Inside the Mix

Marketers must create new ways to entice audiences as the entertainment arena shifts

Marketers must create new ways to entice audiences as the entertainment arena shifts

The world is at my feet. My DVR knows to record my three favorite shows, and I have no idea what day of the week they're broadcast.

Spring inspires me to watch Watership Down, and Netflix sends it the next day. A coworker tells me that ABBA's The Visitors has matured beautifully in the 22 years since I last listened to it, so I go to iTunes, and I'm playing air drums in seconds.

Then I remember rushing home from college to watch Twin Peaks rather than record it, as everyone would be talking about it the next day. Blockbuster's one copy of any non-current movie would be out. I'd line up outside Tower Records at midnight, waiting to buy the Radiohead CD the second it was released.

The effect on advertisers of the move toward on-demand entertainment has been well documented - only last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a story about Cingular attempting to encourage viewers to look out for its ads, rather than use their DVRs to zap them by allowing them to play a sort of "where's Waldo" game with its signal-bar motif.

But another effect is potentially more of a challenge for marketers: It's harder to generate buzz around entertainment properties when the easy way - appointment-style audience involvement and its related word-of-mouth power - has become this fragmented. What shouldn't be overlooked is the multiplier effect that the water cooler can have not only on entertainment properties, but also on branded entertainment or product-placement endeavors, and what can go missing if people are no longer all watching these programs at the same time. Sure, some properties break through despite audience fragmentation, but it is acknowledged that it can have a detrimental effect.

An excellent example of this can be seen in the UK, where BBC TV's long-running soap (20 years this year) EastEnders is in crisis mode after hemorrhaging viewers and failing to make a showing in the big awards for the first time. A contributing factor, so say many media and entertainment experts, is that while at one time the entire nation tuned in on Tuesday and Thursday evenings to watch it, and then spent the rest of the week discussing plotlines, the advent of DVRs, and two extra weekly episodes, diluted the prized "appointment viewing" status of the program, and no one discusses it anymore. This means the BBC gets to hear far less audience feedback and, therefore, makes less relevant plot decisions, and so it goes.

This is not to say at all that the on-demand model is going to hurt entertainment and marketers' relationship with it in the long term. But when so much of the debate is on what advertising needs to do in order to survive in the new environment, other communications channels, too, must not feel immune to the effect of the changing nature of what an "appointment to view" actually is.

And I think back to when I had to make more of an effort to consume my entertainment and can't help but feel there is some excitement missing because there are fewer "events" that a normal person can be a part of. It's up to marketers to find ways of creating new ones in a media environment that is different for every single person who consumes it. The creative potential is huge - and, yes, exciting.

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