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Culled from the headlines of the media and technology trade press by Katz’s Strategy, Analytics, and Research Team, Content Matters provides a periodic snapshot of news and issues that affect the business of creating, producing, and distributing content across TV, radio, and digital media. Here are this issue's 5 THINGS TO KNOW.

2019 Q2 Issue #3

 1   GAME OF THRONES isn't the only game you need to be concerned about

Sure, 19.3 million people watched the climactic end of GAME OF THRONES. It was a marvelous TV event by most contemporary media markers (audience, social relevance, critical acclaim, etc.) that was so large in comparison that it might take some time to regenerate a similar television phenomenon.

In the meantime, 250 million people will busy themselves with Fortnite.

Gaming has nearly as much cultural impact with Gen-Z as TV did with Boomers. The dynamics are clearly different, in that Boomers would likely be scooped up in one fell swoop of I LOVE LUCY or ED SULLIVAN. Today’s gamers are living on multiple platforms of striated fragmentation.

The crossover continues on a more traditional level also. Discovery Inc. has Discovery Game Studios in the works, re-envisioning some of their more popular unscripted program titles into video games.

Now, you may imagine that the be-all and end-all for video games solely involves playing the nearly infinite titles available. Not so anymore. Now, watching other people play video games is a thing. A really big thing. And it’s not just a simple Youtube video that allows you to follow a gamer narrating his experiences during games such as “Bendy and the Ink Machine” or “Undertale” as a sort of latter-day, first-person Mystery Science Theater 3000. Yes, the preteen set loves them.

But the post-teen set loves something bigger. Esports. People watching gamers play more advanced games, many based upon real-world sports. It’s on ESPN and in bars. There are leagues of professional Esports teams in an attempt to generate local fandom. Some professional gamers can pull in over $15,000 an hour, bringing in millions of viewers to watch them play video games. Some gamers are turning down more lucrative sponsorship deals for their live broadcasts than they accept. Yes, advertisers have noticed.

But watching video gamers play onscreen games oversimplifies it. The hydra-like tentacles of gaming reach further than just emulating sports leagues. It crosses over into every facet of gaming imaginable - horror, sci-fi, first-person shooter, historical drama, etc. - through a plethora of platforms and publishers. You could be a fan of a sport, a league (NCAA? NBA? NFL? Pro Bowler's Tour? Cricket? They're all in there.),a pro gamer, a genre, a publisher, a platform. Or you could be a user of any of them. Or all of them. Right now, it’s the e-OK Corral in the Online Wild West.

Naturally, exponential fragmentation leads to an unfulfillable dream of measurement. We know that they play/watch, but the specifics are opaque after that. But when Netflix considers their competition to be "sleep" and Fortnite, you know how impossible it will be to get users to find the off button.

See techjury’s ”14 Mobile Gaming Statistics, 2019 – Insights Into $2.2B Gamers Market” and “Esports is Having a Cultural Breakout Thanks to Overwatch – But It Has a Long Way to Go” on TV [R]EV

 

  2   American Brand-stand: Leaning into social awareness

Georgia has been a hotbed of production for major TV shows and motion pictures since a large tax incentive kicked in back in 2008. There were about 455 major projects shot in Georgia in 2018, including parts of the blockbuster Avengers: Endgame. But because of an anti-abortion bill signed into law this month, many major production companies are ready to bail out of the state, tax advantages notwithstanding.

These aren’t likely companies that were looking to make a political stand. Yet it’s such a hotbutton topic that this response was nearly mandated. Across the board, top production studios across Hollywood are “monitoring” the situation.  

Importantly though, it was nearly unthinkable that they wouldn’t make a statement. Political awareness in the age of social media is practically part of the opening ante with customers now. It’s often not enough for them to offer a good product at a fair price. Now they need to be “woke” as well.

There are some companies who are synonymous with social activism. With the FDA’s possible approval, Ben & Jerry’s is bringing a CBD-infused flavor into the mix. Nike’s obvious ties with Colin Kaepernick and his political activism have been ongoing.  Patagonia donated its $10 million tax cut windfall to environmental groups.

Chick-fil-A is renowned for holding fast to its Christian founder’s conservative beliefs. Despite this, sales on and near college campuses are still brisk. Politics may take a backseat to meal plans – and taste buds.

