What makes people take an interest in media content? How do you produce media content that people cares about? Two fundamentally interesting questions in a time when traditional media are loosing both incomes and audiences at the same time. The multi billion dollar media industry in transformation is creating an increasingly squeeky sound these day. And the main reason is that people don´t want to get interrupted in their quest for fun distractions and useful information by non-televant ads. And people have LOTS of more sources to hunt for fun and facts today and just a couple of years ago.
For anyone involved in the media business it´s time to look for some stable ground to stand on when undergoing the transformation. One way of doing that is to step back a little bit and look for underlaying patterns in the mechanisms of the media business. And for me, It´s all about information and the management of it.
The old tricks of the trade – and the new ones
The old way of doing things was about hiearchichal categorisation. Just at libraries created long indexes to guide the searchers of information – the media business created categories for the content and sections in media to guide both the audience and the ad industry who looked for the proper place to place their ads.
The new way of doing things is about relations and context. Context is king, by the way – since we humans are interpreting machines rather than calculating machines.
Context: discourse that surrounds a language unit and helps to determine its interpretation.
Use your right brain when sorting the media content!
I´ve work with content analysis of media and know for sure (I´ve counted thousands of press clippings by hand… That´s why I love online media and computers) that that business is built up around categorization. Media TYPES, article TYPES, classes of topics and sentiments. But below all of that the production and consumtion of media is more about psychology than logistics. During the era of Mass Media the noble art of logistics rose to it´s peak and outshone what it´s all really about – giving people what they want. And wanting is a process going on in the hearts and minds of people.
Three major trends that transforms the media industry
Three majour trends can be identified that are nor pushing the whole echosystem of the media industry (advertisers, media owners, content providers and reserachers) into a primarily psychological focus:
1. Online media distribution forces the art of logistics into managing small audiences via gigantic numbers of channels instead of the other way around. The hard part isn´t keeping track of the channels, but keeping track of the many and fast-moving audiences.
2. Ad blindness. People are either fed up with contextually non-relevant commercial messages or in a position to choose other sources rapidly – making them hard to catch for slow moving banners and the like. Google adressed both these problems in a brilliant way and made a buck or two in the process.
3. Consumer power. Media companies used to be thought of like the energy, pharmaceutical and weapons industries. In a society abundant of media content it´s the consumers market – not the producers. Brought up with the idea that media provides both fun and information the audiences are still hungry for content and are rapidly growing fat and lazy. Just like our bodies are built to look for fat and sugar and the environmental changes are quicker than our bodies and psyches are able to adapt.
The media industry therefore needs to find new ways of connecting producers and consumers. Ways that at least adresses the above mentioned trends. Let´s look at some solutions.
1. Focus on the audience instead of the media! Knowing that the sports section of New York Times has had an average of 135 000 readers last week is less interesting than knowing WHO read exactly what in it and WHY so they can keep their audience next week too.
2. Join the race for providing RELEVANT content! Be it ads, info or entertainment – keeping track of what people are looking for right now right here is the key. Google showed the way by looking at peoples search words and analyzing the words in peoples text to hear what people they think – but there is so much more to be done. There is a lot of traces of people out there – blogs, comments, mails etc – and despite the spookyness of malicious surveillance – people don´t seem to mind as long as it helps them get more of what they want quicker.
3. Study people! Know thyself. And then listen and observe and you might be lucky enough to see patterns of behaviour emerge. Ask Amazon about how important their user database is to their success. ´nough said.
The patterns in our brains and the patterns in our desires
When studying media content it´s far more interesting to study the psychological interpretation of the content than trying to categorize into dumb categories such as sports, culture or politics. A hero story is a hero story whether it takes place on the football field, the scene or in the board room. The cool analysis is whether a hero story involves beauty, strenght or being a rebel. Because everyone loves a hero – but some people prefer reading about Cinderella over Rambo or Gautam Buddha. And the underlaying reason for that is to be found in psychology.
Time to rebuild the ad placement platforms
So why´s a categorization of content into sports, culture and politics dumb? Well, because real people in real life moves in and out of many such situations. The old media way of doing things made at least ONE generation used to be able to go to one source to get as much goodies as possible. With the Internet all that changes. Where familiar news papers used to be one-stop shops for people looking for a nice mix of relaxation, gossip and information Internet search engines are now taking that place. And then the name of the frame in which the content is presented is rapidly becoming utterly irrelevant to the audience. But it is still crucial to the owners of it trying to sell ad space and media brokers needing to know it in order to connect procuders with consumers. But just because THEY are saying that the categorizations are important (because that´s how their computer systems are built up) doesn´t make it less stupid. If you look at it from the audience perspective. Which is a good thing to do now when they´ve got the power. Again – look at Google and how they do to place their ads. And try to be a little bit better. ;-)
Media content – human stories, not labeled goods
I was interviewed by a couple of swedish media students yesterday and I tried to explain how I would like to research media and why. I have a dream of classifying media content by what fears and desires it might evoke in the readers mind – the desire to be admired or the fear of beeing cast out of the social community for instance. When applying a dramaturgical dimension to the content aswell, we get stories about heores, conflicts, villains, rebels etc (Carol S Pearson and Joseph Campbell are great inspirations, thanx Annika Lidne at Disruptive Media, Niclas “deeped” Strandh, Per Öhlin for leading me there!). THAT would be a cool use of good old quantitative content analysis.
Media Audiences – people, not numbers
The I would like to analyze bloggers linking to media content and perform psychographic analysis to determine their personality type. I´ve created a classifyer to do this part of the job – it can be found at my dear friend and comrade in crazy research, Jon Kågströms uClassify. My hypothesis is that there is a crystal clear relation between arhetypical media stories and Myers-Briggs personality types. I actually believe that relationship to be so much common sense that we tend to overlook it when doing qualified content analysis. Beeing able to quantify such a relationship would, in my eyes, be the most interesting and possibly far reaching media research projects I could think of in terms of consequenses for content producers and audience reserachers.
Thank you the Inventors of the Internet, Blogging tools and text classification computer programs for providing the data and tools for the coolest media research I ever dreamt of! ;-)