Tavernier weighed in at this point though, giving a producer’s view that the integrity of TV shows must be protected – “if the user wants to have a pure broadcast experience, it is very important”. In other words, the freedom to watch a show without being bombarded with pop-ups and widgets.

Tavernier talked about some of the content that FremantleMedia has been making – such as a Family Feud Facebook game which it created and runs, as the IP owner for that show. But it also works with broadcasters.

The main danger for television isn’t piracy,  it’s apathy. It’s people not caring enough to watch TV. And what we get with the social media, with YouTube and so on is a way to combat that apathy.” So the social viewing experience will be important, whether that social activity takes place on the TV, on a smartphone or tablet app, or online.

“Social TV is definitely something that is growing rapidly,” said Audigier. “In just six months it is booming, it is incredible.”

Walker talked about YouTube’s role, where he thinks uploaded clips of TV shows is not cannibalising viewing, but is instead helping to create a buzz around programmes. Tavernier agreed, saying FremantleMedia has been getting a lot of buzz around shows “for a very minimal marketing cost”, and not just for the big American Idol style shows.

Walker talked about YouYube’s plans to make more money for its content partners in 2011 through advertising – “more interesting advertising that’s appropriate for the platform” – as opposed to YouTube just being a marketing channel. Tavernier said FremantleMedia already sees YouTube as a commercial venture, not a purely promotional medium – although when videos help to promote its shows that’s a bonus.

Penzer was asked about AOL’s approach to content. “The vision of the company is to create premium web experiences around content at scale,” he said. “The reality is we have a large number of in-house content creators, predominantly journalists… and a large number of what I would term as freelance contributors.” – 140 in Europe alone, and 4,500-odd globally.

He said the primary driver remains professionally produced content, with an aim of putting video on every page on AOL, much of which will either be produced internally, or come from partners like Endemol and FremantleMedia, with more than 20 deals signed this year with producers. But it’s not just about slapping up TV shows.

“If we stick a TV format in front of consumers it just doesn’t work. We have had to come up with new formats,” he said.

What companies who aren’t on this panel are doing a good job at using social media or multimedia on the web to advance their businesses? Walker cited Channel 4 in the UK. “They’ve been very innovative not just for using different platforms for syndication and distribution of their content,” he said, pointing to the broadcaster seeing viewing on all different platforms as having equal value.

“Companies like Fremantle and Endemol have been helping us in working on new ways of integrating technology with broadcast,” he said. “You have to engage or you’re going to be left behind… It’s only if they fail to move that they’re going to become irrelevant, and that’s their own fault.”


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Stuart Dredge

Stuart Dredge is a freelance journalist, and a regular contributor to The Guardian, Music Ally, and more... including MIPBlog :)

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