In scanning today’s business press, you might conclude that the media industry is a game played in Yankee Stadium with a scoreboard overhead. Wanting conflict and anxious to declare victors, journalists are tempted to present either-or scenarios. Thus, stories anticipating an onrush of cord-cutting – the substitution of Internet video for cable and satellite TV service – are a daily event. So are predictions of technology-inspired carnage. Device A is certain to topple Platform B. Consumers will shun the old in favor of the new. Television as we know it is doomed.
But sound research reminds us that human behavior is never quite so simple as to be encapsulated in a headline. As the British playwright Tom Stoppard is credited with saying “Never trust a sentiment that can be expressed on a T-shirt.” The reality of media consumption is a complicated and nuanced truth, shaped by numerous influences – technology, competition, fashion, etc – along with the limitless capacity for human behavior to surprise us.
The real story of the modern media and communications environment is one of, at least, duality – the coexistence of alternative paths to similar ends. The desire to watch a movie, for example, presents today’s consumers with a treasure-trove of platforms, conduits and possibilities. This environment of duality involves collision and competition, yes. But as the entire history of the media business teaches us, it doesn’t necessarily portend a winner-take-all end game. Instead, it becomes apparent that the “consumer” (who is, after all, a thinking, discerning human being) is quite capable of making choices, amalgamating platforms, selecting from options according to his or her specific needs and coming out ahead.
In fact, there is ample history to suggest that initial forecasts of disruption or substitution are often over-stated, and the product of media and communications changes does not always lead to a zero-sum parsing of market shares but can net out to an additive uplift in overall usage. Confronted with the relative riches of today’s media environment, consumers are responding by choosing and consuming more overall not less.
This theme of duality is woven throughout the 2011 CTAM Insights Conference (June 15-17 in Chicago). And while some pundits may be donning 3-D glasses with alacrity, the leaders of research and strategic insights in the cable industry must remain committed to providing a clear and present vision about the changes in our media and communications landscape. With my co-chairs Artie Bulgrin of ESPN and Todd Cunningham of MTV Networks, we’ve constructed a program designed to reveal important and actionable insights about the media and communications ecosystem in an environment where many players and many pathways exist.
This mission is important in the here-and-now, but it’s indispensible for preparing us to deal with an increasingly competitive future. The good news is that we have help from some brilliant people who will share outside-the-industry perspectives on the consumer marketplace and the behaviors that influence it. We will bring together thought-leaders from the consumer packaged goods industry, from partners like Microsoft and Intel, from leading academics in consumer behavior, and design and innovation-led firms like IDEO.
At the same time, both the conference and CTAM are continuing a tradition of exploring advances in research methods and presenting research in ways that invite understanding. The cable industry’s expanding embrace of more immersive research, such as ethnography, for instance, is helping us to transcend the limitations of survey data to gain deeper insights into consumer attitudes, behaviors and emotions. Seen in this light, the context becomes as important as the event in understanding consumer behavior. Matching this movement is a more finely-grained approach to market segmentation as a driver of new product offerings, enhanced competitive messaging and emerging business models. We are getting better at recognizing the differences among consumers, understanding that we need to build engagement, not just products, and invigorating our business approaches with a keener sense of the individuality and diversity of our marketplace.
Great insights, the research and analytics that support them, and our role as communicators in a business environment, all share a kinship with the best content our industry produces and delivers. At an essential level, it’s about storytelling – conveying information, impressions and shared concerns in ways that resonate with an audience and cause us all to revisit these truths in fresh and engaging ways. In an age of information saturation, it’s a skill that takes on elevated importance. We look forward to demonstrating it in Chicago – and across our business for the long term.
(Michael Diamond, Time Warner Cable’s SVP, Marketing Strategy and Intelligence, is a co-chair of the 2011 CTAM Research & Insights Conference).