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.

FM Radio is Rubbish

I’m the first to admit i’m a bit of a radio anorak. I work in ‘radio’ and I get to play with lots of talented people who create brilliant stuff that comes out of the speakers. I love listening and being entertained and I think the range of stations both BBC and Commercial are great.

This week i’ve been in a rock/alternative mood so i’ve been listening a lot to The Storm (god rest its soul), XFM, Virgin Radio and Radio 1. Virgin doesn’t normally appear on my radar but with the arrival of Christian O’Connell its becoming more of a must listen. In fact with Geoff in the evening its line up is looking better every day. The fact my Virgin listening has gone up also has to do with the fact that i’ve been without my personal DAB Digital Radio.

You see being this radio anorak, i’ve pretty much moved across to an all digital environment. An Evoke to wake up to, a hi-fi tuner in the living room and a personal DAB to get me to work and then a portable DAB on my desktop. If it’s not on digital it doesn’t really get a look in. I really am Ex-FM. My in-home listening is pretty static – it gets my standard breakfast show choice in the morning and then a dinner party choice in the evening (Groove, chill. etc). The personal radio though, that gets me flicking around the stations, seeing what’s out there or just surfing for a tune that matches my mood. Anyway, that’s all up the spout at the moment as my personal DAB’s out of batteries and I haven’t had time to recharge. In fact I wake up every morning and think “Shit, I didn’t plug in the recharger”. In the past when this has happened I just walked to the tube in silence grumbling under my breath. However my new phone has an FM receiver. Great, I thought. A backup.

No. Because FM radio really is rubbish. I’d forgotten how awful it really is. Terrible interference, remembering frequencies, searching for stations and having to get through two or three Radios 2, 3 and 4 before I get to where i’m going. Pirates. Ugh it’s a horrible user experience. You really do miss digital radio when you’re forced to listen to analogue.

DAB isn’t perfect, and on the personal it occasionally drops out – something that definitely takes a while to get used to, but compared to constant crackle and interference on FM – DAB is bloody marvellous. They say you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, well maybe that was just the Counting Crows, but DAB is one of those things what you’ve made it a part of your life you never, ever, want to go back.

Now I know some people don’t agree, they have great FM reception and don’t need any more channels and I say good luck to them, they’re welcome to FM. Me though, I never want to go back.

Who Needs Broadcast TV?

I dont have a PVR, thats a Personal Video Recorder to you at the back. What I do have is a nice VHS recorder, that hasnt really been plugged in properly since I moved house, and only seems to be able to play videos. Though interestingly I think weve only used it to show video that me or friends have made, huh, user-generated content even in the analogue world, anyway…

PVRs are interesting to me because theyre changing user behaviour. People whove got them become different consumers and they become evangelists. Instantly. Here in the UK its Sky+ thats been the key. Sky own direct-to-home satellite broadcasting here and with over 7million subscribers theyve been sitting pretty. Generating growth recently though has been difficult as just about anyone who wants films or sport has it and now Freeview has hoovered up the last remaining soft potential converts. Skys decided to push the ARPU (average revenue per user) for its existing mob, and Sky+ is key to that. Sky+ users pay an extra tenner a month, or they get it free if they subscribe to the premium content package. Thats clever in itself, as its getting you hooked on the crack cocaine of movies, sport and PVR for 50/month direct debited over to Mr Murdochs coffer.

And its working. 45% of users sampled saying that they could not live without Sky+ and 99% saying that they have no intention of leaving Sky. The reason people love it is that it gives them control and moves them away form having to watch television as dictated by someone else. Theres so much more non-broadcast consumption nowadays, whether thats magazines or the internet, people are getting used to picking and choosing. Radio in someways is already there, Tom Coates talks about it when he says People use radio to time-keep, to feel connected to the outside world around them, to feel like they have company listeners use it as a utility, and many stations are tied into giving these listeners an emotional fix rather than merely delivering up a pre-produced programme.

Radio users have themselves already adapted to time-shifting, listeners to Radio 1 who cant be arsed to stay up for the Essential Selection listen when it suits them, resulting in the Essential Selections online audience being much higher than their broadcast one. Anyway I digress

TV PVRs are changing how people consume television as theyre opting out of the schedules and tagging programmes on their EPG for recording and later viewing. In the same way that people subscribe to a favourite websites RSS feeds viewers are using series-link to get their box to capture the whole series. At the same time viewers are skipping ads to get their content, though bizarrely Tivo are trying to put them back in.

Though its not just the ads consumers are skipping, its the promos too and this is drastically changing viewers behaviour as theyre unaware of many new shows and generally stick with their familiar programming (lets call that the Friends and Simpsons factor). This poses an interesting quandary for stations used to building sampling for new shows through cross-promotion as their viewers may have already disaggregated all their content. Stations will have to start to using other methods to alert viewers to their programming and make themselves stand out on an EPG with over 400 channels. Expect programmes with names that stick out (When Christmas Dinner Goes Wrong instead of Eastenders maybe?) or more shows built around established, familiar brands.

