Media Business Strategies

The Blog of David Polakoff

Own The Audience

Posted by David Polakoff on June 22, 2011

The Windmills of My Immediate Mind

Media Business Strategies – David Polakoff

Own the Audience

Whatever the distribution means (television, internet, mobile), you should want to own your audience with your content and earn brand loyalty.  The entertainment, news, and information content world is fragmented, by the expansion of offerings and the convenience of accessibility; it is harder and harder to attract, hold, and retain an audience – so you had better be focused on a target, hit it, and own it.  Too often, content providers try and “widen the aperture” to bring in more light, but that often has the effect or blurring the picture; with a smaller aperture, the greater the area that will be sharp.

An early value of cable television was its targeted niche programming channels served to a network television audience that only had a “time share” of sports, cooking, documentaries, arts, history, music, comedy, and movies.  As a result, the themed cable channels owned its audiences.  If you wanted music you went to MTV; if you wanted sports, you went to ESPN; if you wanted cooking, you went to the Food Network; if you wanted performing arts, you went to A&E; if you wanted business news, you turned to CNBC; if you wanted uncut, library movies, you went to AMC, Bravo, or TCM; if you wanted legal and trial programming, you went to Court TV; if you wanted laughter, you turned to HA! or The Comedy Channel.

Yet, as the channels reached audience and advertising revenue plateaus, many sought to “widen their aperture” to expand the audience and attract more mainstream brands as advertisers.  With increased audiences came the ability to increase CPMs and negotiate higher cable fees.  Yet, with this change of the focus, the channels diluted their identity and no longer owned their loyal audience; the brand became unclear and audience attention wandered amongst the homogeny – the audience became rented and not owned.

Spike (fka., Nashville Network, TNN, and Spike TV)  was branded as a channel for men, and featured syndicated programming such as Baywatch and the A-Team and Star Trek series; later it added Ultimate Fighting.  In spring 2011, Spike announced its male, 18-34 demographic target is to be broadened to reach males 18-49.  And, Spike will also seek to attract 18-49 women.  So, theoretically, a “loyal,” Spike 18-34 male may become disenchanted by the more mainstream programming (required in order to attract males and females, 18-49) and by the new variety of advertisers, many of which will not be of interest to him.  And, this 18-49 male and female programming and advertising loses its differentiation from other cable and broadcast networks.  So the 18-34 male will turn to internet/mobile content to find targeted, niche content and relevant advertising.  Spike will draw an audience, but its differentiation will be blurred – it will perhaps own a new audience, but the currently loyal audience will fragment.

I have always enjoyed “who dunnit” television programming, which the Law & Order franchises have recently fulfilled in that television category.  The great news is that I can flip through my cable channels (day, night, weekday, weekend) and find some Law & Order program.  Sure, about every NBCU channel fills up its programming schedule with its share of Law & Order first run and syndicated shows, but I can also find it on the Turner Networks, BBC America, WGN, and MyNetworkTV and Hulu.  I am watching and loyal to Law & Order, the brand; not the brand of any of these channels. I am indifferent to where I watch Law & Order; my attention, focus, and loyalty is fragmented away from the channel exhibiting the programming.  Since each of these channels has the same offering, I am unsure of what need they serve, in the larger scheme of drawing me as their regular audience.

As I meet with clients, whether they are launching new websites or applications; a new line of business; or new television shows, early in the process I ask, “Who is the audience?”  If the response sounds anything like, “Everyone,” I return a blank, deadpan stare, until the client realizes how absurd it really is that their new product will serve everybody.  There must be a targeted audience, and as best it can, the product/service, the marketing, and the sales had better consistently support the proposition.  The audience has to need the product/service and consider you as the source amongst the best of their options.  You have to own your audience.

While there is room for several players to serve general audiences, there are already too many general audience cable networks, functioning as de facto broadcast networks.  But too many cable networks, and now websites, are aiming too ubiquitously and chasing after larger audiences and diluting the value they once served. So guess what, in this “ADD world” in which we live, I am moving along to the next source to solve/satisfy my need, as these outlets stray from serving my purpose.  If you remain focused, and smartly and empathetically grow with your audience, your content and your brand will own me.  That’s the sharper image.

Media Business Strategies is the blog/website of David Polakoff, a New York based, Media & Entertainment Industry Financial Executive.

David Polakoff’s media/entertainment industry experience and expertise results from his tenures in senior financial and development roles with Ernst & Young, HBO/Time Warner, Granada America/itv plc, and independent consulting.  Currently, David provides financial, operational, and strategic services to media/entertainment companies.  Read more in About.

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