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OhmyTV Beef Protest Coverage Opens Readers' Hearts, Pocketbooks
Donations to cover bandwidth costs of live video feeds of candlelight vigils total $130,000
OhmyNews (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2008-06-06 16:43 (KST)   
OhmyTV reporters Kim Yoon-sang (in the driver's seat of the OhmyNews car) and Moon Kyung-mi stream live video from downtown Seoul.
©2008 OhmyNews
You pay or advertisers pay -- these are the two rules of media business unchallenged for over a hundred years. But can there be a third model sustainable enough to support a sizable news organization such as OhmyNews?

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OhmyNews is testing the treacherous waters of a media business model with a viewer-sponsored live Web casting this month.

Ever since the disclosure that Seoul signed a trade deal with Washington -- some believe it was too hasty -- and lifted a ban on the import of American beef older than 30 months and other beef related products specified as SRM (specified risk material), the streets of Seoul erupted with mass candlelight vigils nearly every night.

Koreans cringed at a scenario that US beef -- potentially infected with mad cow disease -- would be sold soon at mom-and-pop stores in their neighborhood.

OhmyNews sent in OhmyTV, its Web casting crew, to the scene and followed the nightly vigils. Viewers to the site poured in to watch the history as it happens and an otherwise underused OhmyTV media server logged a record 1.2 million unique viewers in a single spurt on June 1.

The problem was OhmyTV is a free service, with no requirement for a paid subscription or log-in before viewers can access its video stream.

A sticker shock followed soon. The network costs of the media server has jumped to over 80 million won (US$80,000) in a week -- 27 times higher than usual according to Bang Ki-kwan, finance director of OhmyNews.

Then a surprising thing happened.

©2008 OhmyTV
After OhmyNews revealed to its readers the sudden increase in bandwidth costs, viewers paid en masse to sustain the only live Web casting station that followed the candlelight vigils in their entirety. OhmyNews allows its visitors to pay tips to their favorite writers either through mobile phones, credit cards or bank transfers.

As of June 6, some 34,000 viewers have contributed over 130 million won ($130,000) for the live Web casting. For many Korean expats working or studying abroad but who still wish to follow the drama in Seoul, OhmyTV was the only source available to them. They were the most frequent financial contributors of all, paying a disproportionate amount of money.

Media analyst Kim Jae-young noted that OhmyTV relied on the long-tail aspect of micropayment for its financial independence. OhmyTV was able to raise a huge sum of money by tapping into lower 80% of on-line crowd, coupled with near-zero transaction cost on the Web, Kim said.

This is not the first time that the OhmyNews tip jar system was able to collect a huge amount of spontaneous financial contributions. In 2004, when Kim Yong-ok, a well-known Korean professor in Eastern Philosophy, published an article on OhmyNews critical of the opponents of a government decision to relocate the capital city, he saw his tip jar quickly brimming with $30,000 of hard cash paid for by nearly 8,000 contributors.

The $130,000 collected by OhmyTV in 10 days shows the possibility that citizen media can expand the scope of citizen participation from simple story contribution and editorial control to financial support. Readers have already turned to writers and editors on the Web. Now they are evolving to become financial stakeholders.

Related Articles
OhmyNews International Citizen Reporters' Forum 2008
Seoul Celebrates 'Candle Night'
Candlelight 2008: New Media and Korea's Protests
' Korean Bloggers and Journalists Should Learn From Each Other '
'A Smart Mob Is Not Necessarily a Wise Mob'

©2008 OhmyNews
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