Connecting to people “formerly known as the audience”.

This is BBC Digital Director Ralph Rivera’s view of the next stage of broadcast.  He says that internet native companies like Amazon and Facebook deal with people as individuals, not as a broad “audience” and that most TV programme makers don’t. 

This would represent a change.  Think of the different creative process that goes into the development of, say, Conde Nast’s Vanity Fair (editor down) versus IPC’s Good to Know (audience up).  We currently value TV most when it serves to bring the masses together with a common shared experience.  The audiences, and the premiums, for event programming like sport and compelling drama (not long till Downton), are in growth and set to remain so. 

In the game show and talent show genre mass audience participation has long been a part of the show. In the nineteen sixties the audience chose the winners with an audience clap-o-meter in Hughie Green’s Opportunity Knocks.  With new tech comes new participation techniques .  Channel 4, with The Big Drop, has created a show that is a hybrid of mass shared experience and individual participation.  You could press your own dismissive buzzer whilst watching Britain’s Got Talent with the mobile BGT app.  This might remind some of you of the earliest audience judging in the Coliseum, although those outcomes were somewhat bloodier.  Is there a role for new forms of participation in drama and soaps or do we just want to hear a story being told to us in a time honoured fashion?

I don’t think I want my favourite stories to stop at crucial moments and ask me my view of the storyline.  I want to be wrapped up in narrative.  Am I suffering from heritage bias and an inability to imagine a new way?

Rivera thinks there is change to come, and that one of the barriers to its development is that the creative industry talent behind those genres can be reluctant to embrace uncertainty and try new stuff in a new way.  The same criticism could be levelled at advertising.  Use of second screens in driving first screen creative executions is limited.  3’s Pony showed us a glimpse.  Most TV advertising is still heritage plus rather than a step change.  For brands that seek to make significant changes in perception or behaviour, rather than re-inforce a longstanding image, this is a challenge to be embraced.

It isn’t the only role of advertising however now or in the future, and we must be clear about that too.  Rivera talks about what fun it would be to be able to get involved in SciFi drama – participate perhaps in a laser battle.  Sounds like fun.  Yet he and we must acknowledge that most of the time we would want to lie back, watch and be absorbed, and think of Captain Kirk.

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