Deconstructing and Reconstructing Audiences

We all had great fun with the Conan vs. Leno tiff. Who would prevail in the quest for the coveted 11:30pm comedy slot? We all love some good mud-slinging now and again.

In truth, this battle may have been the last of its kind. Non-time-sensitive content will be consumed at the viewer's (in the case of television) discretion, not the network's. She will decide what she watches at 11:30pm, 10:07pm, or any other time of her choosing. Maybe she'll watch it on her big flat screen television with a DVR. Maybe she'll pull it down from her cable company's on-demand library. Maybe on a laptop via Hulu. Maybe, at Steve Job's request, she'll watch it via iTunes on an iPad. Any one of a dozen mobile phone models could do Jay's monologue justice-technically speaking.

Not so very long ago there was an almost deterministic "ritual of behavior." I watch this program, on this channel, on this TV, at this time and day. Today, through the advances of technology, I'll watch whatever the hell I want, when I want, on any one of my networked devices.

Radio is hot on the heels of television. In many ways, it's even out ahead of television.

A very recent study showed that more people are streaming radio than video content— including YouTube. People spend more time streaming radio than nearly every other form of media. Every prognosticator shows that growth will continue in double-digit fashion for the foreseeable number of years. Sounds good right? Well, it is good— if you look at it correctly.

Let's look at a few examples. Take Mike&Mike in the Morning on ESPN. In Boston, I can listen to the show in my car on WEEI 850 AM. I can listen to it on my phone via ESPN Radio's mobile app. I can listen to it via satellite-either XM or Sirius or Sirius XM. I can actually watch the show on ESPN2. I can download the show's podcast for future consumption on my phone or computer (or both). These are just some of the options.

If I'm an advertiser, I have, fundamentally, two options if I'm interested in buying Mike&Mike. If I'm buying the show to buy its audience, its loyalists, because my research says my target audience consumes and has affinity for the show, I might buy it in all its facets. Whenever anyone, anytime, anywhere, on any device, consumes M&M, I want my brand to be there, front and center. Now, I may need my audio buyer to buy the spot streams, a network buyer to buy satellite and syndicated content, my online buyer to handle podcasts and Of course, each agency person is probably dealing with a different person on the publishing side. All in all, this transaction will require dozens of peoples' direct involvement. Sounds cumbersome? It is. Now it is getting easier. On both sides, cross-training to be well-versed and less myopic is already underway. More and more people have taken the Rosetta Stone courses in "Media" and "Marketing," not "Spots," "Dots," or "Spreadsheets." But still, it takes work.

Here's the payout. One show monetized multiple ways. In the end, the cumulative spend on the show, across channels, is considerably more than a monolithic audience in any one delivery channel.

Significant effort yields significant return. It's the 'American Dream,' the promise of capitalism.

On the other hand, maybe I'm just trying to add this sliver of audience to a mountain of audience slivers I've collected elsewhere. Think more grocery store than restaurant. Your inventory becomes an ingredient, not the main meal. Maybe it's by market. Maybe I only want to buy the stream. Maybe only in one market. Maybe only on mobile. Maybe only on the iPhone. In the end, I may whittle the audience down to the point that, frankly, it's insignificant, revenue-wise, to the publisher. My advice to you is clear. Sell however many impressions they want to buy. First-hand, I've witnessed a small, little one-market, ten-thousand dollar buy lead to a 24 market six-figure buy. Don't assume every order in the present is indicative of orders in the future. We're all learning.

Radio content creators take note. People are going to access your content live via terrestrial, via the web, via mobile (in all its incarnations), via iTunes, via Yahoo!, and via Google. Almost immediately, people will be accessing your content via the iPad, via streaming-enabled in-dash car radios, via Sonos, and other media aggregator hardware devices, and gaming devices. The list goes on and on.

The key, I think, is to get advertisers to buy as much of your audience in as many discreet packages as possible. By extension, try to not corral them into as few of your outlets as possible. But, if they're determined to buy Blackberry Pearl owners only, sell it to them - At a premium. They're looking for a needle in a haystack. You have that needle. Be fairly compensated, perhaps unfairly.

Moving forward, forget about the bottle. It's all about the wine. That's where the money is. That's where the value is. That's what separates you from your competitor.