In the spring of this past year, my day job sent me to the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Vegas. We have been hearing for a while hat the way people consume entertainment is changing. Well, we all know that it has been changing for a long time and many people are just feeling the effects of it now. The focus of this conference was on “The Great Content Shift”. Speakers ranged from Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) to the full team of producers for Netflix to James Cameron (Director of Avatar) spoke on various subjects, but all spoke about the change from traditional models of entertainment to the bold new world they are looking at.
While all of them spoke about vastly different topics, the heart of the matter was that the consumer market has changed so drastically and so quickly, that the creator market hasn’t had time to figure out how to process new needs and desires from consumers. Sound familiar? The broadcast market has so vastly changed in just the past 5 years with equipment becoming better, cheaper and faster. The landscapes of those creating art and entertainment have changed vastly from being those who have the knowledge and grant access to those who can and are willing do it. The main point is, the industry they work in hasn’t had time to meet the needs and demands of the consumers they create for.
Just as I was hearing these artists and creators and developers speak about their field I started listening to many more podcasts and seeing these podcasts start to pop up as video content on other sites (Hulu, Youtube, and Netflix). Hulu had started producing and showing more content that they generated themselves. I had heard about YouTube giving content generators financial backing to create more content. If you live in DC, you know that “House of Cards” (a show produced by Netflix) has been blocking traffic everywhere and nerds around the world were beyond excited for the return of “Arrested Development”.
During one of the podcast on this topic, Kevin Smith (one of my heroes) talked about how the world of entertainment has changed and that consumers want things that speak directly to them, are focused on their interests and they want it faster and better. That larger companies like Legendary Entertainment (producers of The Dark Knight) must focus on the bigger picture and the broader landscape of consumers, but that there is a desire and need for someone to produce content for smaller groups of consumers. For people like Felicia Day, Dominic Sandolov, and Hannah Hart (all Youtubers) to make a living creating content for a much smaller more focused audience and build out from there.
While I could go on and on about this topic in the broadcast world, I think this directly applies to our Theatrical World. We have for years been talking about the landscape changing and that even our patrons are changing. We no longer have audiences or patrons that are dedicated to our theatres no matter what and even the season subscription model is dying. So as our structure of doing business is changing, what can we learn from those in other markets that are also changing? Here are my takeaways:
• Consumers want things that speak directly to their niche, to their interests and their joys. So what do we do? Well I think we have to move away from everyone “casting the widest net possible”. I hate this term in general, but with so many people casting the widest net, audiences needs and desires are being left out or they are not hearing what you can provide for them. I hear from many people that they are tired of “preaching to the choir”, but to quote The West Wing, “That’s how you get them to sing.” Too often we try and cast the widest net early and don’t get our choirs singing or when we are ready to cast the widest net we forget about preaching to our choir so they go away. We can’t forget our choirs, they are the ones that got us here and they are the best representatives to bring people to our flock. They themselves widen our net.
• Social Media is not just a marketing tool. Every Social Media expert has said this over and over again, but marketers refuse to listen. One of the big things major entertainment companies are slowly learning and smaller savvier entertainment companies are quickly learning is that there are many forms of social media and you shouldn’t use them the same way. The idea is that each social media tool is used in a way that optimizes the experience for the consumer. For example, using your blog to give behind-the-scenes details of what is going on in your company or with your product, using Twitter/user groups to engage in conversation with your public, and using Facebook to create buzz about future and upcoming projects. These are examples of how people like Dance On, Geek and Sundry, Start, and College Humor channels are utilizing their social media in conjunction with YouTube. We can do the same thing and should…it takes a lot more work, but it is focused work. Instead of trying to create the next new big thing, how about focusing on what you can do and making it better and stronger?
• The Big Guys taking the Little Guys under their wing is the way to create a future for your organizations. Just like larger companies like Netflix teaming up with the Arrested Development production company, Legendary teaming up with The Nerdist Company, and YouTube teaming up with the Dance On Company. Not only does this partnership bring more focus to these smaller companies but also it introduces new consumers to these bigger companies and publicly it displays a great forward thinking face for the company. The Larger Company doesn’t just give them money and let them go; but they bring them into the conversation of their organization, they become partners and they become responsible for the life of both organizations together. If other forms of entertainment and arts can do it, shouldn’t we try as theatres as well? We are already seeing the beginnings of it at some places, but this idea can move forward and pair with other movements like “Never Be Dark”
Everyone is going to have a different perspective on solutions to issues or perceived issues, but these are things I am seeing in different markets that are supposedly working and perhaps could be adopted by our community. Too often we get bogged down in trying to showing growth, proving worth, and competing against imaginary foes. We forget that we are here for a reason, that we have purpose and that we have value. For me, at this moment, I am thinking about my choir, my niche, my community and how I can get them to sing. I urge you to focus your goals and toss out the wide net for something much more nimble and nuanced.