Channel Agnostic?

I spend a lot of time working with clients on the dissemination of content via multiple channels. To oversimplify (I know – I do that so well), it’s all about “write once publish everywhere.” After all, we live in a time of “what I want, when I want it, how I want it.” So you’d think I’m pretty channel-agnostic, right? Wrong. Here’s why.

When I was at ABC Sports many years ago, one of the things we noticed was that Sunday Night Football on ESPN and Monday Night Football on ABC received very different ratings. Same high-quality product (NFL football), no real differences in production values (we can argue about the announce teams but I don’t believe most folks chose to watch or not based on the announcers). Substantial differences in audiences.

“Of course,” you say. “ABC has 100% national coverage and ESPN was around 75% or 80% at the time.” Correct, although there were still ratings differences even within their own universes which we thought had to do with competition (ESPN was up against Sunday night network TV – always an important night).  One channel (broadcast TV) was better for the purposes of driving audience than another (cable TV).

This year, witness NASCAR:

“There have been “eight NASCAR races this year on ESPN that last year were on ABC,” and those races are “down 26% in average rating (2.6 vs. 3.5), and down 22% in viewership (4.3 million viewers vs. 5.5 million).” On average, ESPN is “getting more than one million viewers fewer than ABC had last year for the races” (JSonline.com, 11/18).

Same product, a much better championship chase than the year before, lower numbers.  Which is why I’m not channel-agnostic. There are differences between channels beyond what they’re capable of technically. User preferences, distribution, business models and other factors all distinguish one from another. While we may need to be capable of delivering content via any and all, it doesn’t mean we can’t support one more than another nor express a preference based on the differences we see.

We need to support all channels because our customers use them all.  But they don’t use them all equally and they may be using one (such as mobile video) as a substitute when one they’d prefer (big screen, HD-TV) isn’t available.  We probably spend too much time obsessing about new devices and segmenting our worlds based on different delivery methods.  Not many organizations have the resources to support them all equally.  The reality is that users are channel agnostic and delivery agnostic so we need to stay focused on the users and flexible in our thinking and our execution but do so with some semblance of reality.  That’s not agnostic – it’s smart!

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