Few things infuriate me more than being told: “I’m surprised that someone like you hasn’t read this book (or article or blog).” Hidden behind a vague acknowledgement of my worth awaits a hard smack down, implying that I am either woefully ignorant or intellectually lazy.
I beg to differ, on both counts.
Look at the teetering pile of books waiting for me to read them. Peruse the long list of Netflix, Amazon and Crave series I will watch. That’s on top of the ever-growing queue of unwatched shows on my DVR. When you’re done, review the lists of YouTube videos and podcasts I will at some point enjoy.
If there’s something I haven’t read, seen or heard – It’s just that I haven’t gotten to it yet.
Let’s not forget that I also strive to keep up with Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Apple News. (Out of desperation, I’ve given up SnapChat and Twitter.) And oh, there are those time-consuming “high-priority” matters of a job, family, friends and a dog.
Can you relate?
In my last column, I asserted that content is now a commodity. Full disclosure: my knowledge of economics comes from reading Economics for Dummies. From personal experience alone, I feel comfortable arguing that compelling content shifted from being scarce to being profusely abundant, has thereby reversed the balance of supply and demand.
In his seminal 1996 essay, Bill Gates declared that “content is king.” This quote has been repeated at least twice in every media conference I’ve attended since then. The idea is that the more content you have, the more people you attract.
[As an aside, I find it fascinating that the now-ubiquitous phrase is attributed to Gates. In a 2014 Silkscreen blog post, “content is king” is actually attributed to another billionaire: Sumner Redstone.]
Paying homage to the king, we’ve all been creating compelling content – immeasurable amounts of content – that we’ve shared online and in real life. In 2006, Time’s Person of the Year was “YOU”: the millions of us who anonymously generate and contribute content.
Flash forward to 2019. The trend of consumer-produced content has exploded, to the point where this spewing volcano of content has forever changed many lives. In 2018, major Silicon Valley executives publicly rued the impact of the technologies they’d built and marketed; some openly admitting that they ban their children from using social media, or seriously limit and monitor screen time.
Let’s talk about those consumers, their lives, and their relationship to content. Let’s apply some powerful design thinking to their circumstances and needs.
Design thinking – if you’re not yet familiar – is the use of the design process as a problem-solving tool. Design thinking can solve any type of problem, be it trite or complex, by making use of research, prototyping, and rounds of iteration. The most effective design thinking solutions result from collaborative processes with both empathy and ideation at the centre. Also, design thinking squashes hierarchically structures into flatter, more egalitarian, processes.
To focus our design thinking on consumers – individuals, people – we must work together to engage in unbiased observation and apply empathy in our analysis and fresh ideation. Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas – two excellent tools when designing (or redesigning) businesses – also propose starting with the consumer: When creating a value proposition, you either address a consumer’s pain point or create an opportunity, some kind of gain, for them.
In this context, the idea that “Content is king” becomes problematic by focusing on the product and not on its benefit to the consumer. The mantra positions content above all. However, design thinking will tell us that content without an audience has no value and no power.
Fractured, hard-to-measure audiences
What does this mean to the industry’s future? Well plausibly, if this continues, you will see a growing number of fractured, hard-to-measure audiences and fewer consumers for any particular product. This phenomenon, already underway, is happening quicker than audience measurement or research companies are able to keep up. During the Executive Forum on Cross Media Measurement by the Association of Canadian Advertisers in June, BARB (Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board) indicated that their multi-platform, video-audience measurement service, Project Dovetail, barely a few years old, needed to be enhanced as it captured no more than half of video consumption in the UK. If that’s the significant advancements in audience measurement they’ve made, where does that leave the industry in Canada?
Just as Bill Gates predicted in 1996, content producers will need to find new ways to finance projects and new measures of success. Inundated with content, platforms are now the money makers. We see this regarding YouTube, Facebook and Google. People advertise on these platforms for their large audiences, regardless of the content being published. Users go there for the content; advertisers go there for the users. (Channels, including platforms, will be the topic of my next column.)
How well do you know your audiences?
How well do you know your audiences? I mean above and beyond the data your measurement services provide. Keep in mind that most consumer journey maps, gross simplifications, focus on the relationship between the consumer and the product. Consumers are “represented” by personas that are created by heuristic evaluations and not supported by empirical data. I saw that happen recently, when discussing a campaign with a 30-something supplier. I had to remind them that many older millennials sport beer bellies and are raising children. They’re not all still the hip, young generation.
To think that an entire generation, age group, gender, etc., behaves in one fashion is reductive. It is time that our thinking moves beyond the binary, especially with the learning opportunities presented by quantum computing.
Traditional media hold forth the prevailing argument that they produce quality content, but who gets to define quality? My teenage godchild and her sister live on YouTube and quote cheaply produced memes (they are hysterical.) For them, this content is quality. Yet my niece absorbs anime on several streaming platforms. Three teens, two sets of behaviours, and two views of quality.
I’m telling you, it’s the consumer we need to watch.
Now it’s your turn:
How might we better reach, measure and understand Canadian audiences? What are you doing inside your companies to address these issues?
Bonus question: How might we help Canadian Content Producers finance their projects and build audiences?
Drop me a line with your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Missed Eric’s inaugural column for Broadcast Dialogue? Read it here.
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