Visit Savannah’s Viral Debacle (Updated)

Update 5:18 pm:  Visit Savannah has published new rules for their video contest  which can be found here.  While I am still not in love with a perpetual non-exclusive license just for entering, the rules are more fair to the content creators.

And one thing I might not have made clear in the first post – I have no issue with Visit Savannah claiming the rights to the work of anyone who is compensated with a prize.  I was taking issue with claiming ownership of all entries.

Either way, a positive change!

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By now, it’s likely you have seen the YouTube  video that Visit Savannah launched last week to promote tourism.  If you haven’t watched it yet, here it is:

I’m not writing this to pile on the criticism of the original video itself, but calling the response to it tepid would be kind.  That’s the risk you run when you declare your intentions to “go viral” though.  Viral is not something you can wish into being, it is something that happens organically.  And in this case, especially among locals, the negative responses to the video are what have seen viral spread, not the video itself. In fairness, it’s not the locals who are being targeted by the video, but  local tax dollars were spent to produce it, so they are certainly stakeholders in the process.

You can take the time to sift through the comments on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social media channels if you like, but the Savannah Morning News article linked below does a good job of encapsulating the complaints that have been lodged. So today, in response to the negative reaction, Visit Savannah issued a “put up or shut up” challenge to its detractors.  Matching the original budget spent on the first video, Visit Savannah is offering $15,000 in prizes for submissions of videos that do a better job of capturing the Savannah zeitgeist than the original.  But the winner doesn’t get $15,000, it’s split into three prizes $7,500, $5,000 and $2,500.

Contests are all well and good, they can be a great way to generate buzz, attention and participation.  But in this case, when you read the terms of the contest, Visit Savannah is trying to exploit the talents of the vibrant creative community in Savannah. I despise contests that are so dismissive of the creative process that entrants are asked to gamble their time, energy and skill for a chance to be named the winner.  Sure, a SCAD student who does a great video will be thrilled with the $7,500 prize when named the grand prize winner.  But what happens to the fourth place finisher who had a brilliant concept, but didn’t have the right equipment to pull off a proper execution? Based on the contest rules, Visit Savannah owns all entries, so they get nothing and lose the rights to their ideas.

Without getting into a wide-ranging discussion about copyright and content ownership, I will simply state my opinion.  I hate contests like this.  By dangling the carrot, Visit Savannah will likely receive numerous entries that are better than the original,  any of which they can recreate using their large budget. Only the top 3 will receive remuneration – and at best, be compensated at a 50% of the original video. By claiming ownership rights to all entries, they are asking a lot of people to do their work for them for free.

The other consideration is that the terms of the contest will likely keep those with the wherewithal to pull off an excellent video not to enter.  What happens if none of the entries have strong enough production values to be featured?  Then it’s truly bad money after bad money.

Why not structure the contest so that it is a call for scripts? Pay $2,500, $1,500 and $1,000 for the best three, which Visit Savannah then owns.  All others retain the rights to their work. With scripts in hand, Visit Savannah can manage the video production and ensure the final product is something useful.

Ultimately, it seems like a lot of feelings have been hurt over at Visit Savannah.  Rather than owning their mistake and issuing a  mea culpa, Visit Savannah has instead demanded that those who are critical do their job for them. Sure people have a choice whether or not to enter the contest, but  the contest is the only way many potential entrants might ever even be considered for this work.  If the idea is to portray the city in the best possible way, Visit Savannah is really missing the point.