How come the only thing at the movies is super heroes?
How come the only thing on television is housewives and people from New Jersey?
The answer? The internet happened. Okay so it’s a lot more complicated than that, but the root cause of the awfulness of the current state of mass entertainment is the fact that we are no longer held hostage by only a few outlets for media consumption. Let me illustrate it with a brief, imaginative story about a woman named Wanda:
It’s 1991. Wanda is a dog lover who lives in Smalltown, TX. She is an avid dog lover. She wears tacky, printed t-shirts covered in dogs and the American flag. Her house is full of little puppy figurines and commemorative plates with her favorite breeds. It’s Friday night, and she has a couple of choices for what media to consume. She can watch Full House and Family Matters on TV, or she can go see a romantic comedy with Meg Ryan and some guy who’s not Tom Hanks. Truth be told, she doesn’t really want to do either, but given those are her only real options, she wastes six bucks on the romantic comedy. Hollywood makes a ton of money.
Fast-forward 20 years. For some reason Wanda hasn’t aged. She must be immortal. And she still loves dogs. It’s Friday night, and there’s television. There’s a new rom-com with Sandra Bullock. But there’s also thousands of hours of cute dog videos on YouTube. There’s a whole queue of movies just about dogs on Netflix. There’s Animal Planet, though they haven’t been running as many dog shows lately … why are there so many people from New Jersey on that channel? I guess she could log in to the DogLovers.net forum and see what her online dog community is up to, or catch up on dog blogs, or look at some dog pics on Tumblr … you get the idea.
Stephen Spielberg is lamenting the lack of good movies being produced in the past twenty years, and in my opinion, it’s no coincidence that this dearth of quality entertainment coincides with the rise of the internet. There are just too many options out there. The mass-media big three: Theatrical Release, Television, and Radio, no longer have a stranglehold on what we consume.
And I disagree with Spielberg …I believe that there is good content out there being created right now, it’s just that the major outlets can’t afford to release it. They are competing with a thousand user-generated voices, all being given substantial attention by small niches of like-minded individuals. The big guys have to focus on an ever-shrinking, mass audience. And so all they can give us is rehashed comic book movies and New Jersey.
But out in the outliers – in the niches – there are active, eager, willing audiences who are looking for quality content. There’s a place for good movies and entertaining media. It’s just not going to come from the mainstream. In my opinion, that’s good news for content-creation, as a whole, and good news for consumers.
So what does this mean for content creators and marketers? Find your niche! Understand that you no longer have to go for mass appeal, because it’s going to require compromises and “dumbing down” that you may not be comfortable with of or even able to accomplish. The gatekeepers are going to be even tighter with their resources and control, and if you aren’t a part of that game already, it will be increasingly harder to play. But in your niche, you won’t have to compromise your core message.
It’s true for filmmakers, writers, marketers, and small business owners: be yourself, and find your niche!