Perhaps the biggest misconception in the entertainment industry is that people buy content, when in fact, we buy experiences. We buy context. The real value of content is not so much a function of the product itself, but what it means to us, and how it mirrors the self back and makes our own lives seem infused with meaning.
In the past, content always came in products — on vinyl, VHS, compact or digital video discs and had very defined user experiences. At the outset of the digital age, there was no longer a need for a physical product; people could exchange digitised content at incredible speed online. Record labels and publishers began to panic. They blamed internet piracy for a waning market, but in truth they had misunderstood the real value of content.
Consumers did not turn into pirates with the advent of the internet. They’ve continued to do what they’ve always done: acquire and share content. But now, instead of recording songs from the radio and compiling a mixed tape or burning an album onto a compact disc, they were rapidly uploading and downloading reams of content. Digital sharing portals like Napster and Limewire made it possible for people to share content faster and on a much larger scale then ever before.
When music piracy spiked in 2001 and 2002, the singles market was still driven by teens. The music industry went crazy. They were offering a high quality product with two to three songs for roughly €1.99, but instead of purchasing the CD single, kids were downloading the songs for free. What’s more, they were paying €2.99 for low quality, monotonic snippets of their favorite songs to use as mobile ringtones.
I began to realise that their purchases weren’t motivated by content but by the experience a particular version (or in this case re-versioning) of content can provide. Having that ten second stripped down version of a pop melody meant more to them than having the CD at home. If they want to listen to the original song, they can find a way to do so anytime, anywhere, but if they want the ringtone they have to purchase it in a particular format to match their mobile phone model.
Value is not inherent to ownership; the consumer will always find a way to obtain content for free. The real value of any entertainment property lies in its capacity to relay a personal meaning to the each one of us. We download apps for the same reasons teens downloaded those first ringtones more than a decade ago: to personalise our mobile experience and to feel that we’re part of an ‘in’ peer group.
Similarly, when we go to see a movie, we aren’t going simply to view the film. We go “see” a movie because we want the experience of context the theatre provides. The screen is bigger. The sound is sharper. Comedy and drama are that much richer when we’re laughing or crying along with one hundred other people, and once we’ve seen the film it becomes the subject of discussion between our peers and ourselves. Stories have always been and always will be a socially inclusive art form.
To be a successful transmedia producer, you need to consider everything you produce, every piece of content that is a part of your big story, and decide which of these has a commercial value. Do not make the mistake of expecting your audience to purchase everything you produce. It may seem counterintuitive, but the best way to create an audience motivated to buy your product is to give them the bulk of that product for free. This method incentivises people to engage with your story, talk about and share it. Later, you’ll be able to convert someone who liked the story into a buyer who will purchase a movie ticket or paperback novel, not for the content itself, but for the experience.
As an industry, we need to stop thinking that everything we produce has a value which we should charge our audience for. I believe that we should give away as much content as possible in order to create an engaging experience. By creating this sort of emotive link with our audience, we can establish a property’s real value and motivate our viewers to pay for our products and the premium entertainment experiences we provide. The value is not in the content but in the emotional connection and experience that content provides. The stronger this emotional connection is, the more money audiences are willing to pay.
Nuno Bernardo is the founder and CEO of TV, film and digital production company beActive. He is also an Emmy nominated writer-producer and has just released a new book, Transmedia 2.0. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.
Top photo via Shutterstock – BPTU