Everyone is trying to figure out the future of content

#focdebI was looking again at some of the video recordings of last week’s debate at the British Library in London that I went to, organized by B2B SaaS company Meltwater, and which addressed the topic of “The Future of Content.”

The debate and subsequent Q&A session lasted two hours – you can watch the complete-event video as if you were there – and was a worthwhile experience listening to the keynote address from Richard Sambrook, Edelman’s Chief Content Officer (and a former Director of Global News at the BBC) and the panel members’ commentaries ably facilitated by panel chair Matthew Gwyther, the editor of Management Today magazine.

And a stellar panel it was comprising Jorn Lyseggen, founder and CEO of Meltwater (at left in the video still photo); Francis Ingham, CEO, PRCA; David Pugh, Managing Director, NLA (centre in the photo); Helen Dunne, Editor of CorpComms Magazine; and Lionel Bently (right in the photo), a specialist in intellectual property law and Director of the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law at the University of Cambridge.

How the debate was described set a pretty high expectation level:

The Future of Content will examine who will generate content in the future, how this will change the PR, marketing and publishing industries, how individuals will consume content and how/whether content could/will be monetized going forward.

It didn’t actually do that – it’s far too big a topic to be conclusive about in this kind of debate, a point many who tweeted on the day (June 6) seemed to agree with. The discussion did range far and wide over the broad questions about what is ‘content,’ what makes it relevant and valuable to a content consumer, how social media has changed the media landscape and lowered the barriers to entry for anyone with an opinion to start the conversation never mind join it, etc.

Meltwater’s Dan Purvis captured the essence of the debate well in his post including this insightful comment:

[...] We also talked about the thorny issue of “old” or “traditional” media versus “new media”. It’s not really a matter of one or the other, but more of how the values of the traditional media need to be adopted by new media, and how this old guard need to embrace the new way of communicating and make it work for them.

Lurking in the background, so to speak, is the conflict between Meltwater and the Newspaper Licensing Agency (the NLA) on a thorny issue for the PR industry and companies who provide services such as monitoring – from early 2010, anyone copying and supplying UK newspaper web content to others for a fee (monitoring or press clippings agencies to PR agencies, for instance, and from those PR agencies to their clients) must acquire a license in the UK from the NLA.

You can read about the licenses at the NLA website.

Just before the new licensing procedure came into effect, Meltwater mounted a legal challenge in late 2009, the latest stage of which was a hearing a few days ago in the Court of Appeal in London. The ruling of that court will be known soon. Writing in ORGZine, Saskia Walzel has a pretty good summary of events leading up to that appeal.

See how some influential voices have spoken about last week’s debate:

Some people might say that the debate didn’t take anything forward about the future of content that we don’t already know or talk about. So while it did offer some good opinions on the who and and the what, as it were, there was no clear path to show the why and the how of the future of content to help take the debate forward in a truly compelling way.

I think that’s largely a narrow view if you consider how the NLA licensing shadow is part of the current landscape, whatever your view on it may be. Indeed, it casts a big shadow that obscures any clear view at the moment of a future path in that description of the debate I mentioned earlier. If the licensing model is upheld by the Court of Appeal, it could have a big impact on the future of content and how that content is published and shared.

What that future might be is what everyone is trying to figure out.

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About Neville Hobson

Entrepreneurial business communicator with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Co-host of the weekly business podcast For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report. Also an occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Follow me on Twitter and Google+.