This is the third in a series of posts contrasting the ‘old’ rules of the media and the ‘new’ rules that are necessary for success in today’s rapidly changing digital landscape.
Old Rule #3: The Web Is Just Another Distribution Channel For Traditional Media’s Content
There are many traditonal media types who, believe it or not, still see the web as a place for either marketing or just dumping existing content ‘as is’ in the hopes of making a few bucks.
It is precisely because the web is so flexible that it seems obvious to simply put up your content there, exactly as it was produced for a traditional medium. For example, you’d never run a radio program on television because it’s only audio, but you can put up audio programming on the web and it’s just fine. You can’t put a TV show in a newspaper, but you can just put an entire TV show on the web, as is.
It is this ease of ‘copying and pasting’ content on the web that often leads to a lack of thinking about serving the unique needs of the audience online.
New Rule #3: Customize The Content For The Medium
Again, it may be easy to say, “why bother customizing the content? I can just repurpose my existing content because the web can serve up audio, video, photography, text, and pretty much everything else I can think of.” However, put on your ‘audience hat’ and think hard about how you use different types of content on the internet in VERY different ways than you use traditional media.
For example, every TV and radio show is made to be a specified length because it has to make sense in a linear programming schedule. There aren’t many 8 minute radio show or many 3 hour and 12 minute TV shows. On the web, program length doesn’t have to be constrained to specific formulaic lengths. The content can be as long as it needs to be. Who thinks there’s always exactly one hour of local news every day? Some days, there might be 3 hours of worthy news and some days there might be 3 minutes. But on TV, it’s always exactly an hour. Otherwise, you’d never know when to tune in for the show AFTER the news!
On the web, you can give content the time and resources it deserves. ‘Snacking’ – sampling a lot of short-form content – doesn’t exist much on traditional media platforms, but is exceptionally popular on the web. While services like Hulu are finding success porting exact copies of traditional TV shows onto the web, they’re still thinking differently, serving up shorter and fewer ads than they do on network television.
New Opportunities For On-Demand Content Consumption
Take podcasting as another example. A traditional radio show is designed for a linear listening experience in real-time. It’s also a broadcast from one to many. So there are conventions associated with those restrictions – hosts will often repeat their name, the call letters of the station, the current traffic and weather, and other survival information for those listeners that are joining them ‘in progress’.
Most people can’t and therefore don’t listen to an entire radio show from start to finish – hence a programming requirement is ongoing context. As it’s a real-time broadcast, audiences can’t always focus 100% of their attention on listening – if someone talks to you while you’re listening, you miss a portion of the program. If you’re working or otherwise distracted, listening becomes a BACKGROUND experience.
Now think about how a podcast is different than a broadcast. People are listening from start to finish, hopefully lasting for the entirety of the program. You only need to tell them your name once. They don’t care about traffic or weather because it’s likely completely out of date and irrelevant by the time they’re listening. Content that isn’t time specific is often more relevant.
And listening to a podcast is essentially a one-to-one experience. The host is talking to YOU. You’re likely wearing earphones. You can start and stop the content if your phone rings. You can rewind if you miss something. It’s intimate. It’s FOREGROUND listening. So it better be REALLY good , unique, and special in order to keep my attention.
One File Format Doesn’t Fit Everyone
Next, let’s think about something as basic as a file format. Most audio podcasts are put out only as mp3 files. For many people, mp3 files are dandy. For short shows especially, you might not want or need anything else. It’s also the easy way – just take your existing content, copy it and paste it onto the web.
But let’s say you have an hour of audio programming, either songs or a variety of interviews. Wouldn’t it be helpful if you also offered it as a chaptered m4a file so that people could skip exactly to the content that they want or repeat songs or interviews that they love?
It’s certainly much, much better than using a scroll wheel or dragging your finger on a tiny touch screen scroll bar to try and find the beginning or end of a piece of content. And with m4a files, you can add in photos and links for each individual chapter, so that audiences can see album covers or photos of interview subjects. They can click links and visit pages with more information about the content, or buy the song they’re listening to.
Don’t jump to the immediate conclusion that you should ONLY do advanced formats like m4a either, though. There are lots of people that don’t have ipods or who don’t want chaptered podcasts. You have to provide as many smart options for how to consume your content as you can.
Another example – there is a small but dedicated audience for the open source audio format OGG Vorbis and it’s easy to produce an OGG version at the same time as you produce the mp3 version. So why not do both? OGG Vorbis users will LOVE you for it!
The more power you give you to audience to let them customize their experience, the more successful you will be. So don’t think in traditional terms. One size, one format, one formula don’t work for everyone and if you only offer one choice, you won’t be maximizing the number of people that choose to consume your content. Put your audience hat on and figure out how many different ways people might want what you’ve got and then do your best to give it to them.
What’s the best example you’ve seen of content that is customized for the medium?
What makes you nuts about the way traditional media companies distribute or post their content online?