Yet social activism and positioning is a murky area for brands and not without risk. Nike’s association with Kaepernick has had a polarizing effect – people posting videos of burning Nike sneakers counterbalance demographic sales increases. Dick’s Sporting Goods spurned many of their suppliers in the wake of the Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings, refusing to sell automatic weapons anymore. Considering their consumer base has a pronounced outdoor enthusiasm, their positioning was not without consequence. The NRA’s response was swift and predictably inverse.  As more shooting incidents occur, more companies are dropping their association with the NRA. But none have a more direct impact upon their bottom line as Dick’s. Yet their company is sticking to their line in the sand with assault weapon and other gun manufacturers, despite a loss of same-store sales. Remaining "woke" in the face of declining revenues is the challenge of social responsibility that corporations face.

What’s important to note is that for each of these companies, their response and overall policy choices are totally organic and native to their brand identity. And for the most part, these reputation-defining moments align with their customers’ ideals.

Gillette’s recent ad featuring a transgender shaving lesson was groundbreaking for the manufacturer, and it was ultimately well received. The crux was its focus on a simple family moment rather than a commercial one. Controversy has softer edges when it’s wrapped with heartstrings and humanity.

There’s more to be said about this on Mediapost in “Gillette’s Transgender ‘First Shave’ Ad Widely Accepted, Surveys Show”, “Chick-fil-A is still donating to anti-LGBT groups. Why are people still eating there?” from the University of Maryland’s “The Diamondback”, and “The Complicated Business of Mixing Brand and Politics [Survey]” from the Sword and the Script.

 

  3   The Day the Music Died, 2019 Edition 

It’s been an interesting week for music fans. As May comes to a close, listeners in the New York market will lose a major radio station as WPLJ ends its 48-year run, its 95.5 FM frequency sold by Cumulus to nonprofit Christian broadcaster Educational Media Foundation. WPLJ was not the only station purchased by EMF, but it’s in the country’s largest radio market with a substantial legacy behind it. They also acquired WYAY in Atlanta, KFFG in San Jose, WXTL in Syracuse and WRQX in Washington, DC.

Over its history, WPLJ has been an AOR station, CHR, AC, Top 40, and something of a hybrid of CHR and Hot AC. But recent ratings were not on par with the powerhouse station’s heyday of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, even into the 2000’s, when Scott Shannon left WPLJ’s morning slot behind.

The last week of the station featured past DJs, music stars, celebrities and other notables stopping by to reminisce about the “good old days” of the station. Many of the former on-air talent from WPLJ can still be heard in the NY market. They celebrated better times and said goodbye to a music legacy.

Three days later, Apple announced that it would be shuttering iTunes, splitting it into three separate apps – music, TV, and podcasts.

The reaction to Apple’s announcement? Pretty much a virtual shrug. Aside from some industry trade publications calling it the end of an era, the breakup of iTunes seems to be eliciting a collective “meh” from its reported 56 million users worldwide. “I won’t lose the music I saved? Cool.”

So there won’t be any tearful reminiscences from past iTunes jocks (there are none, of course), no emotional interviews with U2 over how much iTunes has meant to their success. One of the most impactful influences upon the music industry and how listeners consume, purchase, and interact with music rides into the sunset and it receives about as much mainstream emotion as a system update.

And then there’s the biggest lesson of all. iTunes is technology. It is a tool, a pathway, a facilitator for music collection. People loved their Walkmans also but were quite happy to cast them aside for the iPod.  iTunes and the streaming industry that followed merely made getting music simpler, for the end user, at least. Behind the scenes, the changes to the music industry itself were seismic.

Note to entertainment tech developers: No one mourns the passing of a utensil.

That’s why so many people came back to say goodbye to a radio station. Radio connects not just with the immediacy of live broadcasting, but through the shared history of what radio has brought to your life. The DJs are long-lost friends and family, the music they played was your soundtrack. It all means something to you.

So for the stations who have played their last songs, raise a glass to the memories of the good times gone by. For the software that fundamentally changed the industry, plug in, power down, and follow the prompts.

