User generated content is shaping branded owned media, but who owns the rights?

Two years ago, Flipkart launched Flipkart Stories, an owned media website that deals with company related news, customer stories and topical content. A recent lead story shares the Flipkart CTO’s views on Bengaluru’s traffic woes.

While there have been other experiments of brands and owned content, the Coke Studio@MTV series comes to mind, Flipkart Stories is certainly one of the most comprehensive and wide ranging examples of branded owned media.

It’s also one of the biggest communication challenges for brands, the PR function and the mainstream media as well.

In order to share mutual insights on the issue, Microsoft India recently hosted a dialogue on, “Owned Media as a brand tool’.

User generated content and owned media

Participants believed that user generated content will play a significant role in shaping owned content. But central to this trend, is the question as to who owns the copyright to such content? The brand or the customer generating the content?

There are learnings from how international brands have approached this question. Starbucks, for example, designed the ‘White Cup’ content to publicise its’ reusable cups.  The best customer doodles on the ‘White Cup’ were rewarded with US $ 300 gift cards in return for user generated content rights.

Apple for the ‘Shot on iPhone’ campaign bought the rights for existing pictures shot on iPhone and put them across thousands of hoardings.

So why are brands keen to own the rights to UGC? Access to metadata is one reason. Developing your owned media platform with rights to content on it, makes the goal of calculating the impact of a piece of content much easier.

As the debate on this question rages on, Ashish Limaye, CEO, APAC region for ‘Happy Finish’, a studio for creative content, said that ultimately the rights for user generated content, has to be with the original creator of the content.

 Media and their relationship with owned media

The dialogue was kicked off by Andrew Pickup, senior director, communications, Microsoft Asia, who shared examples of storytelling from Microsoft that did not travel the usual pitching to media route. Pickup flagged off the story of how data - driven software is driving energy savings at the company’s headquarters at Redmond, Washington. The 2013 multimedia feature, carried on the Microsoft News Centre as a piece of owned media, centred around a personal account by Darrell Smith, director of facilities and energy, and his approach to energy saving. This was picked up by mainstream media such as ‘The Verge’ and still generates stories in the B2B media.

Even as he shared examples of successful owned media, Pickup clarified that he still considered mainstream media and journalists as top of the pyramid when it comes to communicating the brand message.

Shilpa Kannan, who reports for BBC’s ‘India Business Report’ outlined the challenges of reporting in a world where customers pick up content from all sources including non mainstream media.

Kannan shared that as a matter of intentional policy, international media companies do not even accept a flight ticket to travel to do the story. This ensures complete independence of the story.

This also means that mainstream journalists end up competing with the greater access provided when there is a relationship, say, with a paid blogger.

The editorial heart of owned media

Owned media does have a built in redundancy with users. However, participants shared that users tend not to care so much about the source of the content as long as it is useful and enjoyable.

Aman Dhall, group AVP and head of corporate communications,, the problem with owned media in India is the treatment. Should it be given a “ marketing treatment or a PR treatment?” Dhall said mostly the decision is to give it a marketing treatment and that is where such content fails.

Ruchika Mehta, corporate director - communications & public relations, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels Ltd. shared that Marriott’s travel and tourism content is the second most popular media source ahead of mainstream hospitality magazines. Mehta also stated that the target audience decides whether a brand choses earned or owned content.

She is also sceptical of the benefits of targeting paid bloggers on the basis of the number of followers they have.

Mehta said she would rather, “Pay a Conde Nast and get a proper branded piece than a blogger.”

This brings us to the question about reach and ROI. Ashish Limaye clarified that one should look at media for reach and not for returns. The purpose of media is provide scale and credibility, not customer conversion.

Kumar Deep, head of external affairs for Vodafone India pointed out that in today’s integrated, social media driven world, it can be very difficult to separate credible influencers from those who have agendas. 

Seasoned communications professional, Moushumi Dutt, who till recently worked for Phillips India said that when she started her PR career over two decades it was all 100 percent earned media. Dutt raised the question that when it comes to owned and paid media, it would be important to clarify in which department this function falls. Whether it’s a buying decision or an editorial PR outreach.

Owned Media now

Aniruddha Bhagwat, co-founder and director, Ideosphere said that brands today want owned media from the start, rather than it progressing from earned media.

The Microsoft Dialogue on owned media as a brand tool was attended by Andrew Pickup, senior director, communications, Microsoft Asia, Gayatri Rath, director and head of Microsoft India Communications, Shilpa Kannan, business correspondent, India Business Report, BBC, Aman Dhall, group AVP and head of corporate communications ,, Ruchika Mehta, corporate director - communications & public relations, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels Ltd., Ashish Limaye, CEO-APAC, Happy Finish, Kumar Deep Banerjee, head-external affairs, Vodafone India, Deepa Thomas Sutcliffe, CEO, Turquoise River Consultancy, Moushumi Dutt, seasoned PR professional, Aniruddha Bhagwat, co-founder and director, Ideosphere, Paarul Chand, Editor, PRmoment India

From Team Microsoft India: Bhavna Imran, Anissha Aggarwal, Juhee Ahmad, Rajat Agrawal, Sohini Bhattacharya, Illa Chhabra

The Microsoft Dialogue on “ Owned Media as a Brand Tool”, was initiated and hosted by Microsoft India. It was curated and moderated by PRmoment India.

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