The panelists agreed that user-generated content, like widgets, is more about engaging viewers than making money. They also argued that such content must be used cautiously, where it makes the most sense. Panelist Fran Hauser, president of Time Inc.'s People Digital unit, said her site launched blogging for users to discuss subjects about which they tend to be passionate and informed, such as television programs and fashion. Celebrity-related news, as the site's core business, remained off-limits to user content, however.
As for user-generated video, MTV's Stirratt said it remains a considerable challenge to sift through the piles of poor-quality, obscene, or otherwise unacceptable submissions to find the few gems that can be posted on an MTV property.
With widgets and user-generated content still in the exploratory stages, the panelists agreed that at least two non-traditional technologies have already proven their worth in extending publishers' reach: RSS and search.
Even if "RSS feels sort of old-fashioned in the world of widgets," Schiller said, the technology has become a cornerstone of media companies' content-distribution platforms. Each month at NYTimes.com, for instance, RSS facilitates the distribution of 5 million video streams and 1 million podcast streams, she said.
People Digital's Hauser agreed, adding that as exciting as widgets might be, "we're not seeing RSS numbers yet."
Like RSS, search has established itself in the new content-distribution landscape. Data from search traffic played a key role in NYTimes.com's recent decision to drop its subscription-based Times Select program, Schiller said.
She said that during the two-year lifespan of Times Select, NYTimes.com saw a 133 percent jump in search-driven traffic that made having a subscription-based area unworkable.
"The more search traffic that comes in, the more disparity you'll have between your loyalists and your non-loyalists," she said. She said non-loyalists are not inclined to shell out for a monthly subscription service simply because a Times op-ed piece appeared at the top of their search results page.
A final area in which publishers are experimenting still remains one of the most elusive: the mobile platform. Still, the panelists were optimistic about wireless content's potential, even if they have little in the way of hard results to show at present.
People's Hauser was quick to mention her site's own experimental premium mobile-content service, which launched in July.
Over at MTV, the company is striving to create an immersive experience and expects to rely heavily on mobile content, Stirratt said. She also cited her network's 35 mobile channels and 80 carrier partners as the conduits to a massive potential audience.
"This is mobile media's defining moment," she said.
This article was first published on InternetNews.com.