The other types of programming that does well in the PVR-world are live shows that embed much of their attraction in existing in the live world X-Factor, Big Brother, Sporting events, news these will pull people out of their pre-recorded idyll and back into the traditional broadcast world. These are the shows that advertisers are going to demand, as it will be the only way to reach a traditional mass audience. Well also begin to see more lifestyle, background programming, that will ape radios strengths and try to replicate its revenue models. Strands like T4 or This Morning will also become important as a way to provide something that contextualises different types of content and again provides reasons to attract viewers back to live television.

Software will also have a place to play in disaggregated television, EPGs that take on recommendations from viewers like you, or viewers that know you will also become an important way to get consumers to interact with new television content. The question is will companies used to broadcasting, like Sky, be confident enough to develop technology that further devolves control to the consumers? Or will we start to see new Super-EPGs that aggregate content from TV platforms alongside new technologies like Bittorrent and serve it up with some special-sauce social-networking too?

The Scope of the BBC’s Development

I think it’s very hard to say that the BBC doesn’t do a good job. Its TV stations broadcast some great shows, some of which it even makes itself, it also has some great radio stations (and 6Music) which have brilliant presenters and play a truly wide range of music. Its online effort is truly magnificent with a great structure and wonderfully up-to-date and relevant content. Its commitment and development of new technologies is impressive and visionary.

However with an income from us lot (in the UK) of �3billion so everything it should do should be bloody excellent.

The problem with living in a jacuzzi of cash is it does somewhat insulate you from the real world, well, the commercial world. It’s not that they mean to out-do and kill non-BBC services, it’s just a by-product of their development. Tim Gardham, when he was asked to review the BBC’s new radio stations summed it up well when he described the BBC as “well meaning herd of elephants, stomping through the jungle, trumpeting its achievements, each executive holding onto the tail of the one in front. They are undoubtedly a force for good, but unfortunately can be oblivious as to what might get crushed under their enormous feet”.

To try and mitigate some of this stomping the BBC governors have come up with this idea of a public value test, a public consultation, and then if successful the issuing of a ‘service licences’. The idea is to try and be transparent with new developments rather than them just ‘appearing’ and potentially killing-off commercially-funded competitors.

However this doesn’t stop the BBC trialling things before this process starts. The biggest trial is probably the BBC’s podcasting ‘experiment’, though there is something else I noticed last weekend which i’m not sure if I feel comfortable about. You see the government was very keen that digital television wasn’t dominated by the BBC and instiagted a big public consultation before it licensed BBC Three and BBC Four. Obviously the BBC has huge cross-promotional power and it didn’t want that to marginalise the development of new and diverse services from commercial operators. This licence also ensured the BBC made good ‘public-service’ programmes a part of their services. For example, a pure comedy and drama channel wouldn’t be that different from ITV2 and E4, but one that must included news and documentaries might – and thus BBC Three was allowed to be born.

Therefore I think it’s a bit odd that the BBC has launched BBC Three Catch-up, an interactive service (initially on satellite) that allows viewers to see a sort of BBC Three A, B and C that loops key BBC Three programmes. This Sunday, for example, you’ll be able to see two episodes each of Two Pints of Lager and a Packed of Crisps, Trauma Uncut and Tiny Tearaways.

I’m slightly divided on this experiment, part of me thinks, that as a licence fee payer I should be able to see content i’ve paid for, however the other part of me thinks that this is an evening where it makes it even harder for commercial stations to compete. It’s not as if Two Pints is never repeated, as it’s always on BBC Three, and with the rise of Sky Plus is it a decent use of the BBC’s bandwidth? If they are to use a service like this wouldn’t it be more public service if they were carouselling innovative BBC programmes that people might have missed and then use the brand power of BBC Three to help bring them to people who weren’t aware of them the first time round?

The BBC should be applauded for being on the cutting edge of any content and technological developments however it would be good if they considered themselves as part of the broadcast ecology with special responsibilities rather than existing in its own sealed bubble. Its technological developments should re-enforce its brilliant public service reputation not distance itself from them.

I Love Research

I love research, I really do. In fact i’m sort of obsessed by it. I love listening to views of different people, I love looking at the breakdowns based on demographics, areas, or toothpaste use. I love focus groups. I love sitting there slack-jawed as eight pre-screened target consumers can’t describe a competition mechanic or missed a message we promoted every fifteen messages for a week. I love the brutality of it all.

Reseach gets lots of knocks. Mainly by people who’ve never done any. They often get caught up in thinking that what they think is what other people think. They’re usually wrong.

Research is best when taken in context and used as a tool, amongst some others – like actually doing some thinking. There’s been a couple of interesting posts recently, Ken Norton talks about segmenting who your consumers are and combining different aspects of their response to get a decent view of a product and Kathy Sierra has a great view about how the views of consumers are merely one part of the puzzle.

Site Opens, Sort of.

Dear user,

It’s very kind of you to drop by mattdeegan.com, but did anyone ask you to? I think not. Who do you think you are, dropping by websites unannounced. Just browsing eh, I think we’ve heard it all before, haven’t we? First it starts with a browse and then you think you’re bloody Bill Gates, don’t you?

Turning up unannounced, I bet your the kind of person who comes to parties without bottles of wine, isn’t that right? Sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong. I know your type, and if I see you you’re be lucky to get away with a clip round the ear. And not just from me, but from that bloke to the right.

Anyway, move along, nothing to see here…