As I observed in my last blog, the end of the conventional television world is now being predicted with more urgency. How it will happen, and when, might be anyone’s guess but everyone seems to think major changes will continue to accelerate.
What has been happening, for the last few years is a major change in the way people watch episodic drama, comedy and even news magazines. They watch it when they want to watch it. This began with DVD box collections, purchased the year after a show’s first or second season, and now it takes place on the channel’s internet site or on Itunes, Netflix, or Amazon. Fans catch up, two or three shows at at a time, or binge-view the entire season. Because of this reality, many of them tend to watch with almost no commercial interruption.
What does this mean for Courage, New Hampshire, and other independents?
- Content is still king. The story is still king. It is true that a poorly written show with a few name stars may stick around for far longer than it should, but independents really have to be not just better, but far better than the conventional competition.
- Great content won’t find an audience just by itself. Consider poor Van Gogh sawing off his ear, unappreciated. Think of yourself writing the best pop love song of 1958 and not having any payola cash to get it on the radio, or a record label sales force taking it out, legitimately, to every regional outlet. You need a marketing plan.
- The audience is now being conditioned to pay for what they want directly (subscription model) as opposed to getting it free, (advertising model.) This could be a good trend for independents since the volume of free material will be reduced, but the aggregators (Netflix/Amazon Prime) will still be offering MASSIVE libraries for a relatively small fee. Independent marketing will still need to make a very strong case for paying a premium, but at least the consumers will be accustomed to the concept.
- There’s a reason why Super Bowl advertising attracts the most engaging ads and the big dollars: it’s one of the last places a large audience can be guaranteed. With the fragmentation of the audience, ad brokers like Google, who guarantee a certain number of impressions will have more leverage over both the ad buyers, and the ad sellers. Until you have a regular audience of more than a million eyes, don’t expect to make much on advertising, and when you buy banner ads, go directly to the site where you want to be placed and bargain for a rate. Why help Google purchase a new third world nation every year?
- Find a relative, or adopt an unemployed college graduate, and appoint them the crown prince of marketing in your organization. Give them a so-so wage with a bonus plan tied to increasing viewership that is very generous. Why? Because it’s a full time job a) evaluating your production and finding the right ad markets for it and b) cultivating bargain marketing opportunities. This person should have a good head for numbers and target rich opportunities. It’s easy to waste time in this area, but if you don’t have someone who lives and breathes sales, you can pack it in.
- Your show needs to have a DAILY life of its own. There needs to be something to talk about every day. People need to have a reason to check in on you. If you have produced a feature film, find something funny and intense about it, every day, to talk about. Video blog it. Write about it. Make it intense, provocative, romantic, hilarious. Take people outside of themselves every day.
- You need good sound and good lighting and reasonable show graphics. People can’t be straining to hear or see you. Basic stuff, but it’s the truth.
- Until you are strong enough to offer 24 hours of programming 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, band together with other content creators who are plowing in the same field. Form strategic partnerships or an advertising/marketing co-op. Make sure you have an exit strategy that leaves everyone still friends.
- Market your product like it’s the best there is — because it probably is. The vast majority of marketing and programming directors think James Cameron is a genius, because they haven’t been exposed to actual literature or challenging drama. Get their attention and don’t ever let them talk your product down. Demand it be taken seriously. Don’t be rude, but be very confident.
- If you license your show, never make it “long term exclusive.” My dad always said the fast nickel is better than the slow buck. I think lots of non-exclusive license sales, or a few short term exclusives, for less money, is better than waiting for History Channel to pay you $500,000 per episode.
- At Colony Bay, we need to begin thinking in terms of $10K to $50K marketing experiments. We need to finance marketing itself, since our product (at least the first season) is complete. Once we find a strategy that works, we up the stakes.
I can’t share rule #12 yet. We’re still in secret talks about that one. But I welcome any feedback. The older I get, the more I’m fairly certain I’ve missed something.
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