Loren Omoto

Innovator, Strategist, Educator

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Cutting cords, taking control

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kendrick via Compfight cc

With one of the biggest real-time TV events of the year looming, I’ve been interested in how people might experience The Big Game without actually watching it on TV, in real time. For anything short of synchronous TV events, the options are multiplying.

This isn’t just a case of media companies eating their young in a panicked rush to be first into the technological deep end. Rather, it reflects the reality of assuring that you have an audience in the years to come.

This chart caught my eye:

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Source: http://digiday.com/platforms/splintering-tv-consumption-landscape-5-charts/

The differences between the millennials and their elders (like me) are stark. The data reflect what I see every day with college undergraduates: They are watching tons of TV, but not on that box in the living room.

Many of my students are cord-cutters, although that term doesn’t really apply: they never had cords to cut. As with music, information, and software, they don’t see the sense in paying for something they can get for free, via persistent digital connection.

In some grand karmic return orbit, present and future TV viewers now believe that video entertainment should be free, like the air. Hmmm…wasn’t that how it all began, before the Comcasting of America?

Some have found cordless nirvana in digital broadcasting. I was pleasantly surprised at how many channels were available with the cheapest antenna I could find. But not everyone lives within the coverage contour of terrestrial stations.

As for the game, NBC has announced it plans to stream most of the day’s programming online from noon until after the follow-on episode of “Blacklist.” That’s a serious commitment to audiences that are not, directly, enriching any NBC affiliates. But it’s where content needs to be, if it wants to be relevant to audiences in the future.

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Radical disruption or the new normal?

 

Hank Green (on the left) is a flag bearer for Nerfighteria. He’s also intelligent, funny, and – with his brother, John (on the right) – one of the most-watched vloggers on YouTube.

This latter role is what helped land him a spot interviewing the President after the 2015 State of the Union address. Live. At the White House.

Outrage ensued.

Some of this was predictable: self-appointed guardians of American dignity railing against the usurper in office. Most of the criticism, however, came from our reliable friends in mainstream media, reacting to upstarts that don’t even use terms like “mainstream media.”

As in so many professions, the media world no longer can be neatly divided into elites and disrupters. One big reason is the changing nature of the audience.

I see it in undergraduate students every day: Well informed, civic-minded Americans acquiring information about the world from media and sources they trust.

Those sources have real people’s names – like Hank Green – not three-letter acronyms. They speak from the heart, with passion and transparency. Most of all, they maintain an objective authenticity that allows them to say revealing, natural things like “I don’t know” and “I feel” while delivering their message.

Green’s essay about fallout from his White House sojourn begins with a headline that includes language not commonly seen in the New York Times. As well it should. The approach is charmingly, authentically true to the enthusiasm of Green’s on-screen persona.

Granted, vloggers are performers. As is everyone else on screen, whether intentionally “acting” or not.

Jean Giraudoux wrote: “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that you’ve got it made.” The bon mot has become holy writ for generations of broadcasters and their consultants. It’s possible that Green and his peers are shrewd manipulators of their naïve fans – but I doubt that is the case.

Instead, I see nerdfighteria and other followings that have emerged around “YouTube celebrities” (more dismissive, MSM terminology) as true communities. They share a passion, a culture, and communicate frequently – using media and devices that keep in touch, 24/7.

This is what scares mainstream media. A history of differentiating themselves with diffident, bloodless reporting (or full-throated, partisan bellowing of recent years) has left them with audiences composed primarily of the old, the bored, and the unreasonable.

Where are the younger readers/viewers/doers? Who is informing them? More and more, it is authentic, transparent voices like Vlogbrothers, The Young Turks and SourceFed.

If those names are unfamiliar, you should be watching more YouTube.

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The next big thing(s)

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Elephants by decafinata, on Flickr

I love the idea of publishing in multiple forms. Not just as insurance for the Zombie Apocalypse, but also for future-proofing. As the author of this blog post states, with certainty: “Something else is going to come along.”

Having witnessed an industry frantically try to reinvent itself over the past 15 years, I can identify with the search for secret sauce that magically leads us to the future. As Karen McGrane so eloquently explains, it ain’t gonna happen.

Meantime, I share her enthusiasm for wearable technology. Not just for fitness and fatness measurements – that’s early-adopter stuff. I’ve been thinking about possibilities for wearable tech as a content channel.

Not only are these devices connected, but they’re persistently, insistently attached to the owner’s body. This is a step beyond 24/7 “social presence.” It’s more like a direct line to the organism.

What are some implications for content producers? You may no longer need to consider attracting audience in traditional ways, but instead must focus intently on value.

In a world where everyone (or large portions of desirable demographic groups) is wired all the time, what will it take to rise above the noise level? More to the point, how to you avoid the left-swipe into permanent oblivion? The answer is to devote as much energy to user incentive as to your own intent.

Obvious questions about screen size and audio quality notwithstanding, optimizing content for a wearable device will require special skills and exceptional focus. Until we’re all sporting Google Glass or some other flavor of heads-up display, content consumption will be characterized by winnowing – separating info-wheat from the chaff.

For creators, that means being better editors, curators, and selectors. It means putting the interests of your audience first. And it means understanding their lives more deeply than before.

Instead of just being the loudest voice in the room, successful communicators will be the most valuable, empathetic, and rewarding. Are you ready for the challenge?