Media companies have historically been relatively unconcerned about and even disdainful of individuals in their audiences.

Publishers produced newspaper in ways and at times that was convenient for themselves. Television channels offered programs on a take-it-when-offered basis—Too bad if you visited your mother and didn’t see it. Journalists and public service broadcasters conceived the public as an unkempt mass that need to be educated and led to think correctly and do the right things.

Audiences were things to aggregated and sold as commodities, so media executives pretended audiences were a unified, stable group in sales pitches and that advertisers were purchasing the same group of people hour after hour, day after day, week after week.

The reality is that audiences have always been individuals that changed constantly, but media companies needed to pretend otherwise in order to aggregate them and portray them as a unified group for sales pitches. A TV channel would tout itself as best at reaching women between 25 and 54 years of age, a magazine would promote that it offered more business decision makers than any other magazine, and a newspaper would tell advertisers its readers ate at restaurant an average of 125 nights a year. Never mind the others who watched the channel, read the magazine, or stayed home at night.

The fa├žade put up by media companies is eroding rapidly and is one reason why there is so much unease and shifting in media advertising markets today. Advertisers have discovered the big lie that audiences had specific characteristics and were stable.

The ascendancy of customer relationship managements and personal marketing, and the personal identification of audience members in interactive media have moved businesses to view them as individuals and to recognize that approaching them on an individual rather than mass basis increases return on marketing and advertising investments.

Media companies are waking up to the nightmare that many advertisers find the idea of mass audiences less appealing. At the same time, media firms are shifting their own offerings to try to make content—news and information, TV programs and films, and magazine content—available to individuals any time, any where, and across any platform.

Unfortunately most media companies are finding they know everything and nothing about their audiences. They know their average characteristics, habits, and purchases, but they no little about them individually, their individual lifestyles, and how they individually consume media and other products.

Media companies have a great deal of catching up to do in order to understand individual consumer behavior and its implications for their business models. Doing so will be difficult because media companies tend to know less about their customers than other types of companies. In the past media CRM programs have been absent and audience research has been relatively unsophisticated and had limited applicability.

One of the first lessons media executives are learning is that human beings are troublesome. They tend to do what they want, when they want, and how they want. They resist being constrained and controlled. They are prone to changing their minds and interests. They want flexibility in their lives. They make it different to predict their preferences because their tastes and needs change over time. They are fickle consumers who have the audacity behave as individuals rather than an aggregated group.

Some consumers want music while they are walking to the office; some want news about stock prices at 10 a.m.; others want short video entertainment when they have a coffee break at 2:30 p.m.; some want to view a prime time TV program at 5:30 p.m. when they are taking the commuter train home; still others want a recipe from a cooking magazine at 6 p.m. when they get home or a video of their choice at 8 p.m.

These demands are highly problematic because media technologies and industry structures have traditionally allowed them to tell consumers what they would get to consume and when they would get to consume it. Few companies have the competence or infrastructures to handle the new demand-driven world of media.

Media companies need to make understanding audiences and the individuals that join audiences center point of their management attention. They need to find ways to develop better relationships with them if they are to prosper in the changing environment. It is a strategic challenge that must addressed if companies are to remain vital in the media choices of their customers.


Ben. Hartmann said...

You are speaking right from my heart! I find that media companies also tend to rely on numbers to rather describe consumer behavior instead of understanding it - how many have watched the program last night? How old are they? etc... This is more of a controlling approach and has little to do with a sound understanding of why media is consumed. In my opinion, getting to the 'why?'is the route ahead.

Maceo Prada said...

First of all, I ask for your consideration since English is not my mother tongue. Mr Picard, this is a corrosive, attractive and inspiring piece of analysis. You having me making questions and questions since I saw your post. In several ways I agree with you, especially on the subject about individual consumers/audiences/active receptors.
Let me share with you some questions. Seeing this individual behavior new comprehesion as an almost 1-to-1 perspective of reception, do you think we will see in the other side (the offer/emission) an explosion of individual media --people producing their own contents, in a new step above blogging --like TV shows 24/7? Is that probably? Tech is available and affordable in many ways since its cost of acquisition continues its decreasing path.
Or do media consolidation still matters --and more than ever? Will they have the will to develop a more 1-to-1 production since it costs money and they stakeholders are still used to the huge equity returns of the last years?
Or we will see a mix of agressive and risk-lover individual media and a less agressive but still agile corporate media? Do big media let entrepreneurs do the job or do they create their own fast-pace spin-off task forces? This change of air, it's gonna be more in the Google way (absolutely new players) or more in the Vivendi way?
Uff... In this kind of prehistoric world (I am not being ironic), who will be the "owner of the truth"? What kind of reaction we will see with that? I am still thinking in the way of recording industry vs individual free download.
Nations, markets and societies have benn built around law, control and normatives. Culture is part of that, even this one. Now is gonna be a blast of contents everywhere? So, is it the end of hegemonic media and the big-bang of individual media?
More... How do we know about the cost of seconds for this new "individual TV era"? Who will have financial shoulders to create, develop and sustain that number of individual media?
Thanks for your blog. It's tasty.

Robert G. Picard said...

Individual media behavior won't replace collective media behavior but it will increasingly become part of overall media behavior.

Certainly individuals are producing their own content--blogs, social pages, videos and photos--but most produce only a limited amount of irregular material and these will be pulled together by aggregators who will gain most of the benefit. The number of individuals producing regular material is limited and most of them were content professions who migrated from traditional media or now have feet in both camps.
Consolidation will still matter as long as traditional media collectively gather the the bulk of media use.
There will be social and cultural differences in the different types of media and that will affect their ownership, use and financial support vary. It will be fun to watch those develop