Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your project or service, and that bring friends with them.

W. Edwards Deming

Yesterday I wrote a short post about traditional media on the one hand and the possibilities brought by implementing something like transmedia storytelling on the other hand. My point was that traditional media players have been way too hesitant – or perhaps uninformed – when it comes to rethinking how to create content and interact with audiences.

In my home country of Finland we have for a good number of years now been increasingly focused on making sure online content supports the more traditional TV content. Increasingly, commissions are for web-first productions with the regular broadcasts taking the backseat. There’s also been an increasing amount of somewhat experimental projects – utilising social media for storytelling enhancing the overall experience, reaching out to audiences to evolve narratives and so on. All in all, there is a movement striving to remain relevant even in the face of a dwindling viewership on traditional television.

Through some of my activities I’ve had the fortune of gaining some insights into the TV format business, through others I’ve kept abreast of the documentary and factual part of the industry. What I haven’t been seeing in any of these is any widespread movement away from traditional value propositions and ways of arriving at healthy revenues, unfortunately.

As I wrote yesterday, the audience don’t need us – creators, broadcasters, producers, production companies – for much of anything anymore, especially not for keeping themselves entertained. There are countless YouTube creators catering for their needs, countless Twitch live streamers, countless hours of pirated content to stream or download… If we don’t make sure we stay relevant to their interests, we’ll be producing content for very few if any at all. 

But, at the same time, this is the revenue model that has been the basis of most of the industry for decades – successful shows get viewers, viewers mean good ratings, good ratings mean more ad revenue. Of course, over the past few years the model has been somewhat upended as we all know, by the global subscription behemoths on the one hand and the plethora of freely available online content on the other hand.

Looking at how the ratings are declining in the Nordics, it will only be a matter of time before the rest of the world see the same decline (we’ve always been priding ourselves of our widely available, high speed internet connections, which no doubt has hastened this process). When that happens, revenue will start to shrink even more, everywhere.

Looking at the TV format industry, it’s amazing how little innovation is taking place, considering all the knowledge we have of how audiences are changing their habits and how many increasingly interactive platforms are available out there, with user bases in the 100s of millions. It’s been years since we’ve seen something unique pop up on the format front – yes, there’s been Masked Singer which is on air in a number of territories, but that format is also very much a twist on previous formats. Married At First Sight saw the light of day many years ago, The Voice long before that… the TV format business is increasingly playing it safe, unfortunately.

I say unfortunately, because I’m convinced that the industry needs to move with the times. For me, this means three things (well, probably a lot more, but three core things):

  • An increase in the amount of experimental projects, in all genres, factual as well as fiction and formats. This will probably not be a very popular thought to most people looking to have their companies stay healthy in an economical sense. I’ve been running a production company for many years now, so believe me, I know the importance of healthy revenue. However, we all face a choice right now – either we start moving, experimenting, finding what gets traction and what doesn’t, thereby enabling us to even out the decline in traditional revenue and replace it with new forms of revenue, or we continue down the path we’re on and crash when the audience trends catch up with us. It’s our choice and we should make it, sooner rather than later.
  • An increase in the amount of projects based on hard data and audience research is needed. Too many projects are just playing it safe, working on the assumption that a variant of a tried and trusted format will be successful, especially if some prime talent is attached to the project. This ignores much of the information that is out there and could help us make much more informed decisions. There are companies that can help you predict – with a considerable amount of certainty – whether your show will be popular in a region or not, based on data from previous shows in the same genre. There are numerous research agencies that can help us understand our audiences better. Most importantly, there are unending possibilities for us ourselves to mix with our intended target audiences and arrive at an understanding regarding their wants, needs and habits. 
  • an increased openness to organic evolvement of shows and series, with interaction and engagement from the audience prioritised. The idea of shows being commissioned for a season and then canned – or not – depending on different variables is not the way to go today. Put less money into the initial production and push of the show, but more into making sure it has a true longevity. And don’t be afraid of audience engagement, of fan fiction, cosplay, derivatives and homages – whatever is created is less an infringement on copyright and more another nail helping your project to fasten itself to the collective consciousness of your intended audience. 

Profit or perish… There are only two ways to make money: increase sales and decrease costs.

Fred DeLuca

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