Screen media producers need money to create their product. To get that money they need to show that they can deliver an audience. The more information they can provide about that audience, the easier their product is to sell and the easier it is to attract investment/advertising dollars. In fact, I recently was told, that it is this audience data that is the most valuable product. The actual content (the film, television show, web series, transmedia experience) is secondary and could even be viewed as simply a delivery mechanism for that data. That, my friends, is a mind-blowing and potentially extremely depressing idea. But, if the content no longer really matters, then this fact can be very liberating as well. If you can prove that you can and are delivering a clearly defined and loyal audience with certain viewing habits and purchase behaviours, then you can make whatever you want (as long as it keeps that audience with you). So, how do you provide that proof and gain that kind of creative freedom? This issue of From Search to Screen makes the case that the online audience and its data is the key to the future of this industry.
Film Audience Data
In the movie industry the big audience measurement has always been the box office numbers, especially opening weekend, as well as focus groups and test screenings. There is a direct to consumer correlation with the data simply because people are buying (at the box office, through DVD sales, through video downloads). But this simple system is breaking down with the kind of access to content the Internet allows. The box office is no longer the be all and end all in terms of data. A whole new world of numbers is available online and the big Hollywood studios are gobbling it up in the hope of better understanding what defines and makes a “hit.” A recent article by a favourite journalist of mine, Nick DeMartino, asked “Can Data Save the Studios?” and outlines how the Warner Brothers purchases of Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes earlier this year is part of a trend to include social media data in Hollywood planning and analysis.
Television Audience Data
The television industry, which is primarily financed by advertising, has always understood the value of audience data. From the beginning that data has been sold to the brands that buy commercials. That data came from panels (a small sampling of households) and was extrapolated to the larger viewing audience. Now, full disclosure, my family was a Nielsen family for about a year and I know how flawed such data is. We wore the little pager like devices (which you can never be without and which record all television and radio signals you encounter throughout the day) with enthusiasm – to begin with. Then I was hounding and nagging my kids and husband. The devices were often left behind or ran out of power and a few times (I must admit) I was wearing four of them at once. There is no way the data sampling we sent was an accurate picture of our household’s viewing activities. And yet, I have been in the room while broadcasters try to claim that traditional panel data is more accurate than online metrics. It makes me crazy. But, like film, television has also had to embrace the power of Internet audience data and is using such breakthroughs as social TV to provide more precise numbers and laser like targeting to its advertisers than ever before. Broadcaster websites also gather analytics data to provide more depth, tracking and accuracy. In many ways, and perhaps ironically, they are the most visible example of the power of Internet data in this sector.
Online Audience Data
Over my 16 years working in Internet marketing I have witnessed time and time again the power of online audience data and how it can improve and grow a business. Before a new venture even starts you can gather a rich amount of market research that can inform and help you plan strategy. And once your online presence is launched it not only allows you to gather all kinds of information on every person who is in contact with your website or your Facebook page or your YouTube channel, but it also gives you the ability to track certain actions and the paths people take to get there. If you have set everything up properly you will be able to see instantly where your promotional efforts are working and where they are not, make adjustments and measure impact, all in real-time. It is an agile and powerful combination that neither film nor television can match (and why they are turning to it as well).
The Trust & Privacy Compromise
At the end of the day, however, your audience is made up of real people, not numbers. All your research and tracking and analysis means nothing if you fail to engage them and win their trust. If they feel you are only using them and their data to make money you will lose them in a heartbeat. Online privacy is also a huge legal issue and legislation is changing all the time. As a screen media producer who wants to embrace this brave new online world as your business model (and many would say you have no choice) you need to tread carefully around these issues of trust and privacy. The new audience is a savvy audience and they will be willing to work with you if you are providing them with real value and an experience and story they cannot get anywhere else, if you are engaging with them authentically and with passion. If you are able to earn their trust, cherish that. Today it is the most valuable coin in the realm.
Do you have any other questions, resources, tips or insight about online audience measurement and data? Please post below or send them via email to annelise(at)veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Or revisit the previous issue: The Audience as a Moving Target: How Mobile is Changing Search Marketing