Broadcasting to Communities

Smash! Hits, a magazine I always liked, but never bought, is closing. When asked about it, Mark Frith, an ex-editor and now Heat’s head honcho says “Today’s teens want faster, deeper information about music and can now satisfy their hunger by accessing information on a whole range of new platforms including TV, the internet, mobile and so on.” Marcus Rich, head of Emap’s Metro division, added that the magazine’s market of 11- to 14-year-old girls has much more eclectic views nowadays. “We were noticing that the traditional tribal allegiances of liking pop or rock has changed.”

I think that Marcus’ comment was a little odd and maybe shows part of the reason that the magazine’s gone to the dumper. We live in a diverged world. Up until ten years ago there was no multi-channel TV, no internet and no explosion in choice. People watched Top of the Pops because it was the only way for them to access music. Unsurprisingly when you give consumers 20 music TV channels and software that allows them to download any music for free, tuning in at a specific time on a specific channel to watch things that someone else thinks I like, no-longer sounds that appealing.

Now, whilst a divergent world creates new problems it also creates new opportunities. Consumers love control but they need some tools to be able to make the most of it. Multi-channel TV/Sky+ wouldn’t be as good if there was no EPG for viewers to use.

With millions of bits of content, narrative can become very important, but only when it doesn’t get in the way of consumer’s control, but merely assists it. Smash! Hits is accessible in print, online, on music TV, on digital radio and on your mobile phone. The theory is that this makes it easier to create touch-points with consumers. But that’s wrong. All it is doing is positioning itself as a distributor of content it has chosen. Yes, some of the platforms it has offer editorial but it is only applied to pre-vetted material that meets its brand values, and doesn’t have the breadth of variety that consumers demand, something Marcus indeed pointed out.

What Smash! Hits could have had was a true community. Across its multiple platforms Smash! Hits obviously reaches lots of people – most of which were never turned into magazine readers. There could of been a great opportunity of using its broadcast channels to build a tight community of users who themselves could have judged what a Smash! Hit was. The magazine would just become the codified version of their changing community.

I believe that today, as choice explodes, volume of media consumption is going to fall. Broadcast will still retain large reach, it’s hours however are likely to be constantly eroded. To survive, broadcast media will have to use the mass audience it generates and start selling them something other than third parties adverts or sponsorship. They are going to have to tie consumers further into their own product and start selling things themselves. “Buying space on your own billboard” will allow companies to create new revenue opportunities as the nature of advertising changes.

Whilst the shopping channels did transactional TV first, everyone’s jumping on it now. You only have to scan through Freeview to see the number of pay-quizzes appearing on previously mainstream channels. I imagine when you’re ITV1 and looking at ad revenue vs pay-interactions at 11.30pm your faith in the advertising model must start to falter.

These operations are crude in comparison about what will come later. At the moment they’re a quick way to make a buck, but the mindset is still stuck in the advertising world. The thinking is just geared around exposing this ‘programming’ to as many people as possible and, hey, if 0.1% call in we’re in the money. It’s the televisual equivalent on junk mail and media savvy consumers, who now have true control, will simply navigate away when they tire of it.

The shopping channels have been around for years and do it much better. With so much competition they need to create emotional ties with their shoppers. Cheesy personality presenters, calls from shoppers with the stations remembering and mentioning their purchases, asking them how they got on with the toaster they bought last week. That’s what keeps their conumers connected to their brands.

Other media are going to have to get community, fast, and apply it to the bulky audiences they have today, before it’s too late and they’re all gone. In today’s MediaGuardian, Paul Robinson asks why don’t all commercial radio station presenters have blogs? and he’s right. But that in itself doesn’t go far enough. Creating that authentic relationship is important and radio presenters through blogs can work to help to give your brand a more positive feel, but i’d go much further.

