I am on the road for a couple of weeks, but had to report back on an interesting interlude I had in Vancouver this week. Last night I went to a What’s Going On Salon event. (Note: if you live in Vancouver and are in film and television you should be going to these talks to learn about a multitude of issues in the digital world that could help and inspire you.) Brent Friedman, transmedia writer and pioneer, was speaking about the nature of the media audience and how it is evolving. He has been a part of many conversations where Hollywood executives lament about how quickly technology and business models are changing, but feels there is an important part of the equation often being left out – the changing audience and how these changes affect the delivery of stories (and, I would also argue, marketing).
The Modern Audience
Over a lively hour and a half, Brent revealed his ideas around the nature of the modern audience, concluding with this final breakdown of who they are and how they behave. The audience today is:
- Social – They seek connection and validation from their peers. This is so pervasive because of technology, Brent feels we can stop talking about it and just assume that, of course, there is and has to be a social component to all entertainment. If producers, broadcasters, distributors do not provide it they do so at their peril and the audience will notice (and not in a good way).
- Empowered – The “Pandora’s Box” of choice has been opened and there is no way to claw back that empowerment. As technology has advanced it has given them more choice and control which has in turn has spurred on more technological advances, and so on and so on. The audience wants to be able to have options about how and when they are delivered media.
- Fragmented – Entertainment is now delivered to audiences through multiple platforms and every platform will have multiple niche audiences. It’s important to identify what he called these audience “subspecies,” especially those that are actually spending cash on media. He maintains that a key demographic is the 25-35 year olds who are conditioned to pay online for content and have the means to do so (a job).
- Multi-tasking – This is all about the social TV phenomenon and other ways the audience focus is split across multiple screens and devices, often all at once and while they are doing other things. He talked about media as a snack food and wondered how and if creators can stop it from being unhealthy junk food (no answers were offered on this one).
- Monetizable – The modern audience is one that is willing to pay (which will be great news for any producer I’ve talked to). They value custom content and a frictionless experience from their media and are willing to shell out the cash (which is where that important 25-35 demographic comes in), but also expect an awful lot of stuff for free too.
Brent’s Final Words of Wisdom
He also had some final advice for the screen media creators in the room (much of which resonated deeply with I have been thinking):
- Know your audience – Target your demographic and study their habits. With my search marketing hat on, this is exactly where the keyword research I keep going on about is such an invaluable tool. It can help really narrow in on specific niches and provide the language to find and engage them online.
- Use each platform – Provide a multifacted experience that leverages each platform’s strengths. The whole transmedia phenomenon continues to fascinate and engage me as an audience member myself. Not every person will want or have the time for a full multi-platform experience, but including these options creates opportunities to grow and build a larger, more invested audience.
- Closely follow trends – Align your content with relevant conversations. Again, not only can keyword research be of benefit here, but also watching trending on Twitter (and using tools like Trendistic) can help identify pockets of interest that already exist and that can be tapped into with the right story.
- Build for the future – Incorporate social and technical innovations. In this space anything new = opportunity. Not just in a great story but also in the unique delivery of that story, such as the Twitter horror movie I recently experienced. I think it’s a fascinating and exciting time to be a storyteller, one that tests and celebrates creativity.
- Customize payment plans – Offer multiple choices for user monetization. Brent said he often felt besieged by the ways that online video is being sponsored and filled with ads and product placement. He is an advocate of giving the audience a choice about how they pay for the content they get. It could be a direct purchase, an ongoing subscription, the instant gratification of something like a video on demand model, other downloadable content or value added elements like the virtual goods or micro enhancements many of the casual social games like Farmville use (although it is unclear how you would do that for a narrative yet). Really, as with story, there are potentially endless ways to get creative with monetization because of how quickly technology is evolving. Who knows what the next big thing could be?
I learned a lot and felt validated by Brent’s salon. He is deeply in the transmedia and new storytelling space and is seeing many of the same things I have. It’s always nice to find out you agree with smart people. The recommendations above could also be applied to digital marketing plans for screen media projects – deep audience and market knowledge, innovation and creativity, and even a flexible monetization strategy will strengthen such a plan and provide greater chances for success. Brent has inspired me to give some additional thought about marketing to this evolving audience and how what I do can be used even more creatively.
Do you have any other questions, resources, tips or insight about the nature of the modern audience? Please post below or send them via email to annelise(at)veria.ca or on Twitter @veriatweet.
Or Revisit the Last Issue: Say Cheese! A Global Transmedia Snapshot