Video content continues to proliferate online. None of us can keep up with all of it, let alone most of it.
In this environment, we hear the phrase, “content is king” uttered by countless defenders of the Hollywood industrial complex, as if to suggest that whatever is funneled through this complex will win—because “we” create “premium” content better than anyone. (Anyone, that is, who is not part of Hollywood.)
Their “premium” argument rests on their belief that they are the experts and everyone else (the barbarians outside the gates, if you will) as simple wannabees, pretenders, clearly not the real thing.
But what is this thing—premium video content?
Most people assume that this requires a certain level of production quality, a level obtained through ample production budgets, highly skilled craftspeople, great actors or directors—call it a certain pedigree. And yes, when we see an expensively produced, beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and directed movie that transports us beyond ourselves for 2 hours and impacts us in a deeply emotional way, we agree that we are in the presence of premium content.
But does this cover all examples of premium content? Or is it too narrow?
A number of years ago I worked at Disney Studios and then at Universal Pictures. At the first, I worked on Dead Poet’s Society, at the second, Problem Child. I regard them both as premium content. (I hear the howls of protest already.)
Before their theatrical release we screened each of these movies with recruited audiences. In each case, the audiences were very different in composition. One skewed older and female, the other, younger and male. (I will let you guess which was which.)
The recruited audiences loved each movie. Their reactions told us that if we reached our target audience when the movie was released each movie would be a financial success. And both movies were.
So, for example, if you were a college educated woman in her 30’s, you loved Dead Poet’s Society. If you were an 11 year old boy, you really loved Problem Child. (And if you were a parent of that 11 year old boy, you hated the movie, but that is another story.)
This is when I learned the important lesson of “audience fit”. And that is the lesson that resonates even more powerfully in today’s video everywhere, all the time, any time you want and on any device you want world.
In the video saturated world of today, audience fit is what defines and drives “premium content”. I would argue that they are in fact one in the same.
As more video content hits our screens, powered by YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and a whole host of subscription services ranging from Crunchyroll (for anime fans) to Acorn TV (for lovers of classic British TV) to Netflix and Amazon Prime, we find content that fits us. It comes because we subscribe to it, because it shows up in our social feeds, or because we are told of a single video that twitter tells us we should check out–which of course we quickly do.
If it fits, it is premium. This holds, no matter what it costs to make, no matter who is in it, how big a production crew it had or what studio did or did not make it.
Some audiences gather over time because services carefully aggregate content and use that to gather them at the right price (like Netflix or Crunchyroll). Audiences also suddenly gather and jump in (like with Chewbacca Mom). They also come together because someone creates video content continuously (like PewDiePie or Kylie Jenner) and they in turn can sell their audience to advertisers.
In each of these cases, premium content finds its audience. And in each case premium content creates revenue. (Even Chewbecca Mom, thanks to a deal with Jukin Media, has made substantial monies.)
Audience gathering and monetization for video used to be very narrowly defined by a few studios and TV networks. Now it is wide open. They used to hold the monopoly on “premium” video. That monopoly is now gone and new entrants continue to pour in. Premium video now comes from everywhere.
One anecdote from a class I teach at NYU/Tisch’s Film and TV Department, a department where every student is continually creating movies as they train to become highly skilled filmmakers.
In a discussion this week one student brought up why she decided to go to film school. Was it because of Spielberg, Lucas, Kubrick or one of the many great filmmakers from the pantheon?
No, she said, it was because of YouTube.
And several other students in the class murmured in agreement.