If a radio station wants to position itself as a ‘trusted guide’ and help enable consumer’s own control it needs to offer all elements of its operation to the consumer to reflect this new openess. Yes, get the presenter to blog, but get the broadcast assistant and the producer to do the same, and the Head of Music, and the engineer, and the receptionist. Use their unique view, message and thoughts to support the overall brand feel of the station. Encourage them all to link to each other, highlighting good posts and interesting thoughts. Let them all point to listeners’ blogs and thoughts, this will encourage them to want to be involved in your discussions and tie them closer to your brand. You won’t have ‘tricked’ them into trusting you – they’ll ‘actually’ trust you. It’s trust you’ve earned and trust that you’ll then have to maintain.

Blogs from individual personalities are good, but they’re just a new form of broadcasting, especially if they aren’t acknowledging (or even allowing) comments. To create a community you need to go further, much further. If whilst you contemplating how you would do this and you start to think “the PR team are going to go mad” – then you’re probably on the right track.

Robert Scoble has single-handedly kick started a never-ending conversation about his employer, Microsoft, by acknowledging, guess-what, that there’s always been a conversation about Microsoft! They’ve just never bothered to join in. The result has been growing trust from developers and consumers and a new-found respect for the people who work there has begun to grow. He’s recently bounced his publisher into starting a blog because he wants to build them into the conversation too.

We spend more time with people we have relationships with, if you’re in a market that’s losing share from massively expanded competition you need to think about whether you broadcast to them, or engage with them. If you build a true relationship with your consumer there’s a much greater chance that they’ll be around next year, something that’s too late for Smash! Hits magazine.

4 thoughts on “Broadcasting to Communities”

  1. Hi Matt – lots of good thought here. As available bandwidth enables more consumer choice, the need for strong personalities and brands is more vital than ever. Brands, as you understand here, are about so much more than marketing messages – people are resistant to hype and nonsense, but want authentic experiences, real relationships, and ways to express themselves through their choices. People aren’t demanding more channels any more, they’re looking for the right experiences which make them feel good and give them the dignity of being in control.

    For my part, I’m proud to be part of two ways of doing this which I think should work for different people, or maybe the same people in different moods – Core offers to “put you in control”, including a choice of fresh hit music in lots of styles, and Chill offers “to help you chill”, including a very distinctive choice of music for a certain feeling. Both will succeed if people get what’s special about us, share what we’re into, make the emotional connection and feel empowered as a result. Both will fail if we’re not special, if we try and be too broad and end up being confusing, or if we’re not bothered about empowering listeners.

    I also like the way you’ve taken the idea to make transparent the personality of stations through blogs and pushed it to an extreme rather than just want to settle for presenter blogs. I think you’re dead right there. On this slight tangent, let me recommend a book that’s not about broadcasting but is amazingly helpful on creative thinking and pushing ideas to their limits through “edgecraft” rather than settling for the little ideas “brainstorming” tends to produce. “Free Prize Inside” by Seth Godin is especially useful to people trying to be distinctive on a small budget (hello!), a hallmark of the digital age. It’s always a challenge to think and work this way, but it’s fun, as well as pretty much vital for survival now.

    sh! r.i.p.


  2. An old fart reports:

    Back in the early to mid 1980s, when Neil Tennant was editor and it had a readership of over a million a fortnight, Smash Hits was ‘eclectic’ rather than ‘tribal’.

    You’d have Paul McCartney next to Five Star next to New Order next to The Fall. Plus it was fucking hilarious.

    I guess someone destroyed it along the way. My money’s on that Thornton woman, but admittedly only because I want to thump her.

  3. I’m surprised you haven’t mentioned new ventures, like the Audi Channel on Sky.

    It is a station that is entirely self promotional, but without any hard sell. A new way for advertisers to avoid mainstream advertising after all?

  4. Hmmm. I think things like the Audi Channel have appeared because it’s very easy to do. However, they’ll only begin to engage when they have actual programming rather than Audi puff. As a consumer I have no reason to ‘trust’ them. Well not yet ayway…

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