Strategist, Speaker, Designer, Instigator

False adversaries and other obstacles [post 40/100]

“The problem is, everybody’s trying to be viewer-centric. And that’s just not going to work.”

Last night at a MIPTV, someone said this to me. I managed (I think) to disguise my shock and hear him out. He’s not a bad guy, and he certainly doesn’t think that audiences are unimportant. But this statement comes from what I have discovered is becoming a fairly common misconception: that viewers are more or less the enemy.

The distinction between ‘viewer’ and ‘audience’ may not be insignificant here – content creators know that without audiences they could not continue to exist, and most of the creatives I know are genuinely committed to telling stories that move, inspire and entertain. They are audience-centric.

But over the past year it seems like the us-vs-them mentality that has long been in place between digital and TV has spilled over. Now the viewer, too, is an enemy to be managed rather than a community (or set of communities) to be served.

The assumption seems to be that the viewer would knock you over the head and steal all your content as soon as look at you. The man I was talking to seemed to think that being viewer-centric meant making all content available, everywhere, all the time, for free. For free is the bit I disagree with. Yes, I think it would be grand if content were available to people wherever and whenever they’re interested in it. But I think it should be available for a fair price, not for free.

I’d like to see piracy of video content become irrelevant rather than eradicated. Let’s face it, some people will always steal content, no matter what we do. But if you’re making enough money from the people who are legally acquiring it, then that loss doesn’t seem so important anymore.

The challenge is that the gap between where we are now – in an extraordinarily fragmented market where a viewer would need to subscribe to multiple services in multiple regions to have legal access to the content they’re interested in (and, as I wrote yesterday, even then it may well not work) – and where we want to be. Building the services that not only provide access to content but provide a way for it to be monetised and for that revenue to flow back into the creative process – that’s hard work. The system whereby audiovisual content is produced and distributed, owned and protected is massive and complicated and predates the internets by several decades.

To get where we need to be requires thinking all across the content lifecycle, from who makes it and what gets made, to how it’s distributed and monetised, to how that money makes its way back into the coffers of creators. Unfortunately we are coming up against the tendency of much of the technology world to engage with the complexity that they want to and ignore the complexity that they feel less comfortable with. This has meant, so far, that much of the work of technology companies has been in extending the old model, rather than transforming it. Both need to happen in order for us to reach a sustainable future, and that means we need collaboration across the digital and traditional worlds more than ever. And we need viewer-centric/audience-centric thinking more than ever as well, because it’s only by uncovering and building engagement points that benefit audiences that creators can profit from their work.