Audience Created Programming

“Another Potential Ratings ‘Secret Weapon’: Recruit Your Audience To Do Your Programming. Then they will tune in to see themselves, and get as many other people as possible to watch… Sounds homey and unglamorous, but so are most communities and most people. Its track record proves that this method yields more rating points per production dollar.”  — Media Science Newsletter, May 15, 1979

Back in those days we were always writing about the future of television – at the time that meant 1990 :smile:. Our prediction of audience-created programming (today we call them “reality shows”) was based merely on the growth of cable networks, which meant smaller audience shares for the original networks who paid for most of the top productions. Seeing those smaller shares coming, it was no stroke of genius to think that lower cost programs would be coming too.

Elsewhere in that issue and in other reports through the 80s and 90s, we spoke of viewers using their camcorders (today we would say cellphones) to send video upstream from their homes in a new form of immersive interactive TV – live shows with viewers at home literally stepping into the frame. Risky business – even with multi-second delays and bleep buttons – but Jerry Springer turned it into a goldmine with just a studio audience. Maybe we will get that “Camera Two-Way TV” yet.

This led us to predictions of video dating, video travel, video group therapy – forms which have been developed with somewhat different spins, programs like “Real World”, “Jersey Shore”, etc. – again, not yet using webcams at home – and live programming has quite fallen out of the culture for some years now, except for sports.

Population Becoming More Creative and Inventive?

Remember the (regrettable) experiments with animals deprived of toys, and how that stunted their emotional and intellectual development?

On the other side of the scale, the hyper-stimulation of today’s culture could be generating a population of creative inventors. The 2011 Lemelson-MIT Invention Index, according to the Boston Business Journal (January 19, 2011), finds that 71% of females 16-25 consider themselves to be creative, compared with 66% for males 16-25.

Historically, as a culture, we have suppressed the percentage of the population that could make a living as a creative person. As media have grown they have increased how much these few could earn and generate. Could we absorb two-thirds of the population into the entertainment business?

Since this is unlikely, to forego frustration, we need to channel our creative energies into whatever it is that we do.

The same study finds smaller proportions considering themselves “inventive” as compared to “creative” – 39% of males 16-25 and 27% of females 16-25 see themselves as “inventive”. More than twice as many females of this age group see themselves as creative as see themselves as inventive, and the pattern is almost as dramatic for males of this age. Probably just realism: females see themselves doing unique things that are a bit unexpected but do not equate that with creating an invention.

Empowered by the new digital toolkit – video phones, computers, the Internet, affordable video editing suites and animation systems for everyday computers, Facebook and Twitter, having their own blogs, doing mashups, emailing photos from cellphones – the average person has become more creatively expressive.

The programs on the air do not fully tap this range of expression yet; the graphic representation might look something like the visible light slice of the electromagnetic spectrum. The slice that has been most fully developed has been predictably skewed to physicality – because that is more exciting than talking heads. Yet a market for talking heads persists – it is much of what we see around the “dial” today – and the best of the breed, such as “Charlie Rose”, has a franchise and is a business. Possibly more programming can be created that is somewhere (if not a cross :smile:) between “Charlie Rose” and “Jersey Shore”, that taps into the cultural creative spurt that is one of the upsides of the media technology revolution.

Best to all,

Bill

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