When Did I Sign Up For This “Audience Development” Thing?

Peter Kafka of the WSJ recently interviewed Robert Kyncl, the man who heads up the channel initiative at YouTube.  Kyncl was asked about what he had learned from his experience at YouTube thus far.  He states:

“Lesson one: Audience development is equally as important as great content. By creating fantastic content and spending zero time on audience development, you are certain that you will not succeed on YouTube. You have to focus on audience development as much as you focus on creating content.”

Kyncl goes on to discuss how the task of TV programming and marketing have to be combined in the new world of on demand content viewing. Kafka then asks who is supposed to do audience development, the content creator or YouTube. Kyncl responds:

“The content creator… As things go more and more on-demand and less linear, the prime-time flow expertise is less needed. You have to learn how you program in an on-demand world, which is a much different skill set.”

What is remarkable is that Kyncl states that this new category of “audience development”, which was the responsibility of the TV channel, now resides with the content creator (and not with YouTube).

Imagine you have just created a prime time TV series and the network  informs you that you are responsible for getting your audience to show up. You would think they had lost their mind.

Yet here it makes total sense.

You see, YouTube, as well as other Internet services, are built on a distributed network.  They are not mass media networks built on a centralized model.  On a centralized (mass media) network, a passive consumer is constantly being reminded what shows are coming up and when to watch. On a distributed network (the Internet), an active viewer grabs what she wants, when she wants it, from a large constantly changing selection. On a platform like YouTube, the service may not be even aware of everything that is available at that instant, let alone what will be available tomorrow.  The platform brings you access to the whole globe in an instant.  But you have to get the people of the globe to take notice and take action on your behalf.

Thus, it falls to the content creator to take up the task of gathering and holding onto her audience. The good news is that content creators can have a direct relationship with their users on YouTube.  The bad news is that it is their responsibility to create and maintain those relationships.

The necessity of audience development falls upon larger companies like Machinima as well as any small team that creates an original web series or individual film. Now everyone can become a creator, a publisher.  But they also have to become programmers, marketers, and experts in “audience development”.

This is a whole new world for people who have previously concentrated on creating great stories. Now they need to entice people into their stories, get them to stay around and get them to come back.

This will be a very difficult transition for those who have worked within the legacy mass media business of networks and studios.  It will require the unlearning of accepted practices as well as learning new ones. It used to be that great content from creators and great promotion and scheduling from the network brought success. No more. Now the creators have to do it all.

Who will successfully navigate these uncharted waters?

About Chris Dorr

I consult with companies on digital media strategy and business development. Clients include Samsung, MTV Networks, Tribeca Film Festival, Shaw Media and Canadian Film Center. I created the Future of Film blog for Tribeca. I have worked in the movie business for Disney Studios, Universal Pictures, Scott Free and in the digital media business for Intertainer, Sony and Nokia. Contact me at [email protected] or follow me at @chrisdorr
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  • FollowMyFilm

    It seems like most creators that successfully develop an audience are “naturally gifted” at the latter.  There are folks who simply are good at demanding, drawing and keeping attention.  They have a knack for it.  I’ve often found that they tend to appeal to a certain niche crowd; their charisma/charm doesn’t work on everyone.

    For the rest of us, it’s hard to learn audience development skills.  There are posts and articles here and there, but it’s hard to find a definitive tutorial, how-to book.  Nonetheless, being on FB and Twitter on a daily basis inevitably “teaches” the astute observer what works and what doesn’t when developing an audience. 

    Thank you for the article!

    Christopher J. Boghosian

    • chrisdorr

      Hi Christopher, Thanks for your comment. You are very right about what “teaches” the astute observer. It is that constant practice of figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

  • Sylvia

    I’ve been part of “legacy mass media” and creating content for years.  And you’re right, some creators have a hard time making that pivot to not only create, but cultivate an audience when working with new and multiple platforms.  As TV 1.0 evolves into social TV 3.0, it really comes down to adapt or die — who wants to lead the charge, and therefore remain gainfully employed, toward engaging in a more direct exchange with an audience.

    • chrisdorr

       Sylvia, Forgive my late reply and thanks for your comment.  You are very right, “adapt or die” pretty much sums it up.