Media companies 'must embrace Web 2.0'

The company behind Battlestar Galactica says it is already seeing the benefits of embracing trends such as podcasting and blogging

Media companies who ignore user contribution will come unstuck as Web 2.0 changes the technology and media landscape, warned experts on Wednesday at an event on the future of the Web.

Craig Engler, the director of interactive content at NBC Universal's Sci-Fi Channel, said that digital content, and in particular interactive content, is vital for television shows.

"Whenever we talk about a show, we think about digital content — for PR and for marketing," he said, speaking at a workshop on Web 2.0 at the Media Summit in New York. "It's all about content creation and getting our fans involved."

The Sci-Fi Channel is already using Web 2.0 technologies to engage the audience of Battlestar Galactica and to let them "feel ownership of the network". Web 2.0 technologies are useful in providing immediate feedback to the show's producers and allowing them to respond to this feedback.

"There was a graphic scene in one of the episodes and there was concern about how offensive it was. Ron [Moore, an executive producer] said in his podcast, 'Tell me what you think of this scene'. People listened to the podcast, posted on the message board what they thought and he wrote about it on his blog the next day," said Engler.

David Panos, the chief executive and co-founder of Pluck, which develops interactive Web technologies, said the benefit of user contribution was recently demonstrated when it helped investment site add functionality to let the site's premium subscribers comment on blogs. He claimed that within the first week, the new feature generated over a thousand subscriber comments, which he claimed consisted of "much higher quality content than you would normally see".

"You want to take advantage of those people who are your best users," Panos said.

It is also important to let users organise the site content through features such as tagging, and to let users control their online experience via options such as personalised pages, according to Panos. "Every media site can offer their version of My Yahoo," he said.

But making money out of Web 2.0 technologies can be tricky. The Sci-Fi Channel's Engler said the technologies are useful for letting "fans vent their enthusiasm....and hopefully one day we'll make some money of it."

Scott Kessler, an Internet industry analyst for Standard and Poor's, said that the key to making money out of Web 2.0 is to get closer to your users, and cited Yahoo as a company that has done this well.

"For companies that are going to make money from Web 2.0, it's about the three E's — entice, engage and engender loyalty. Yahoo is the best positioned [Internet company] to capitalise off Web 2.0 as it is already focussed on the three E's."