February 2006 - Per Inquiry

Don’t Fear the Reaper

Recently, the Associated Press deemed the generation born from 1979 to 1994 the “Entitlement Generation.” This undoubtedly came as no surprise to parents already well aware that kids raised on Instant Messaging expect everything to be served up that way. While we parents attempt to assure ourselves of who is in control here, the real truth is one screened and ignored cell call away. The inexorable march of On Demand video technology, most recently propagated by iTunes, forever shifts the control of how and when content is consumed.

A generation of time shifters has had unbridled access to a world of news and opinion, so they fully expect to be able to influence the actual content they consume beyond the simple capacity to watch it at will. Whether it’s a “Total Request Live” viewer comment scrolling across the bottom of your screen or the ability to text message a vote into “American Idol,” this generation’s definition of giving their favorite shows a hand has more to do with working out their thumbs. All of which can make one wonder: if programming and time can be decoupled, and consumers expect to play a role in affecting content in real-time, what are the implications for television’s future?

When American Idol invites its audience to participate in deciding the outcome of the show, there is a sly ancillary benefit. What the producers are really doing is creating a link between the viewer and the program that effectively makes the viewer’s ego synonymous with the brand being marketed and sold. If you think this assertion is daft, simply go to Fox’s official web site at www.idolonfox.com and behold the astounding amount of personal energy being devoted to this show. In a similar vein, when home shopping networks solicit buyers to call in and share their opinions on specific products, they are essentially doing the same thing. Both create virtual communities, where the outcome of a product’s success becomes intertwined with a viewer’s own persona. That individual endorsement can profoundly influence other members of a brand’s tribe and help propel success. Unfortunately, the use of canned testimonials in much of DRTV doesn’t possess the spontaneity of these live endorsements, so they fail to ring true for many consumers. Thus, marketers are left to employ pricey celebrities hoping to overcome this credibility gap. Whether it is Alicia Keyes sharing her dermatological secrets or Donald Trump standing amid The Home Depot, the intention is the same.

At the time Andy Warhol famously prophesized, “In the future, everybody will be famous for 15 minutes,” little did he know fame might come in the form of 15 second sound bites associated with products. The interruptive TV model is dead-for both programmers and advertisers-and is rapidly being replaced by a participative one. Now it’s up to us to give consumers what they want-how and when they want it-and turn our fear of a grim reaper knocking on TV’s door into an opportunity to reap profits.

Rick Petry is chief marketing officer of Downstream. He can be reached at (503) 226-1944, or via e-mail at r[email protected]. Or, visit www.downstream.com.


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