TechThe Role of User Generated Content in Live Streaming...

The Role of User Generated Content in Live Streaming Services

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Interactivity is the function that enables two or more parties to communicate with each other by the transmission of information. The level of interactivity depends on technology, and a relatively higher level of interactivity is found in live streaming platforms, with the host able to respond directly to the viewers in real-time. Interaction data comprises messages sent and interactive functions carried out by the users. Studies have shown that user interaction can reflect user satisfaction and play a significant role in user retention. High user retention rates are essential in the highly competitive market of live streaming platforms, so the utilization of UGC to increase user retention is a valuable asset.

User-generated content (UGC) is the lifeblood of live streaming services. The act of a viewer is capable of reproducing a drawing, layout, sound content, and more from a streaming device. Viewer experience has been highlighted as the key perspective in the assessment of interactive digital TV, with UGC acknowledged as a hidden treasure in enhancing the experience. UGC has become a popular activity among Internet users, as Web 2.0 facilitates the creation and sharing of content over the Internet. It encompasses various forms, including comments on forums, social media posting, sharing, and multimedia.

Definition of User Generated Content

User-generated content (UGC) is a term used to describe any form of content such as video, blogs, discussion forums, digital images, audio files, and other forms of media that were created by consumers or end-users of an online system or service and are publicly available to other consumers and end-users. UGC can take many forms and is produced by almost anyone. For example, in the case of the website YouTube, a child posting a video of their dog playing can be considered UGC, and a video made by an adult for the purpose of commenting on political events can also be considered UGC. The only real difference is that one video is being more directed towards a particular demographic.

UGC can also serve as an alternative form of media advertising. This is beneficial for consumers because UGC adds more dimensions to advertising, provides product information in an entertaining manner, and attempts to directly involve the consumer in the advertising. UGC can act as an inside source of consumer information for product developers and provide a feedback loop by which consumers can ask for more.

User-generated content is important to the study of new media because of the ease of access and the wide range of different media types. A book or a journal is limited to the words and images printed within it. With new media, there are so many different forms of media to explore, and it is important to capitalize on each. UGC has a high potential to involve consumers in creative interactions with media. This is significant to marketers because participatory consumer interactions create greater consumer interest, and more engaged consumers are more likely to be converted to actual customers.

User-generated content (UGC) refers to activities and media that have been created and published by users of online platforms such as social networking sites and wikis. A commonly recognized form of UGC is social network posts and tweets about recent events and TV shows. Some other types are asynchronous forms like forum discussions, content sharing on photo and video sites, rating products, and customizing website templates and other various files. Basically, anything that is possible to contribute to or edit on a site can be considered UGC.

Overview of Live Streaming Services

Currently, the internet infrastructure and broadband industry are improving globally. Moreover, the number of internet users has dramatically increased, with the combined total of PC and mobile phone internet users surpassing 1.7 billion in 2009. As the number of internet users continues to grow, diverse types of content will continue to emerge. One of the more successful types of applications that has emerged in recent years is live streaming services on the internet. Live streaming services enable content creators to broadcast their content live while viewers can watch and engage with the broadcasters in real-time. This is somewhat of an evolution from traditional recorded video sharing websites, where content creators upload edited videos to an audience at a later time. The liveness and interaction aspects in live streaming services create an entertainment medium that is unique from traditional video sharing mediums. Live streaming services have made a significant impact in the gaming industry and have caught the attention of companies. Major companies have tried to buyout live streaming service providers to add onto and/or create their own live streaming service platform in hope that it will be the next big thing on the internet. One example is Amazon’s recent acquisition of Twitch.tv, the current leader of game live streaming services. With live streaming services becoming a notable entertainment medium on the internet, many are starting to look into and analyze this type of service to develop and improve it further. Therefore, it would only make sense to also further analyze the unique user-generated content created in live streaming services and how it affects them.

Benefits of User Generated Content in Live Streaming Services

Users who are emotionally invested in a content creator are far more likely to be long-term viewers and will often convert to becoming supporters of the content creator. This emotional involvement is what drives many user-to-user created initiatives such as Patreon, which is crucial to the success of current and emerging content creators.

On the other hand, user-generated content often involves the content creator and viewer base located in a single chat/voice server, resulting in a high level of direct interaction between the two. Interaction can range from anything such as taking viewer suggestions for what to do in-game, to holding votes for content scenarios, and in some cases, even direct participation from viewers into the content itself. Audience participation not only creates a more memorable experience for the user but also creates stronger emotional bonds between the viewer and the content creator.

