Monday, June 26, 2006

Communications: Things are Changing!

I have been trying to figure out what accounts for the recent growth in issue-based documentaries that are showing in nearly every multiplex today and bringing in major money. The fact that a substantial number of consumers are choosing documentaries over comedies for Saturday night fun suggests that there is a big hunger for “infotainment” — information that entertains.

It all started with Fahrenheit 9/ll, which earned a record breaking $24 million in its first weekend. That was followed by The Corporation, Super Size Me and now An Inconvenient Truth, about Al Gore's efforts to draw attention to the issue of global warming.

Perhaps slightly different, but along the same lines, another thing that caught my eye was a story in Friday’s New York Times about the fact that some best-selling authors are giving readings from their books — not at the library or a branch of Barnes & Noble — but at Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun Casino. It’s true that Janet Evanovich, creator of the Stephanie Plum series (who addressed 1200 fans at Foxwoods), Erica Jong, Robin Cook and Augusten Burroughs are not reading from weighty tomes on constitutional law or dishing out complex philosophies. But — just think about it — gamblers are leaving slot machines and black jack tables to listen to novelists.

People are defining themselves according to their very personal interests, joining up with others who share those interests and actively finding the media — films, books, clubs, websites, blogs, podcasts or whatever — that express those interests.

The Simmons-sponsored National Consumer Survey noted that 55% of Americans belong to a club or organization with a specific focus. Research undertaken by the Center for the Digital Future at USC Annenberg School, found nearly 72% of Americans say that the online communities to which they belong are "very" or "extremely" important to them. Those communities could be as diverse — and as specific — as fans of a certain composer, author or director; people looking for mates, running partners or apartments; political activists on the left, right and center; cat fanciers and amateur astronomers; scuba divers and quilters; foodies and Francophiles.

So certain authors have discovered that they can find their audiences in casinos. (And some casinos have found that prospective guests are avid readers.) All the documentaries mentioned above have a strong point of view, one that not everyone agrees with, but certainly one that has growing support among significant segments of society. The previously noted surveys show that people increasingly want to join forces with like-minded people to have their own perspectives reinforced. And they want to be emotionally engaged simultaneously with others in an easy to reach venue.

What does this mean to institutions and corporations who want to get their messages across? I would suggest that they:

  • Study the extracurricular interests and activities of your audiences

  • Study more deeply where your audiences are going to get information (also think of the non-obvious venues)

  • Engage your audiences emotionally, as well as intellectually
Here is an interesting indicator of what’s happened already. In April, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences created the first new Emmy in 20 years. This new, digital-age Emmy is for Outstanding Achievement in Content for Non-Traditional Delivery Platforms. The award recognizes programming delivered wirelessly to cell phones or online to iPods and other portable devices. (For more info, go to http://msnbc.msn.com/id/12223570/site/newsweek/)

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