One of the most important lessons for New Media creators is the fact that when you start, you often have absolutely no idea who your audience might be. You can survey, you can review, you can correlate, but until you put something out there, you will never truly know. More importantly, this uncertainty is often what stops people from creating New Media at all.
Today over lunch I was watching some podcasts on my televison (There are a bunch of ways to do that) and I caught a TedTalk with Malcom Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce — “Tipping Point author Malcolm Gladwell gets inside the food industry’s pursuit of the perfect spaghetti sauce — and makes a larger argument about the nature of choice and happiness.” Gladwell tells the story of Dr. Howard R. Moskowitz who revolutionized the food industry with his concept that there is no one, perfect item, but rather a horizontal continuum of perfect products based on what groups of people desire. More importantly, he discovered that asking people what they want was often the worst way of discovering their preference.
The same applies to New Media. If you asked someone what they want in New Media, most will tell you they want it to look and feel like mainstream television. In fact, though, tens of thousands of people are already enjoying New Media shows that look nothing like television. Witness “Fred”, Make Magazine’s podcasts and shows, Diggnation, Ask a Ninja and more. Even more, television these days is starting to look more and more like New Media, not the other way round. Shows like “Destroyed in Seconds”, “How It’s Made” and others owe much to the success of YouTube. It seems mad, but the audience doesn’t honestly know how to indicate what they really want in media except by voting with their eyeballs.
This fact is why it is so important to start producing content — whether individual episodes or complete series of shows — and then see what attracts the most attention. This may seem madness after all these years of focus groups, private screenings, in-depth analysis and such, but I think it is the only true way to discover your audience.
Of course, “throwing something against the wall” is so much easier in New Media, even it is a bit scary. You can start producing shows on a shoestring and then increase the time and budget as you start to discover your core audience. Unlike mainstream television, you aren’t spending millions of dollars on a pilot, only to have the show be cancelled after one episode.
New Media gives you the freedom to try many things, in many mays, and pick the best. You should take this freedom and run with it as this is the first time in the history of modern media where, not only can you create something, you can easily distribute it directly to your audience. Don’t squander this great advantage.
You may have some idea who your audience is, but I can guarantee you that there will always be surprises. There will be a demographic that you had no idea you would reach. You could be successful in a far flung country. You could end up with a huge following across the globe, but you won’t know until you do it! You have no idea who your audience is, but it is very likely they will find you anyway.