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Mobile Media Content Interview

Wow actually kick ass press where the journalist did the work,researched,and didn’t call me the chick from The Real World yeah for Jason Ankeny for doing a great interview and actually printing what I said. Fierce Markets Mobile Media Newsletter

Five Questions with…Irene McGee

Media activist and pundit Irene McGee is perhaps best known for her award-winning podcast No One’s Listening,which since its 2005 inception has addressed a range of subjects spanning popular culture and the forces that shape it. She is also an outspoken critic against media manipulation and the myth of reality-based television. FierceMobileContent editor Jason Ankeny spoke with McGee on the future of mobile content–and the struggle between carriers and consumers to control that future.

FierceMobileContent:How is the mobile industry influencing the culture at large?

Irene McGee:I don’t know if mobile media is having a negative or positive impact,but we’re definitely making a cultural shift. It’s a means of allowing us to connect with business or personal contacts,yet we do it in a very public environment. I can’t remember the last time I used a pay phone. Pay phones had booths we talked inside,for privacy–remember privacy? So 1990s. Speaking of privacy,what seems really important to most consumers is that their phone has a camera. Now people can record anything at anytime,but does that mean that you have a right to use any image? I don’t know.

FMC:Why do so many people want to document their lives for mass consumption,anyway?

IM:It’s cool to say things like you don’t want to be famous–it’s much cooler to say you’d never do something like that. But our behavior proves otherwise. People are showing more of themselves in a very public way. TV is a mass medium and it’s in every conversation everywhere. That’s real power. You don’t have a choice to not know who Britney Spears is–there’s no place you can go where you have the luxury to shut that off. You don’t get to shut off what Google is. Who wouldn’t want to be one of those things people think about? “Anyone can have their 15 minutes of fame”is the big saying,but not everyone will have a multimedia,multi-platform,multi-channel distribution 15 minutes. User-generated content shows how much people want to create and be heard–I believe most people do think no one is listening to them,and they’re right.

FMC:Does the mainstream attention paid to user-generated content portend a shift in how media is controlled and distributed?

IM:If something makes it in the mainstream,it’s because the mainstream bought it. If they didn’t buy it,they aired it,because they thought the airtime would get them eyeballs. One of the first shows based in user-generated content is actually still on air–America’s Funniest Home Videos. Once people realize that what they’re filming is riveting and marketable,then taking that footage becomes more important than what is going in front of them–they care more about getting the film than what they’re filming. Has user-generated content done stuff for people to have a voice? Maybe. But to get traffic once is not a big deal. It’s not about the spike in traffic–it’s about translating that traffic into subscribers and listeners. That’s heavy–that’s loyalty. Viral video doesn’t get you deeper into that subject–you just watch more viral videos. So in that respect user-generated content is like winning the lottery,except all you win is that moment in time. And when it happens,you need to have the content to back it up.

FMC:But isn’t it a step forward for consumers to take back some control over the media?

IM:User-generated content is a myth–it doesn’t exist. The wireless companies will never let users create media in a free-for-all manner. If they do,it will be under private sharing mechanisms–there is way too much risk to allow anyone to mass distribute anything that is popular when a brand is attached.

In England,there was a phenomenon called “happy slapping”where kids would film while a buddy slapped an unsuspecting person. No cellular phone company wants to back that sort of behavior with their brand,and although 90 percent of the content is pictures of friends and family,that risk could absolutely break a company. The Internet is still cool–people will still be able to do their own stuff there. But once you tie a company brand to it,it changes.

Look at podcasting–I got in there before it was inundated by the mainstream. Now you go on iTunes,and podcasting is all about the mainstream. TV shows have a podcast,radio shows have a podcast–there is so much information on iTunes that people are choosing what is familiar,and oftentimes that is what they missed on TV or on the radio,or a show which was endorsed by a newspaper or magazine article they read or a blog recommendation. When there is so much information,we need a way to filter and pick and choose,and when in doubt,unless you are in the mood to try something new,you pick something familiar.

This is why creating No One’s Listening was such an amazing feat,looking back. It was a new format,a new sound,a new topic and people loved it and they tuned in for hours each week. That was amazing. Was No One’s Listening user-created media? Yes,but at the end of the day,the reality is every single person on my team was a pro. Now,I am not being overly cynical when I say user-created media is a farce–it really and truly is. Consider the amount of money a company pays an ad agency to approve and sift through all the user-created ads to pick the user-created ad that will air during the Super Bowl–there’s still a ton of bank involved,and it’s not going to the user that created the video. The user won’t get a job out of it from the ad agency. All it does is take the so-called “reality television”concept of winning a chance to be on-air and applies it to producing,directing and editing. It says a lot for user-created content that the places most willing to embrace it are ad companies–they’re the ones who most want you to share your story…as long as your story is about their product.

FMC:What must happen for mobile content to become a mass medium?

IM:First,cellular phone companies need to figure out how to make my cell phone work–then they can worry about mobile content. I’m joking…well,actually,I think getting back to basics would be refreshing.

I think what must happen is that the application interfaces must seamless and fit the screen with limited scrolling. I think the mobile companies need to remember that good content is about telling a good story. Here’s the key to a good story:It has a beginning,middle and end. Forget the fancy bells and whistles,forget the cool animation–just bring it back to whether it’s a good story. You want people to get lost in your content and remember your story. That means allowing them to have a good time.

I am all for advertising,and this is where it is going to be increasingly more important to be aware of where and how your ads are being displayed and the attention span of your audience–most people scan information on a cellular phone,rather then read it fully. You have less time and are dealing with a person in an entirely different mindset,if only for the fact that they are physically holding the device. You don’t hold your TV screen,or even your laptop. A mobile phone might be a place where people get content,but it’s not their 69-foot plasma TV. It’s small. It’s not big. It’s not like the match was invented and people then said “Forget the campfire–come stay warm around my match.”We’ll still like our surround sound and big screens.

Plus,on a practical level,phones don’t have the charge to do this stuff–it’s short-form content,and people aren’t getting lost in it. There is a lot of good,interesting video content being created–and audio. Audio is great,because it takes up less memory and people can commit more time to it simply because they can do more while listening. There is so much going on right now that the opportunities may seem limitless,but that’s not true. Nothing will ever replace a good story. That needs to be the focus.

For more information on Irene McGee,please visit http://www.nooneslistening.org/

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