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New kinds of viewership are leading to a wealth of innovative content across web and television.

When it comes to entertainment, there is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’. If the huge success of platforms such as YouTube over the past decade has taught us anything, it is that audiences are interested in going beyond the network model of entertainment to seek out and support their own niche set of interests. This shift in consumption habits and preferences is leading to the creation of entirely new distribution channels that cater to and further develop these unique interests, giving consumers a much greater depth of content to explore, and building unique viewer identities in the process.

In collaboration with the minds behind The Curve Report from NBCUniversal Content Innovation Agency, PSFK is investigating the future of video and how it is changing the face of television.

As part of this larger theme, The Curve Report has identified a trend they are calling Nichework Execs, which explores how content dedicated to specialized topics is now economically viable through the aggregating power of new digital networks. In a sense, these new ‘nicheworks’, are a natural evolution in an industry that has grown from the big three broadcasters to hundreds of cable networks catering to various demographics, lifestyles, and topics. This trend has only grown more pronounced with new generations, according to The Curve Report “67% of Generation Xers and Ys say they’re interested in online-only TV networks that cater to their specific interests.” The result is not only programming that is targeted at more specific interests, but an overall fragmenting of audiences, who are seeking to balance their viewership between mainstream programming, and niche channels that speak to their own tastes.

An example of this new kind of network is the YouTube channel Tastemade, which hosts a variety of off the beaten path cooking shows. With shows such as Raw. Vegan. Not Gross, The Perennial Plate, and Hilah’s Texas Kitchen, the channel is able to host content that would otherwise be too niche for network television. The goal is to create something other than the ubiquitous ‘how-to’ cooking shows of today, and come up with a quirky new format, which might bring in a whole new kind of viewer. Total viewership of the online-only “network” is an impressive 13 million visitors a month. As the Tastemade co-founder Steven Kydd points out in an interview with The Curve Report, “Twenty years ago, in the early days of cable, brands like the Food Network and the Discovery Channel were built, and they became iconic brands. They became very large businesses with huge consumer followings that have also been attractive to advertisers. What’s different this time around is that by using new digital platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Apple, you are able to get global distribution and global monetization instantly.” Clearly the enhanced distribution afforded by the internet is quickly helping these nicheworks grab the attention of viewers.

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On the other side of the spectrum, there is just as much opportunity to create the new platforms that will host this content. Think Etsy for video: just as the shopping platform created an opportunity for small-time crafters to flourish, a platform dedicated to niche video can help small-time entertainers grow their brand in a big way. One such example is the soon to be released network Xplore. Founded by the explorer and entrepreneur David de Rothschild, it is positioned to be the next-generation National Geographic Channel, taking creative risks that wouldn’t be viable for networks banking on mainstream viewership: for example, a show about a voyage from San Francisco to Sydney, Australia, on a boat made from plastic bottles, which will help raise awareness about the 74 million pounds of plastic in our oceans. As de Rothschild puts it, “Our work is motivated by passion, purpose, play, and the opportunity to empower the everyday hero to create positive change through immersive storytelling. Online video gives us the creative freedom to accomplish this mission by telling the most authentic, true-to-life stories possible.” To underscore the potential success of a platform such as Xplore, according to The Curve Report, “virtual video tours of places that I cannot go to myself, or that are inaccessible to most people,” topped Gen Xers’ and Y’s lists of potentially interesting content, and more than half (51%) said they’d be willing to pay five dollars per month to watch this type of content.

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As NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment’s President and Chief Content Officer, Jeff Wachtel, says, “What we started to learn was that if you could engage fewer people in a deeper way, you could be as successful as the traditional metric.” The inherent ability to take more creative risks, push the boundaries and create something new, will make nicheworks a powerful force in shaping the habits and patterns of viewers.

The end result of this evolution is a more fragmented audience that will interact with content in new ways, beyond just the 30-minute sitcom or 60-minute drama. However, it is not likely that we will swing entirely on the other direction, rendering network television obsolete. The result more likely is that audiences will begin to take a ‘bi-polar’ approach to their viewing, hopping between the niche content that appeals to their particular interests, and more general programming that satisfies a deeper need for a social viewing experience. This insight can be understood through data in The Curve Report, which shows that while a majority of Gen Xers and Ys are eager for content that is “for me” (64 percent) verses “for everyone” (36 percent), an equally strong 60 percent of 18- to 49-year-olds “miss the days when everyone watched and talked about the same TV shows.” These new self-described ‘mutts’ navigate between both the niche and the mainstream forms, and will have a profound impact on the way viewers find and access new entertainment.

For a closer look at the future of video, be sure to head over to The Curve Report and Nichework Execs, which takes an in-depth look at how niche interests are driving the future of entertainment networks.

 

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