It's important to think about how the worlds of entertainment and media have evolved, from cable packages/bundles to over-the-top content providers, from the living room television to tiny screens everywhere. Niche content owners and creators can now truly own their audience by taking advantage of all of the power currently at their fingertips.
How do I start owning my audience?
I've seen these five hacks for premium content owners work, from large content library owners to individual content creators.
1. Know your Viewer: Use tools like Google Analytics and to understand who your viewers are and how they engage with your content. A direct-to-viewer strategy enables you to get even more information and drive useful engagement.
2. Take Risks: With video content management platforms you can try new strategies, like windowing, presenting in multiple languages, subscriptions, and more. Choose platforms that are low commitment, low cost, and grow with you to make risk taking possible. Self-service tools like VHX are a great way to try new monetization models.
3. Get on the Set Top Bus: There are so many new opportunities with ecosystems like Roku and Amazon Fire TV for all types of content owners and creators. These are new markets with growing adoption. Much like the iTunes store when the iPhone launched get there quickly, and think about the keywords and content you use when publishing on those platforms. We launched a "Movie Trailers" app on Roku that already has thousands of new subscribers, with nothing but great keywords.
4. Own your Discovery: Aggregators and consumer platforms like YouTube thrive on being search engine friendly and discoverable on the open web and social media. Are you doing everything you can to make your content discoverable? Do you have a destination site, and is it search engine optimized? Free tools like Google Webmaster Tools, and paid tools like SEO Moz make it easy for anyone to start doing basic discovery improvements.
5. Own your Marketing: With your own branded streaming destinations, you can leverage tools like Unbounce, Mailchimp, and Google AdWords for viewer registration, email marketing, and search engine marketing. There is a whole universe of CRM and marketing tools available to content owners.
But what exactly is niche content? Niche content can mean anything that a passionate audience rallies around and creates an emotional and loyal connection to viewers over and over again. Niche content matters because it has been a driving force for major shifts in consumer video since the beginning of broadcast television. So let's look at how this evolved...
In the beginning, RCA created broadcast television.
The year, 1940. There was no niche. You watched what your dad watched, if you lived within the broadcast distance of a television station. The brands and advertisers you were exposed to were carefully planned, and the big broadcast networks were the ultimate gatekeeper. Simpler times indeed.
In this sense, television itself started out as a niche medium, but gained significant power because there was previously nothing else like it. The early content providers dictated everyone's favorite programs and genres. In other words, there was no place for alternative or specialized content—the idea of TV alone was special enough.
Let there be light
Fast forward to the 1980's. From then on, cable, satellite, digital cable, and finally internet video quickly changed the landscape. Niche content drove the tide of new options available to viewers, and they voraciously consumed it. An all day weather channel? Nickelodeon? MTV? All considered niche content in their own way. Content creators used a new generation of tools and techniques, powered by the microprocessor and the rapid pace of technological innovation to target more unique (but still very wide) audiences.
With broadband to the home becoming normal, the big Internet aggregators like YouTube and Netflix began challenging cable for dominance in providing all types of content to all people. Nonetheless, this gatekeeper model persisted, as the infrastructure, software, device, and delivery knowledge required to deploy and operate meaningful branded destinations was still out of reach for most content owners.
Today, all of the conditions exist for a niche explosion.
So what has changed since cable and big internet took the baton from big broadcast? Why is now the time that we will see a secular change from a gatekeeper model to a direct-to-viewer model?
Three market forces and conditions for innovation have converged:
1. Ubiquity of High Speed Internet Access: Oceans of Bandwidth are now available everywhere (not just in the home).
2. Ubiquity of Streaming Capable Devices: Incredibly cheap content access devices are available and purchased by everyone in all viewing contexts (home TV/set top, mobile, and tablet).
3. The emergence of cloud computing: Infrastructure and software services - and an energetic startup ecosystem around it - are making discoverable and low risk experiences a reality for any content owner.
Unlike ever before, niche content owners have the ability to do their own thing and do it profitably. Of course, this takes some knowledge of the industry but this is where companies can help empower both smaller content providers and content owners who have never before thought of being their own distributor.
It will be niche content that drives this new era. It all starts with the notion, "Yes, I can own my audience."
Ed Laczynski is CEO of Zype, a cloud platform for video publishing and distribution.