History of the evolution of the audience and the audiovisual consumption
The 70s – The birth of consumer television
When I was a child, in the Netherlands, towards the end of the 70s there were only two television channels, managed and programed by the state: Nederland 1 and Nederland 2. The situation in Spain at that time was also very similar.
Television at the time had three main functions: to inform, to teach and to entertain. In this same order of priority. What does this mean?
Firstly, if someone didn’t like what channel 1 was showing, they could watch another channel or do something else. This then meant that the majority of society would watch the same programs on TV.
The priest, the builder, the university professor, the electrician, the students etc. This way, the next day at work, the supermarket or at school, people would talk about what they had seen the night before on TV.
This also meant someone who had the “privilege” of appearing on TV would automatically become famous as literally half of the country would have seen them.
Unlike in Spain, in the Netherlands we could never enjoy international content dubbed in our language, probably due to economic reasons as dubbing is more expensive than adding subtitles. As a consequence, entire generations are used to from a young age to listening other languages and reading quickly, especially in English, a language practically all Dutch have mastered. I am convinced consuming content in the original language with subtitles has been crucial in achieving this, apart from the educational system in Netherlands of course.
The 80s – The first television revolution
A the start of the 80s, the first cable operators in the world were born in the United States and in Canada.
This was a big change in the television world, as there was more “space” to create more channels. Instead of two channels, now there were up to 15 or 20 additional ones. Taking advantage of this opportunity, large companies such as HBO, CNN and MTV were born. Of course, all the big film studios in Hollywood also started creating television channels.
Likewise, in many countries the television was also denationalized and private companies were able to start offering open content. A large business, with huge investment in infrastructure and content, which at the same time was a complicated and hyper-competitive business where there was fighting, and fighting on a daily basis, and even every hour for the spectators’ attention. Here in Spain it was first Mediaset/Telecinco in 1989 and a few months after Antena 3. That same year, Canal + was launched by Prisa Group.
I remember perfectly when in 1988 a new channel was launched in my country. It was big news and all the kids were really excited for having more TV content to watch. The day after the first emission of the Nederland 3 channel, the whole country was talking about it.
The 90s – Evolution
The 90s was a mere evolution of what began in the 80s. Platforms satellites were launched
worldwide; the analog cable and terrestrial television became digital.
In conclusion, there was more space to generate additional channels and more of the population had
access to these contents. Above all, the competition increased significantly in order to get content in
the eyes of the spectators.
The year 2000s – Internet
This was when I started working in Spain. I was “project manager” in an English company which was
working with cable operators to create a consortium for the joint purchase of content for Hollywood
studios, and create pay-per- view and video-on- demand services.
In those times, the main problem was piracy. With the arrival of the internet in homes, it suddenly became very easy to download movies, music, series etc. without purchasing them. Besides, there were people everywhere selling CDs and DVDs on the streets. A very common argument was the fact that music prices were expensive and movies and series hadn’t been released in Spain by this point, therefore it was the only way to access this content.
On television, there was launches of new thematic channels every month, looking to attract a more specific audience, more niche. All of this changed around 2004/2005 when Facebook and Twitter were launched. It is hard to believe it was only 13 years ago, but with these two platforms, the second television revolution began.
At first, in the television industry many saw this UGC (User generated Content) as something curious, but definitely not as a threat or real competition because their production resources had nothing to do with television producers and film. For some, the UGC was seen as free content with which they could fill in their programming grids.
However, in 2007, YouTube becomes the first platform to share its advertising revenue with the “creators” of content on the platform, which begins to encourage independent content creators to open channels and upload content regularly. This happens in both the United States and Spain, which lead to the first generation of YouTubers emerging.
And… their audience starts to grow.
It’s incredible if you think about it. A platform where you can upload content and reach your audience
without the need of anything else is born. You don’t need to convince investors to support your projects, nor a channel director, casting or a distributor who wants to buy the rights of what you are producing. Nothing at all. You start recording, you upload the content and, if the audience likes you, they can watch it. There are no intermediaries. It’s incredible!
The generation which was born towards the end of the 90s and who, since a very young age, had access to YouTube, Facebook and other social platforms. It is a generation accustomed to consuming contents on demand. A generation that comes after the Millennials and is known as the Generation Z or GenZ.
And the revolution begins.
The years 2010 – The revolution of television
I have been attending twice a year for over 15 years big film festivals such as Cannes, France, where film, series and television format rights are bought and sold. During this time, I have worked in the “digital” field of television, which, in my opinion has always been the sexiest and most innovative field in this world. However, until present, the traditional part still represents around 90-95% of the business and investments.
The consensus within the industry has always been that the "digital" involves investing a lot of work to generate low income and almost no profit. I don’t know a single example of an executive individual in the digital field who has become number 1 or 2 within a traditional media company.
I predict all of this will change. Worldwide traditional media is losing its audience. In older generations, due to their spectators dying of old age and in the younger generations, as they prefer to dedicate their time to sites such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or Musically.
There is no doubt this will affect traditional businesses. They either adapt themselves, or, with time, they will disappear. Why? The answer is very simple: The advertisement money (which pay for practically everything) will always follower their audience. In this sense, nothing will change. Television businesses, born in the 80s were looking for the same objective as “YouTubers” are nowadays, generating audience with attractive content and selling this audience to their advertisers.
What is difficult for traditional media is changing the way they have worked for the past decade. Even
for those who have been pioneers and innovative in the 80s, actually inventing a new industry. For them, the platform and distribution vehicle has a paramount importance. Why? Traditionally, having access to the spectator was expensive, exclusive and usually with geographical boundaries. Production resources were also very important for them.
What about the younger audience? Do the GenZ worry about the same issues? No, only about what is cool and what isn’t.
They don’t care about the production values. They don’t care if the person they are looking at has won 3 Goyas, 4 Lions, has 20 years of experience, 5 years studying and 10 years of international experience. It’s cool or it isn’t. They don’t care where the content is from or who made it. For someone from my generation there is a difference between a Colombian, a Spaniard, an Argentinian and a Mexican. For the Genz there isn’t this difference. It’s cool or it isn’t.
The fact they can comment, share and interact with the content and their creators is something basic
for them. They were born with this. You cannot imagine what it’s liking being a passive spectator.
For these reasons, they also feel a closeness to the talent that is very different from what someone
of my generation can feel. For me, Mick Jagger or Al Pacino are people from another planet.
That’s why they’re called stars, right? For them, their favorite YouTuber, resembles them. They have the same means as them. Someone can leave a comment on their page and possibly receive a reply from them. It’s quite similar to football players. In order to truly succeed you only need a ball, talent, passion, a lot of hard work and to be discovered.
Having access to the GenZ spectators isn’t expensive nor exclusive. It’s omnipresent but doesn’t easily adapt to the rules of the traditional businesses.
To conquer the GenZ, traditional media will have to reinvent themselves doing what they do best: gather audiences with advertisers and create new brands with content and talents that are theirs. Joining the hits (content and success) and the stars (talents) they have the key for success with this generation, also outside of their platforms, frequencies, channels and networks.
I think in 2025 there will be new big media outlet groups. The individuals who have adapted to this audience revolution will survive, and will probably be bigger, stronger and international with less geographical boundaries. There will also be other media outlets who were born at the time and will know how to conquer the world from scratch, the same as Facebook and YouTube 13 years ago. The majority of leaders from these companies are native digital people.
That is cool.