Monday, July 14, 2008

Will Sponsorships Change "Independent" Web Videos?

It's still an open question whether big business is going to play Internet culture's game, or if Internet culture is going to play the big business game.

-Tim Hwang, organizer of a Boston conference on web culture

In Mike Musgrove, "Product Placement Creeps Into Amateurs' YouTube Offerings," Washington Post, July 13, 2008

Hwang was referring to the growing phenomenon of companies that sponsor the creation of individually created videos. Sometimes the products are placed into the videos. Sometimes, as in the case of Matt Harding's, the sponsor (Stride Gum) is thanked in a two-to-three second spot at the video's end. "In it, the 31-year-old does his jig with crowds of locals in exotic spots around the globe. The 4 1/2 -minute clip, featuring brief glimpses of 42 locales from Argentina to Zambia, is a smash hit on YouTube, where it is closing in on 6 million views."

Increasingly, videos on sites like YouTube attract corporate sponsors. The reason: Doing that is far cheaper than a 30-second commercial. Of course, it's much harder with a web video to be sure than anyone is watching. But Matt Harding is one of those video creators who are getting a track record for producing material that millions of people view.

Some critics are troubled that the possibility of sponsorships will change the way internet-video creators go about their work. "Internet culture, Hwang said, has spent most of its existence in its own in-jokey world, but that's changing quickly. And as deep-pocketed corporate entities turn to user-generated channels looking for attention, there's no telling how things will play out." From a public interest standpoint, it is worth considering how to encourage sponsors to refrain from integrating their brands into user generating materials.

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