With the majority of user-generated content being produced by non-professionals, it often carries a sense of authenticity and relatability that professional content cannot achieve. Many users find it hard to relate to professional broadcasts since the content creators are often disconnected from their viewers and, in many cases, the content produced is sponsored or not produced by the content creator.

Enhanced User Engagement

User engagement can also be measured through the action of sharing, where higher user engagement results in users being willing to share the media they interacted with in moments of consumption, or create their own media to show others. Sharing has been identified as an important and valuable form of social support on online communities that can strengthen the relationships between receivers and their senders, and also bring new members into an online community and help current members maintain their sense of belonging. This action can be seen in recent years with the explosive growth of memes as a form of UGC on social media platforms. The pervasive nature of internet memes has seen them shared between millions of users as a form of media referencing some element of pop culture, with many individuals creating and sharing their own variations of a meme template. This serves as an outward expression of their belonging to an in-group familiar with said meme, and contributes to a wider pool of user created content as the cycle of content consumption and creation repeats itself.

User engagement can be enhanced through UGC on social media and video-sharing platforms, where users become active contributors to the service by sharing content. An extensive review of literature has highlighted the positive correlation between UGC and higher levels of user engagement. Active engagement through content creation has been found to increase community participation within an audience, and engagement with the greater fan base of a service. This can generate a cyclical system of content consumption and creation between the streamer and their audience, where streamers create media prompting audience interaction, and then audience members respond with their own related media. For example, PewDiePie has built a bridge of UGC with his Bro Army fan base by creating LetsPlay content around games popular with his audience, which has in turn resulted in said audience creating and sharing their own gaming footage with hopes to be noticed by PewDiePie (or other fans) and have their content viewed on his series. This cyclical system has been said to strengthen social bonds and in-group solidarity on social media.

Authenticity and Relatability

Relatability and authenticity are two interlinked concepts. To have content that is authentic, the broadcaster must be real. To be relatable, they must be recognizable or perceived as being similar to the player. Although these concepts are sought after, as the channel and content evolves, they can often be lost. A character can become a stereotype through role play or inauthentic through changes in gameplay focus or game changes. Relatability can be lost through moving away from representing real life or by simply evolving so much that the character is unrecognizable. User-generated content, particularly role-play forms such as blogs and forums, often keeps a record of the past and evolves with current situations so there is a tangible contrast and evidence between old and new. This is especially beneficial as it allows games or characters that are now changed or defunct to still be researched and provide entertainment for creating new content or for nostalgic purposes. An example is a World of Warcraft role player who keeps a blog for an in-game character. If that character is changed or deleted, showing the contrast in the role-play writing can allow both the creator and others to see significant events and character changes. This is unlike many streamed video games or content that can simply become lost in the sea of past broadcasts or deleted streams. For a viewer, whether content is live or after the fact, relatability and authenticity can lead to a sense of involvement or personal investment in the character or player being watched. This can inspire an ongoing viewership if the authenticity is upheld.

Diverse Content Creation

UGC also includes more neutral forms of content, where both professional and UGC content can vary in its neutrality. SM Lee (2014) explored UGC that conveyed both positive and negative brand information in an experiment whereby participants were exposed to negative professional content, negative UGC, positive professional content, and positive UGC. It was found that the effects of the UGC differed greatly from the same polarity professional content, where negative UGC was more damaging to brand attitudes and BDIs than its professional counterpart. This in mind, the most damaging content for a brand would be negative UGC while the most beneficial content would be positive professional content, due to UGC’s nature weighing effect on the damage it does to the brand in comparison to content type. Brand BG (2016) also researched the effects of UGC on brand crisis management, finding that the negative effects of crisis-world UGC can be offset by presenting viewers with refutation-information UGC made by fans. In comparison to brand RIM and refutation-professional content, the refutation UGC was more effective at restoring persuasion knowledge and brand attitudes.

What has been established is that UGC and professional content are different, including the effects certain forms of UGC have on viewers. Lee and Shin (2014) explored the effects of UGC with “high processing fluency” (UGC that mirrors professional content) and “low processing fluency” (content that is known to be amateur) on persuasion knowledge, brand attitudes, and behavioral intentions. High processing fluency UGC was found to have an effect on viewers that mirrored professional content, though processing fluency may not be the only reason why. It is likely that the professionalism of such content is what makes it effective, explaining why viewers tend to circumvent UGC when in search of ‘professional’ content. Low processing fluency UGC was found to engage viewers in an EI process, where persuasion knowledge mediation was higher and led to better BDAs, although behavioral intentions were lower due to a negative brand attitude.

