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the Big Blog Company | Niche explosion kills several (big networks)
“Who yer callin' a sparrow, you schmuck?!”
The bird on the back.
March 20 2005
Niche explosion kills several (big networks)
Jackie Danicki • Events • Trends 
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Saturday night’s American Cinema Foundation panel at the American Film Institute in LA, moderated by Cathy Seipp, was fascinating on several levels.

The theme of the event was “Mass market, smart content,” and featured four TV writers/producers/directors: Paul Feig (creator and executive producer: “Freaks & Geeks;” director: “Arrested Development;” director and writer, the feature film “I Am David;” author: “Kick Me: Adventures In Adolescence” and the upcoming “Superstud: How I Became a 24-Year-Old Virgin"), Scott Kaufer (executive producer: “Boston Legal;” writer: “Gilmore Girls,” “Chris Isaak Show,” “Murphy Brown"), Rob Long (co-creator and excecutive producer: “Men, Women & Dogs,” “Love & Money,” “George & Leo;” executive producer: “Cheers") and Tim Minear (executive produer: “The Inside,” “Wonderfalls,” “Angel,” “Firefly"). Together, they tackled the issue of how successful television writers manage to keep their distinct viewpoints when writing for the mass market.

I believe wholeheartedly that there is no such thing as ‘the mainstream,’ and that the mass market is dead, and being replaced by a mass of niches. I also believe that the mass media is not being destroyed, merely altered radically, and individuals are being liberated from the mass by the unprecedented choice of personal relevance that (thanks to things like blogs, mp3s, TV on DVD, podcasting, and TiVo) they have today - and that choice of personal relevance is increasing exponentially at a rapid rate. So the topic of the panel was extremely appealing to me as a total geek on the social ramifications of emergent technology tip.

I didn’t want to hit the guys over the head with the beliefs I laid out above, so I asked them if they thought that TV series on DVD (which they all seemed to agree was the best thing to happen to TV in a long time, even if the lack of leadership in the Writers’ Guild means that they get screwed out of decent earnings, receiving only 2 or 4 pennies per DVD sale), TiVo, and that greater choice of personal relevance is going to affect what they do in any significant way. Every panel member had something to say about that, but the most interesting answer came from Paul Feig, who said that the bottom line is that the show that draws the most advertising revenue wins, and it will always be that way.

Except I am sure that it won’t always be that way, and that the advances in emergent technologies and the rebirth of niche will bring about that dramatic shift a lot sooner than we may think. The business model of broadcast must change if it is not to die (and with only 12 per cent of US viewers getting their TV via antenna these days anyway, ripping it down isn’t a bad idea). As viewers (read: customers) get used to having that personal choice of relevance, they will throw their attention (read: value) to the places where they can get it: cable, satellite, and the internet. And if you think advertisers won’t pick up on that and move their ad spend accordingly, I’ve got some stock in broadcast that I’d just love to sell you.

The kicker being, I don’t believe that advertising revenue is going to be the bread and butter of TV on cable, satellite, and the internet. Sure, there will be ads in the world as long as there are lazy, clueless companies who believe in ”just in case” marketing. But the costs of that kind of marketing are rising, the effectiveness declining, and profits down as a result.

Which brings us to my point: This drive to niche dovetails very nicely with the need of companies to put customers at the beginning of the value chain instead of at the end of it. The increasing emphasis on the individual also means a move from push marketing to engagement marketing. So instead of wasting a great deal of money on a TV ad, a company can spend a fraction of that on, say, developing great blogs to provide value and engage the niche they are targetting. (They can throw some podcasts up there while they’re at it.)

So here’s the question I really wish I had asked the panel: Ten years from now, who exactly is going to be spending the kind of money on network TV ads that they need to maintain this broken system? And if that money isn’t there, will you be running over non-TV-watching freaks with your Kia instead of your Mercedes?

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