When it comes to strategy, top entertainment companies are shameless about pilfering from one another. And why not? Even in our innovation age, there is no point recreating the wheel.
Before launching the world’s most popular podcast Serial, the creators cited Netflix and HBO as their models. “Our hope is that it’ll play like a great HBO or Netflix series, where you get caught up with the characters and the thing unfolds week after week, but with a true story, and no pictures. Like House of Cards, but you can enjoy it while you’re driving.”
An estimated 100 million Serial downloads later, Netflix launched its original series Making a Murderer, a gripping documentary about wrongful conviction aimed squarely at the same fanbase. What goes around, comes around. And even without any ratings, this show has proved ridiculously popular across social media, mass media and late-night talk shows, with even Forbes calling it “Netflix’s most significant show ever.”
But what else is going on right now in the world of podcasting that might fuel your own digital strategy?
1. Keep your fans in the fold. For the last season of Downton Abbey, PBS launched its own podcast, Masterpiece Studio. With so many viewers today turning to rogue aftershows, independent podcasts produced by everyone from super-fans to professional critics, PBS decided to own its audience. This is a smart move. The public broadcaster has access to actors, behind the scenes action and more original source material to help its podcast stand out. In addition, PBS has legions of loyal fans, “viewers like you” who help fund its programming. So the more that they can offer members between episodes and series, the more support they are likely to inspire. This might also help member stations in a move from old-fashioned “pledge-drives” to what we now call “crowdfunding”. Key takeaway: if you can host your own aftershow podcast for fans, do it before someone else does. And, while you’re at it, why not launch it before you even go to air on TV?
2. Try sponsorship, not advertising. With broadcasters including Turner and SyFy now reducing advertising to retain viewers, to compete with PayTV and to beat Netflix at its own game, what about replacing revenues with sponsorship dollars instead? In the early days of television, stars and even cartoon characters represented a show’s one or two key sponsors, from opening credits to end cards. (Both I Love Lucy and The Flintstones were featured happily smoking cigarettes for sponsor dollars.) Today, podcast listeners love the dulcet tones of their hosts so much that they rarely skip past sponsor campaigns, a staple of podcast underwriting. These sponsor riffs, read by familiar hosts, can be long, entertaining and chatty – with podcasters telling us about their personal experiences with everything from razors to bedsheets to favorite snacks, literally soup to nuts. And fans eat it up. On Slate’s “DoubleX Gabfest” the hosts sound like they’re having as much fun with a sponsored script as when they deconstruct pop culture. So, listen up! When you’re the voice of authority, your fans won’t tune you out.
3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Turn drama into comedy. The world’s longest-running radio drama has spawned a comedy podcast. And even though BBC’s The Archers (6 days a week, for 65 years!) features weighty themes such as spousal abuse, gay rights, Mad Cow and other farm crises, the super fans weigh in with their own reverential-yet-hilarious interpretations in the tribute podcast DumTeeDum (named for The Archers signature tune). The lesson here: Why not try genre-bending yourself? Produce a parallel show, in a different tone, on any platform. Lighten up – and your fans might just follow you anywhere.
In the weeks ahead, we’ll look at top Digital Strategies from crowdfunding and videogames to multichannel networks. I look forward to receiving your feedback via Twitter in the run-up to MIPTV in April, where I’ll be moderating digital-focused panels.
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