Amateur Footage: A Global Study of User-Generated Content

How Much is UGC Used on TV and Online?

While 21 days of television content were analyzed from seven channels, only five days of output were evaluated from Al Jazeera Arabic, so the data has to be compared separately. In addition, only five days of Web content were analyzed, so again this must be considered separately. As TABLE 2 demonstrates, an average6 of 11 pieces of UGC were used every day on television by news organizations. The average length of a piece of UGC on screen was 11 seconds. It is evident from this table how much Al Jazeera Arabic employs UGC, compared to the other channels. Its daily average number of pieces of UGC was 51 (compared to 11 for the other seven channels), and the average length of a piece of UGC was 16 seconds (compared to 11 seconds for the other seven channels).

TABLE 3 on the next page demonstrates a significant range in terms of how different channels use UGC. Focusing on the television output, Al Jazeera Arabic used the most UGC in the period sampled with a daily average of 51.4 pieces. (If the daily average was multiplied over 21 days, there would have been 1,079 pieces of UGC over the 21-day period on Al Jazeera Arabic alone).

In terms of Web output, CNN included the most UGC online. It is important to stress, however, that this is partly because different websites had different numbers of links on each homepage. CNN had the most links out to stories from its homepage, with a daily average of 119, compared with 65 links to stories on BBC World and 13 links to stories on the NHK homepage.

The news websites had specific design features that encouraged depth and breadth in reporting. As one digital editor explained: There’s the output between TV and there’s the output between digital. And I split those in two because the restrictions, the permissions, and all the rest [associated with both] can be very, very different. And that’s the great thing about digital. It’s much more collaborative, you know. Embedding, etc., Twitter, photo expansion, that sort of thing, actually allows you to use a lot more UGC in a much more natural way. On television, over the 21 days, 73 stories were told using some element of UGC. On the Web, over just five days, 115 individual subjects included at least one piece of UGC. Intuitively, this variance can be explained by the structural differences between television and the Web explained above. Online news needs to be refreshed and updated constantly and has near unlimited space in terms of its different Web pages, whereas television fills a limited, and immovable amount of time. We certainly saw the way that live blogs7UGC in a very different way than television. Live blogs are featured on Al Jazeera English, BBC, CNN International, euronews (which used an embedded Storify as a form of live blogging), and France 24. FIGURE 1 presents an example from BBC World from December 6, 2013, called “UK Tidal Surge: As It Happened.” It shows the impact of a serious storm on the United Kingdom. Within this one story there are 22 separate pieces of UGC (one television package that includes a UGC video,8 six photos from Twitter, and 15 photos emailed directly to the BBC). Television could not have included this level of depth in its coverage of the storm.

FIGURE 1: “UK Tidal Surge: As It Happened,” BBC World, December 6, 2013 The other format we investigated was topic pages. These pages had curated content around a similar topic displayed in one place. For topics like Syria, formats like this on the Web provide far more flexibility in terms of storytelling, and allow for more context and explanation. BBC World and CNN International had topic pages for Syria. FIGURE 2 shows an example of one built by CNN International, specifically exploring the refugee experience of Syrians.

FIGURE 2: CNN International Topic Page—“Crisis in Syria: The Refugees” TABLE 4, however, shows that the main story types were similar.

On the Web, the most common category of news employing UGC was “other.” During our analysis, the Web ran a number of feature stories, like “Pictures of the Audience Dressed as Doctor Who Characters” or “Pictures People had Taken During Vacations to North Korea,”9were inundated with UGC. Interestingly, one interviewee argued that although the Web facilitates more opportunities to make creative use of UGC, they’re not always taken: I think that there’s still a big gap between digital and TV in the sense that there’s a whole different approach to the ways user-generated content is thrown up onto TV and used as elements in packages. And I think in some cases it’s good and some cases it’s not good. But interestingly and ironically I think the digital side in a lot of news companies isn’t as quick to adopt. They sort of wait until after it’s used by TV and then get whatever is packaged or put together by television and then they put it out.