Selling Out to Sponsors: Al Gore’s Current

We know it’s the rage on the part of the media/ad industry to encourage users/viewers to create their own content. It’s often touted as a technique permitting greater user interaction with commercial media. But however it’s framed, the motive is about deepening the brand and marketing relationships between advertisers and individuals.

Al Gore has been getting praise for his environmental work, including a new film on global warming (“An Inconvenient Truth”). He deserves it, certainly. But Gore’s new Current video channel—which is billed as “dedicated to bringing your voice to television”—contributes to the growing commercial “pollution” of our culture. As a way to get advertising revenue from sponsors, Current is encouraging viewers to create corporate ads. Right now, they are urging folks to help out Toyota, L’Oreal, and Sony, for example. These companies see it as a cheap way to get commercials made and to also obtain “grass-roots feedback” on what people (esp. younger viewers) think about their brands. If Current airs the spot, producer-viewers can earn $1,000 and more.

The growing role that marketing and advertising is playing in our digital culture will promote higher levels of personal consumption, economic inequities and—yes—environmental pollution. Current encourages viewers to create their own editorial content. But Gore and his partners should not be asking viewers/users to support the efforts of advertisers to further extend their relationships and reach. Otherwise, Current will become nothing more than a network-length infomercial for the Fortune 500.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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