While it is agreed that UGC exhibits marked differences from professional content, the distinction between various forms of UGC (made with different tools and for different purposes) and a comparison of these forms to professional content has not been well defined.

Challenges and Limitations of User Generated Content in Live Streaming Services

The primary challenge of UGC is that of moderation. That is, ensuring that content is posted properly vetted and adheres to the network’s usage terms. There are two prevalent issues of moderation as a challenge in the realm of UGC for live streaming. The first is that there is often abundant inappropriate content being submitted and with the high traffic nature of live streaming, it is difficult to regulate and supervise. As a result, such material can deter viewers and damage the brand image. Case evidence of this comes from an audience study conducted with the live streaming service FreedoCast. The survey found that 46% of viewers had witnessed an incidence of swearing or vulgarity from a caster and 30% had seen acts of racism. These viewers went on to rate the credibility and professionalism of the casters in question very low. The second issue is that user actions in live streaming are often spontaneous and are sometimes impulsive in regard to posting content. This has implications in content safety given that all posted material is final and cannot be retracted. Yahoo! and MSN faced such a problem with their messenger services when they aimed to implement content control. An article by Popkin (2003) identifies this problem as preventing the overall solidification of a safe base for children using the services. The nature of live streaming magnifies this issue given the real-time interaction between casters and viewers often involves uninhibited conversation and can result in content generation without real thought of the consequences.

Quality Control and Moderation

An extension to this system would be the implementation of reputation systems for users based on their activity and the feedback left by other viewers. This reputation would affect the users’ abilities to post certain content types. For example, users with lower reputations may not be able to post comments on videos until their reputation is raised, and users with high reputations may be rewarded with incentives to continue their activity in producing quality content.

It is widely acknowledged that a system to rate or evaluate UG content would greatly facilitate the process of moderating content quality. For example, YouTube has added a like and dislike button for comments posted on videos. This allows the viewer to judge whether the comment is of quality, and the comments with the most likes are usually seen at the top or the ones which have the most useful information. This is a relatively simple system yet is more subjective as it depends on personal opinion for what the ‘right’ comment is.

Various studies have shown that a general indicator of quality in content is one that attracts a large audience of viewers, and UG content with high viewer counts usually derives its quality from the comments posted by the viewers. This would suggest that UG content quality itself can be determined by viewer feedback and views on the content posted. However, this raises further questions on what measures should be taken if the content is of low quality, how it would be removed, and whether all content types should be subject to the same moderation process.

Moderation and control on the quality of content being posted by the users is a critical issue in user-generated content. Since the platform does not produce its own content to supply to its viewers, it depends entirely on the content being provided by the users to be of high quality. Content that is deemed of low quality will have various negative effects on the live streaming service. Due to the wide array of content types and the subjective nature of quality, it is a very difficult task to objectively define what constitutes high-quality UG content.

Legal and Copyright Issues

Should a user submit a video or post a link during a live broadcast, the content will likely be viewable by many people before site administrators have a chance to remove it. If the content is copyrighted or illegal, this can cause serious harm to the owner of the hosting site. Even if the content is promptly removed, the site can be held liable for direct or indirect copyright infringement. In serious cases, this can lead to the host site being sued, resulting in costly litigation and possibly even the shutdown of the site. On the user’s end, they themselves can also be liable for direct or indirect infringement of copyright. This can potentially lead to criminal charges if the copyrighted material was illegally distributed.

Live streaming websites offer users the ability to interact and contribute to a live broadcast by posting comments in a chat box. User-generated content such as this can be helpful and contribute to a sense of community within a webcast. Often, however, more direct forms of user participation, such as submitting a video or posting a link, can lead to legal issues for the host site as well as the user who submitted the content.

Best Practices for Incorporating User Generated Content in Live Streaming Services

By effectively communicating the guidelines and policies to the end users, and offering the necessary tools and support, live streaming services can encourage more positive UGC and deter unwanted material. With clearer guidelines, users are less likely to commit errors or face unexpected outcomes during UGC activities. Decision-making can be simplified when users are able to refer to best practices or know the likely outcome of their actions. Producing UGC fitting with the recommended best practice will lead to improved user experience.

