Thursday, 17 May 2012

A Manifesto for the Content Industry 9 - Be Genuine

We’re sick of spin, we’re sick of hype. If you churn out repetitive and unoriginal content whilst claiming it’s the best thing since last year’s clone, we’ll stop listening and go elsewhere (a lot of people already have).

“The best thing since sliced-bread” gives over 3 million hits on a google-search, I wonder how many of those things really are?
There is a theory that for any headline that ends with a question-mark*, the answer is “no”.
“You can tell when a politician is lying, his lips move.” Gets you over 500 hits on Google.
“Don’t believe the hype.” By Public Enemy reached number 18 in the UK chart

“So what?” I hear you ask. Well, we, as a populace, and hence as customers, are becoming more cynical. Advertising is pervasive but untrusted, techniques such as having the volume of the commercial breaks louder than the host programme and releasing ad campaigns that are designed to be offensive safe in the knowledge that any ASA activity will be retroactive further heighten the sense of intrusion.
Programmes such as The X-Factor are routinely referred to as “glorified karaoke” and the shelf-life of the winners is generally planned only to last until the next series (anything else is a bonus).
Media conglomerates have control of so many different channels that it is easy to find an advertisement for a TV programme masquerading as an article in a paper owned by the same company (or vice versa).

We, the customers, have known this for a while but, with the advent of a truly interactive web, people are finding out how to route round the hype, the misinformation and the adverts and are finding their own trusted sources.

Many legacy companies are seeing this as a threat. This loss of control means that their influence is reduced accordingly:
If people are TIVO’ing shows then they’re not watching your expensive adverts
If people aren’t listening to commercial radio they’re not hearing your carefully selected play-list
If people aren’t reading the newspapers then they’re not reading your trend-setter’s latest must-watch / -read / -listen to recommendations

But overall spend on entertainment is going up, especially for independents. So where are they getting their recommendations?
Well, the same way that they always did really, from friends, peers, colleagues, trusted reviewers, fanzines etc. It’s just that now, most of these are online and can have a far wider influence than they did previously.

And the reason that people are listening to these sources is that they respect the opinions and advice given. These new sources have established a track record on honest and reliable output that allows people to make a judgement based on that history.
This is an opportunity, and an easy one to open up. Most aspects of the content industry have their talent scouts (in one form or another) who could easily open up a credible dialogue with potential fans and customers, but very few are doing so.
More often than not this gap has been filled by amateur  / semi-pro bloggers and websites.
Sometimes industries will embrace these new sources, frequently they will do so in a confused, contradictory and ultimately litigious fashion.
This link [] shows the list of articles about popular hip-hop blog Dajaz1, a blog that was taken offline for hosting infringing content, a significant chunk of which was found to have been provided by the record labels for promotion.
There are plenty of other examples of fan-supported sites being closed down for copyright reasons that, ultimately, just drive people away from legitimate content.

From accounting practices to promotion techniques the legacy content industries (particularly music and movies) don’t have a good history of honesty. That’s a gap in the market, that’s an opportunity.

P.S. As well as my recurring concern about companies adapting before I’ve finished writing this I sometimes wonder if I’m going the wrong way with some of my analysis. Fortunately there is no shortage of regular reminders that reform is needed, generally in the form of one of the industries taking some ridiculous legal action. After writing this up last night my vindication came with this article from techdirt** about how skipping commercials might be considered illegal.

* e.g. Did radio-active, nazi gerbils kill Elvis in JFK cover-up?
** My go to source for all that is wrong in the Intellectual Property world.