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My “media as an experience” epiphany

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Lying flat on my back for days on end due to a back injury, I found myself watching endless television.  Halfway into my third movie in a row one day, my mind started wandering and I had an epiphany.

I started thinking about how hard it is for cinema complexes like Hoyts and Event Cinemas to compete against the power of the interwebs (no major surprises there).  Aside from the small, but fixable, issue that is the shockingly bad organisation of the vast library that iTunes and Netflix make available to us, it is incredibly difficult for any company who isn’t digital to feasibly compete.  A friend of mine works in DVD and it’s a ticking time bomb that they’re all aware of.

But what occurred to me is that for cinemas, it doesn’t actually need to be the end of their businesses – it’s just that they keep trying to compete with the Internet.  But really, it’s not actually their competition.

When it comes to going to the movies, they’re competing with other ‘out of the house’ activities.  Getting Mr C and I out of the house on a ‘date night’ is quite difficult to do.  Aside from busy careers, we’ve got kids, dogs and a nice house (which makes it hard to justify leaving the house to go somewhere else).  And whilst we love going out for dinner, it’s also extremely expensive and we can’t help but feel that money is better spent elsewhere.  The experience is everything for us.

It occurred to me that cinemas haven’t really focused in on the experience.  Sure they play the whole ‘bigger screen, better quality’ angle – but I don’t really care about that.  I assume they have that – it wouldn’t be hard for them to have better equipment than what I have at home.  What I care about is comfort – a glass of wine, comfy seats, no chewing gum, no queues, easy parking – all that jazz. Sure, I hear you – they’ve got Gold Class.  But hello, now you’re being silly – why would I pay $30 for a ticket to Gold Class?  That seems very steep seeing as I will be still paying for the booze and food.

And therein lies the issue.  They are devaluing movies by having cheap nights, two for one specials, etc, all aimed at drawing you in and getting you going to the movies – because it’s then comparable to an iTunes download.  It makes the experience even harder to justify.  I believe they should be, in fact, VALUING their environment and therefore their content by taking what is Gold Class and making it the every day reality of going to the movies.  Make it always an experience.  Why watch this at home, when we can watch it while we can have a wonderful night out together?

While I sat there thinking about this, I started thinking about magazines again.  I’ve been on a bit of a bender with the magazine / content subject lately.

Years ago I had a phrase I used to tout to the magazine publishers…that there were four places that magazines could go that my online magazine could not.  I called it the Four B’s; the bed, the bath, the beach and the bus.  Whilst we now take our iPhones or iPads to pretty much all of those places, I still believe there is something attached to magazines that could counteract the technology issue.

You see, when I look at imagery of someone reading a magazine, they always look relaxed.  Do you know how hard it is to achieve relaxation in this modern hyper connected world that we live in?  When was the last time you turned off your phone or had a full day off looking at emails or Facebook?  I don’t know about you, but I most certainly struggle with it.  I am constantly connected.

A friend of mine who is one of the very few people I know who can afford to not work.  Her kids are more than self sufficient, and her single goal for the year is to ‘not get a job’.  I’m pea green with envy, as you can imagine.  Her commentary around ‘nobody needs print’ was ‘oh gosh, I love my magazines’.  You see? Case and point.  Only those who have TIME to read magazines, do.  She’s not just a ‘by the pool, going on holiday, on an airplane’ type – nope she’s flicking through them at 10am whilst sitting at the kitchen table.  For the rest of us it’s either in the aforementioned rare relaxation moment or during forced downtime like I’m having right now, lying in bed, in a waiting room or in hospital.

In those times I find myself in one of two places: I’m either really unimpressed about the expense of the magazine for the content I receive OR I’m reading a magazine that was provided to me and is sorely out of date (dog eared, tired and well used).

What strikes me is that neither the print or cinema industry has thought about experience being their number 1 strategic opportunity. They’re spending so much time ‘defending’ (that is, keeping their heads above water) that they haven’t worked out how to play to their advantage.  They keep making magazines more expensive every year, even though the general public believe the content inside them they can get for free online.  This only but isolates them further.

When I’m choosing to buy a magazine, I’m not comparing the price of the magazine against other items in the supermarket.  Often you’ll hear research that says that women choose a mag over a bottle of wine (yeah, right).  But in fact, I compare them against where else I can spend this time, what I’ll get out of it and what that might cost. What I can get for the same price of a magazine is the entire back catalogue of every movie ever made for a month (my Netflix subscription).  In other words, they can’t compare and therefore there is no value for me in a magazine.

If I were Bauer or APN, I would be looking long and hard at giving away magazines.  Yes, for free.  I would focus on content marketing strategies and improving content quality and then creating as many opportunities as possible for people to read your magazines at the times they need them.  Distribute to the exact audience you want reading it and in times they should.  How can you charge a premium for advertising if you haven’t got competitive premium eyeballs?  Get the eyeballs!

The MPA’s strategic goal for this year is to take the 200k-something people who have ONE magazine subscription and get them to have TWO.  I think that’s the wrong approach.  Subscriptions aren’t the answer.  They need to take people from seeing magazines as a luxury they don’t have time or money for and turn it into the signal of reward every day.  Find as many opportunities as humanly possible to make magazines something that people do all the time!

Whilst it might be hard to fathom in their financials the concept of giving away their titles, they need people reading them. They need reminders that magazine moments are to be enjoyed often.  The revenue model for magazines needs to come from content marketing and exceptionally well-placed advertising, not from the people who buy the title.  This is not under-valuing their content, it is about being realistic about how people now pay for content and it has totally changed, therefore, the publishing model has to too.  The more people who read your publication, and see your content and then ACT (buy, try, converse on the topics within it), the more valuable magazine content will become.

Right now you’re playing gatekeepers and you’re guarding the wrong fence.