Thursday, February 06, 2014

Where's your audience now? 3 big shifts in traditional media

I'm sure I'm not the only person who has wondered why, in the age of social media, network television has seemed to sail through the transition from its traditional roots and print media like newspapers have stumbled. In the past week, a trio of articles came through my feeds, each with a different piece of the same answer: One medium knows where to find and assemble its audience and the other doesn't, yet.

In Super Bowl underscores the big business of must-see live TV, media critic David Carr not only confesses his family had a bucket of KFC for the big game, but puts his finger on television's sweet spot: Live TV events give us shared experiences in a way no other medium does. The Super Bowl is just one example, with the last four contests each ranking as the most-watched television program in history in total viewers. Even the less-watched game this year set a record. NFL games overall this season drew more than 20 million viewers, three times the average television program audience. But there's more:
...even as network ratings have dropped 29 percent over the last decade, the Grammys have added six million viewers, the Academy Awards have added three million give or take, and the Golden Globes have managed to hold steady over the same time period, according to the Nielsen Company. No wonder that Dick Clark Productions is adding as many live events as it can get its hands on and that William Morris Endeavor recently made a huge bet by buying IMG to gain access to sports, powered as it is by live events.
Unscripted live television has high potential to delight, disrupt and surprise us, and those are the moments that get people talking the next day--or the day before. No wonder, then, that Facebook was offering deals to celebrities who posted about the Super Bowl; it wanted a piece of that second-screen audience. In a world of many options, television has figured out how to do what it always did best: Get us to gather around a screen with a group of friends (and plenty of chips and dip so we don't have to miss a moment).

While network television's going wide, streaming services like Amazon and Netflix are narrowcasting. When the consumer can choose where and when to watch, even binge-watching an entire season in a weekend, that's a winning strategy that takes advantage of our desire for customized experiences. Want to watch that show again and again? Want to know all the plotlines by Monday? You can, and so can you. A new sign of the robust strength of this trend: Netflix is raising $400 million so it can produce more original content like my beloved House of Cards.

The Netflix and Amazon models take advantage of an approach you can use, hyper-categorization. That means more tagging and targeting content to particular users and subgroups of users--exactly the opposite of that big-group shared experience that live TV is cornering. In effect, it's a menu of opportunities in which many users can find themselves and their particular likes and passions. You're telling them where to quickly find what they want.

That's not yet the case with the news apps coming out of traditional print media. In Everyone's making news apps but no one knows the right way to read them, Business Insider writer Ryan Bushey highlights a formatting issue you may have missed. Used to be that all newspapers followed the same format for readability and news order. That lead story was always at the top right corner of the front page, which itself said "this is the summary of what's most important today." But now, a thousand options are blooming in how news app let you navigate and in what they offer you to read. There's no consistent way for a mobile user to approach several news apps. 

It's one reason Bushey thinks the boomlet in news apps is not long-lived. "With so much information available online, it's tough to be able sit down and read everything regardless if a story is spruced up with sleek visuals," he notes. He predicts that most of the news apps that debut in 2014 won't be around by year's end.

(Creative Commons licensed photo from U.S. Army Korea's photostream on Flickr)

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