Billboard talks about WPLJ’s last days in “As WPLJ Signs Off Forever, New York Radio Legend Jim Kerr Looks Back”, while Geek.com covers the loss of iTunes in “iTunes Dies, Splits Into Three New Apple Apps

 

  4   The measurement struggle is real

Imagine, if you will, a freeform birthday party for a roomful of six-year-olds. It starts with games and cake and maybe a bouncy house. Then someone brings a puppy. They all flock to the new puppy. A video game truck pulls up. More flocking, but maybe not all of them. Next comes a pony for pony rides. Flock, flock, flock. The escalation continues until they all have their own ponies on the space shuttle with a bunch of zero-gravity puppies floating around while the atmosphere inside is about 95% sugar. Everybody’s ecstatic – how much better could life get?

Then an Avenger comes through the airlock. A real one.

When we talk about the changing nature of the television landscape, that’s about what it’s been. Content is an ever-expanding landscape and we all struggle to put it into context, to survey the borders, to bring order to the chaos. 

Horowitz Research has a new segmentation analysis that slots viewing behavior into six categories (5 O’Clock Diners, Omnivores, Mega Omnivores, Flexitarians, Flexitarian Lites, and Content Paleos). I’m torn between at least three groups I might fit in from this. I watch traditional TV, I stream, but depending upon the content available at the time, it’s never in a perfectly measured balance. I can’t even segment myself.

Reelgood, a streaming app service, surveyed their users and showed that a vast majority of them still subscribed to cable. But the Horowitz research suggests that while they still subscribe, they rarely use it.

Reportedly, 70% of American homes subscribe to at least one streaming service. The average is over 3 services per household. Consolidation of content will begin to redefine fragmentation and people become more selective – or less – with their SVOD subscriptions (especially as the Disney+ service begins circling its wagons with Marvel, Star Wars, and Pixar exclusivity).

We’re in constant change of content and services. Research takes time, resources, and careful methodology, but we’re in an instant-read, lightning-fast universe now. The challenge is to develop credible, actionable, bankable data to make sense of the madness. McLuhan was wrong. It's the measurement that is the message.

The tried-and-true proprietors of research data have a leg up on the niche specialists in terms of reliability and scope. They still have the wherewithal to balance the need for innovation with the burning desire for immediacy. In a swirling vortex of information, content, and measurement, it’s always good to have a clean, well-lighted place to start from.

Don’t get too comfortable, because somewhere, sometime soon, somebody’s going to add another space puppy.

For a more complete look at the Horowitz report, Mark Berman’s Programming Insider offered it in “What the TV Universe Looks Like Now, Dramatic Shift Towards Streaming and Antennas” and Brad Adgate’s assessment in Forbes’ “Media Research Companies Are Adjusting To The Disruption…Or Are They?

 

  5   Trust is the ultimate X-factor

In the 1980’s, Japanese car manufacturer Isuzu launched a series of ads that captured the American consciousness, featuring a character who was known for lying. Joe Isuzu was so well-known that he was mentioned by democratic candidate Michael Dukakis in a Presidential debate in 1988. The unconventional campaign increased awareness and ticked up market share for the carmaker until design flaws and other mechanical issues contributed to the company mostly pulling out of the US market in 2008.

The Isuzu campaign had revolved around the image of the shady used-car salesman image and exploited it to their advantage. Trust had become a punchline.

In today’s marketplace, trust is far from an item on a creative’s storyboard, weaponized to be a cleaver. Real trust is top of mind for advertisers, marketers, journalists, politicians, constituents, and consumers. Where your brand falls in the spectrum of public trust is as critical as oxygen.

In this era of fake news as a topic in itself, trust is largely determined by personal perspective. But for a majority of Americans, local news outlets are seen as the stewards of trust. In a recent survey, 61% of respondents said that they trust local news.

Advertising itself has long been seen with a skeptical eye among consumers. But when you compare media, television ads are thought to be far superior as vehicles of trust over those seen online. 80% of consumers trust ads they see on TV, versus 25% for pop-up digital ads. The roots of this are likely in the well-monitored arena of television and the ads that air there, while online is teeming with identity thieves, hackers, malware, and viruses.  Mama told us to beware the company we keep.  

There has likely been no time in history in which trust was such a consumer baseline. It’s more than just an item on a checklist. It’s become the first hurdle. And if you trip over that one, you’ve already lost.

For more about this, trust Charlene Weisler’s take in “Truth in Advertising: Where Does Traditional TV Stand?”, from Videa’s “MediaWave” and “’Trust’ Emerges As New Ad Metric, Becomes Media Buying Factor” by Joe Mandese in Mediapost.

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