At the intersection of Business, Law & Entertainment
Let’s talk about one of my favorite types of people: mad scientists.
In an era of massive change in entertainment and media, it is the crazed experimenters who will develop successful products, and you don’t have to be one solitary scientist sitting in your underground lair in order to cook up an exotic new compound that bubbles over into something powerful, though that’s often how great new ideas and products are developed.
In fact, you can be a big, presumably cumbersome corporate entity and still play mad scientist. Let’s talk about two of my favorite mad scientists of the moment.
I’d like to tell you a story about the sudden, complete transformation of a performer.
Once upon a time, I programmed a very personality-heavy radio station. While everyone else was shutting up and playing the music, we were aggressively getting in the audience’s faces with lots of personality. We also had record numbers for a radio station that had been around since the Johnson administration and we absolutely owned Men 25-54 in our market. Every talent on the radio station was very high-profile.
Except for my midday guy, who always said, “[My fans] don’t care about me.” He couldn’t have been more wrong, but I didn’t think he’d ever drop his defenses long enough to find out.
One sentence changed everything. Instantly. One day, he turned on the mic and said it.
It’s been amusing to see the meltdown over the alleged outing of Netflix’s closely-guarded audience metrics. As someone who programmed radio stations for over 20 years, living and dying with new ratings data every single week, I can tell you that in our new media world, ratings don’t matter. Not really. (For related reasons that you can figure out on your own, something similar can be said for box office, by the way.) Oh, and the other guy’s ratings really don’t matter.
To borrow from Randy Newman, it’s money that matters. Or, if you prefer Diddy, it’s all about the Benjamins. If you’re a broadcaster, ratings certainly help drive revenue, but in the end, the relationship between ratings and revenue is not, and will never be, linear. The relationship between revenue and profit isn’t linear either.
In that light, ratings are window dressing for the ego.
In 2016, the revolution is so far along already that you can watch it on “television” every single day. You can listen to it via “radio”. And, as (almost) always, there’s an app for that. You can read about the revolution on whatever digital doohickey your read news on instead of an old school newspaper.
The most amazing development to appear already in the new year comes from print. Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes is telling his next story, “Belgravia”, in serialized novel form…via an app. With the change in medium from printed page to digital app, “readers” will get a different experience, including audio, music, video, character portraits (including a character family tree) and maps of Belgravia.
For fans, that means they’ll receive a much more complex, and presumably engrossing, product than would come with a printed book. Do you realize what this means for professionals? It means jobs.
Things aren’t always what they seem on the surface, and sometimes we lose sight of the things that truly move the emotional needle – whether trends or people – until something dire happens. So it was at the end of 2015 when one Ian Fraser “Lemmy” Kilmister departed to wherever it is that Jimi, Janis, John, Kurt and far too many others are jamming.
When you’re busy thinking about the future of entertainment, don’t just look where the lights are shining brightest. Somewhere in a darkened corner of a legendary bar you’ll find someone – or perhaps several someones – who have a stunningly powerful emotional influence on both artists and fans. Watch this wildly entertaining video, and you’ll want to mock those fans, but rest assured that the kind of passion and commitment that an artist like Lemmy incites inspires a broader swath of audience than you see on the surface. In our digital future, you need that kind of passion in order to thrive. Lemmy Kilmister had just turned 70. If he were instead, say, 20, what kind of following do you think he’d have built both online and off? Here’s guessing it would be off the charts.
This week’s new leap across media boundaries is an Evel Knievel-sized jump. The New York Times is moving into virtual reality storytelling. I don’t know about you, but I’m both floored and not the least bit surprised.
For a while, I’ve been talking about how the walls dividing the three traditional types of media – audiovisual (television, film), audio only (radio, music, audiobooks), and print – are collapsing. It’s an inevitable part of The Jetsons Future, where all content is delivered via broadband, rather than broadcast or print. With that, the words of Marshall McLuhan come into play: the medium is the message. In other words, when you deliver content through an entirely new means, the content itself must inexorably change.
One of the leading changes is media convergence, where audiovisual, audio-only, and print become one.
On the off chance you like your payoff up front, here it is: ads are exactly like every other form of content. When your audience loves the content, all is ducky. When they don’t, they avoid that content like the plague.
The message in the Great Ad Blocking Freakout of ’15 is so obvious it’s painful. Here it is – are you ready? You can no longer force people to consume content how you want, where you want or when you want! Here’s another one: Recognize that the advertising content you make has to be just as good – and just as relevant – as the place where your ads are running.
We can learn a lot from a brilliant entertainer who just left us. Quoth Casey Stengel: “Mr. Berra is a very strange fellow of remarkable abilities.” Does that sound like every great entertainer you know, or what? To paraphrase Yogi talking about a Steve McQueen movie he’d just seen, The Ol’ Perfessor must have said that one before he died.
Sports is entertainment, and athletes are entertainers. What made Yogi Berra so much fun was that he knew this instinctively, and he made his personal brand last the entirety of his life by being a very strange fellow with the remarkable ability to entertain with words. And here’s the crazy thing about his words: you remember them all the more because (1) they were fun to hear, but (2) no matter how he said it, you knew exactly what he meant by it.
In a world where cord-cutting and cord-nevering are the new normal, what should you be thinking about doing right now?
If I were a creator, I wouldn’t be looking to make unique and excellent content. I’d be looking to make content that connects on such a powerful emotional level that a large enough group of fans absolutely has to have it, no matter the cost or annoyance of obtaining it. If I were an entrepreneur with an entertainment bent, I’d be looking to find audiences that are exceptionally passionate about something and don’t have a place to watch/listen to that something. (How did that work out for Twitch?)
If I were a content distributor – no matter how huge and seemingly all-powerful (hello, ESPN) – I’d be looking for ways to partner with similar distributors in order to create product packages that my consumers will pony up for. If I were an MVPD, I’d realize that customers are slipping more comfortably into the driver’s seat every day, and I’d spend less time trying to maximize dollar spend per customer and far more time trying to maximize customer experience.
Broadcasters – and, as we were reminded today, not just the ones who you see on-screen or hear on-mic – go out into the public every minute of every day to interact with both their viewers/listeners/fans and with people who either don’t know who they are or who do know who they are and are decidedly not fans of their work. In radio, we talk about being live without a net, and what we typically mean is that we don’t get to say, “Cut! Let’s try that again.”
But it also means that we go out in public not knowing what bizarre danger may be waiting for us. Remember that the next time you see a “wacky” YouTube video of some jackass messing with a reporter who is live (and therefore at their most vulnerable). The reporter is trying to do a job with utmost professionalism while they’re left wondering if their safety is at risk. Sometimes it is.