Swimming in a sea of giants

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Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

Reading the NY Times article on Disney’s enormous push to get people to sign up for their new streaming service Disney+, it all seems a bit overwhelming. The blanket advertisement over TV channels, social media, buses, theme parks, stores, festivals… Most people should be aware by now that Disney are moving into the streaming business.

The battle between the HBOs and the Netflixs and the Amazons and the Apples – and now, the Disney+s – will be defining for the next few years in the media industry. Broadcasters and traditional networks will see their talent lured away by the billions of $$ at play among the streamers (see, for instance, GoT:s Benioff and Weiss pulling out of Star Wars to focus on their projects with Netflix (which, admittedly, might bring a sigh of relief for a lot of Star Wars-fans, but that’s another discussion)).

The streamer-behemoths are like gigantic whales, absentmindedly swallowing tons of smaller sea creatures as they lazily move through the watery depths. At festivals around the world producers and creators pitching their projects and ideas are now seeing the best of them being snapped up by streaming platforms, cutting in front of traditional broadcasters and networks to pick up the most interesting projects out there. And who can, really, say no to someone offering full funding upfront, alleviating you of the task of getting co-production agreements in place, applications to film funds and other bodies in, pre-sales made…

To be clear, I’m not nostalgic about the old days when a handful of commissioners had the final say-so on what the world should produce and watch; a shake-up was on its way, one way or another, with the advent of the Internet.

In this world of giants rumbling about like some vast monoliths, how can independent creators still thrive?

In my last post I talked about how producers are increasingly looking at audience engagement less focused on scale and more focused on niche, but authentic interaction. I firmly believe that is what most people want these days. Even for an enormous production like the aforementioned Game of Thrones, the tens and hundreds of millions of fans around the globe had the feeling of being a community of their own.

In contrast, there are very few people who would say they belong to a Netflix-collective, an HBO-collective or, really, a Disney+-collective.

This is where independent creators can find a worthwhile connection with their audiences. In today’s world, people want to engage with what they feel strongly about, be it stories, politics, sports or something else. Our stories can let us engage with people and build our own tribes, with everyone involved contributing in one way or another and receiving validation and acknowledgment for that involvement.

We might have to take some pages out of marketing’s bibles though, and get more savvy when it comes to finding and engaging that audience. We have to become better at gathering and analysing data, for instance, as that will be the lifeblood of future interactions, helping us to not do costly mistakes and using our time and efforts wisely. We need to become better at analysing what our competitors are doing – also the bigger ones, playing in other leagues than ours, but aiming for the same audiences. We need to become better at trial and error – trying out trailers, excerpts, ways of discussing with audiences, and analysing the results of these trials. We have to adapt to the new world, and let the audience in to build collectives with us around our content.

The sea is vast, and there’s no need to worry about the giants in it. Gather your own school of fish and have a wonderful time.

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