Best practices in incorporating user-generated content (UGC) can help to ensure that a balanced exchange is maintained between the access to and the production of UGC. Due to the participatory nature of UGC, it is important to establish realistic and clear guidelines and policies to avoid frustration for the users and the owners of live streaming services. In creating the guidelines and policies for UGC, a privacy paradigm is recommended for the maintenance of personal dignity and privacy. Service providers are encouraged to give users effective controls and the choice of whether or not to participate in the UGC activity. This can be achieved through simple settings and tools which allow users to decide who can make UGC about them and who can see the UGC. Children should be provided extra protection, and measures should be taken to deter and eradicate unsolicited or inappropriate UGC, avoiding access to it wherever possible.

Clear Guidelines and Policies

As previously mentioned, often times the downside of UGC in live streaming is the loss of a sense of control and subsequent drop in quality in the content being created. In response to this, UK company Media Molecule has set some clear guidelines for creation, submission, and sharing of user-created content. The nature of the game lends itself to a younger audience, so guidelines are constantly reinforced through forum posts, website updates, and directly in-game. As a moderated service, all user-generated content must be approved by an MM team member before it goes live. This has posed some problems as users get frustrated at content possibly being delayed for release and MM still having to enforce quality standards on a second submission. Conversely, the “one chance” policy has put creators under scrutiny before the content has been seen, often resulting in self-regulation and quality control on the first attempt. MM has stated that disapproval will always come with a valid reason, and on the rare occasion of something being rejected twice, a more detailed explanation will be provided. Failure to comply with guidelines and excessive misuse of the system can result in banning from the UGC features, ensuring quality is kept high in the long term through removal of problematic users. An outlined invisible code of conduct in the form of the 10 commandments is a great way to get the message through to content creators, and instructors and students can look to this example of best practice at Carnegie Mellon University where UGC is often discussed. Another solution suggested by MM is to separate UGC from any other service provided by the game and have a specific game user and content agreement to avoid legal issues down the line.

Encouraging Participation and Community Building

For those more community-minded individuals, it’s essential to make them feel at home. If stream chat is not sufficient for their needs, viewers may wish to engage with others of similar interests in a more structured environment through the use of a dedicated forum or even a Discord server. When a community, even a small one, begins to form, the creator can look to arrange events that involve both viewers and themselves. This could be anything from a game of Cards Against Humanity to a community tournament in a game relevant to the stream. Viewing parties are also a possibility; for example, a streamer’s audience may want to catch a major eSports event together. All of these events can serve to further strengthen the bonds between viewers and the creator and make it more likely that those viewers will continue to take part in user-generated content.

When trying to form a community, a good place to start is to encourage people to join. In the case of live streaming communities, these people would be viewers, and a number of methods may be employed to entice them to take part. Some viewers may wish only for their 15 minutes of fame, and it would be prudent to cater for this. A “video reply” feature can allow viewers to record footage directly from their webcams (no uploading required), which is then linked to the original clip. This method was implemented by YouTube in the late 2000s using the site’s own video response feature. A more direct method may involve some form of influencer marketing. If the creator can entice well-known individuals to take part in their stream, then they are potentially able to attract viewers from the influencer’s fan base. This situation can be win-win if the influencer is also a user of the game being played, accepting free entertainment in exchange for providing an audience.

Leveraging User Generated Content for Marketing and Promotion

In terms of marketing and promotion, user-generated content is very similar to word-of-mouth recommendations. Such recommendations have been shown to have a strong impact on consumer behavior. User-generated content that serves as a recommendation to the brand may be found in many different forms. One common form of user-generated content for live streams would be comments left on the stream page. Users may post comments and questions during the stream that pertain to the content of the stream or the brand that is providing the stream. Such comments can then be used as a form of feedback about the stream, to determine which parts of the stream show the brand in a positive or negative light. The brand can then take the positive comments and use them to guide future content.

There are many different forms of marketing and promotion that organizations can use. In the past ten years or so, a new form of marketing has emerged in the form of user-generated content. User-generated content encompasses a wide variety of media. Websites, such as Twitter or Facebook, blogs, video sharing sites such as YouTube, even forums and news sites are just some of the types of sites where user-generated content can be found. This form of media is unique in that it is unpaid, can come in many different forms, and may serve as an authentic recommendation to the brand being promoted. Live streaming services, as a form of media itself, provide a unique opportunity to leverage user-generated content to promote the brand and gain new users.

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