Nostalgia: Growing up in the pre- liberalized India till the early 90s was a different experience. Entertainment opportunities were limited to Doordarshan- the state owned TV channel and to some events that were either cultural or social. TV sets were the prized possession of a privileged few. Movie theatres were single screen and getting tickets for good movies was either difficult or were available in the blackmarket with a hefty premium.
However, Indians were strongly bound through different communities and were adept at creating their own entertainment opportunities. While the rich had their clubs and discotheques, the middle-class were connected through different activities, mainly- cricket and the Ganesha and Holi festivals. These events operated through a unique mechanism for sustenance.
For e.g. every year, a couple of months before the Ganesha festival, young boys from the association would go door to door and seek donations from each household. They would then plan the festival along with various entertainment activities like midnight open air screenings of movies, cultural songs and dance events and sports etc. This was actually mainstream entertainment and a great opportunity for people to socialize in the absence of post internet activities. Moreover, different housing societies, cultural institutions and organizations had their own version of community building and entertainment. In small towns everyone knew everyone, while in larger towns the communities overlapped through certain ‘social butterflies’. This was the genesis of community based living in India, which in the post internet era has given rise to Crowd-funding, Crowd-sourcing and recently- Communitainment.
3 Cs: While Crowd-funding is gathering small amounts of money to achieve joint goals, Crowd-sourcing is the aggregation of ideas from the audience. The nature of these phenomenon hasn’t changed much except that its gone online in the recent era. Communitainment is a recently coined word by two gentlemen Prof Stuart Cunningham and Prof David Craig. It reflects the change in the entertainment industry with the rise of social media entertainment and new digital platforms thereby creating a proto industry. This proto industry can be defined by interactivity with content and the community that consumes the content. But if these activities have existed for ages, are these new terms mere buzzwords for old wine in a new bottle?
Timeless: Doesn’t seem so. For one- Everyone is connected 24/7 now through various platforms. Hence it is not just a one a way communication. Constant chatter ensures that new ideas are thought of and implemented almost in real time.
The Graphs differ: Targeting has slowly moved from demographics to psychographics. I remember the time a decade ago when I was working for a renowned media conglomerate and we were organizing a branded event- The Halloween fest. This was a time when it was not well known in India. Instead of sticking to demographics, we marketed it to an audience who loved having ‘fun with fear’. This has been a growing phenomenon even in research where many OTT platforms look for audience behavior and big data than just their demographics. The best proof of this is observing a marathon running event where you sometimes get to see 3 generations running together.
Ground realities: Moreover, in Asia, where the sense of the belongingness to a community is stronger than that in the west, everything needs an on-ground experience to make it bigger and better. Even a YouTube needs a ‘Fanfest’ for the ‘touch-and-feel’ experience. Fans love to meet their Stars in real life and vice-versa. This hybrid model is here to stay for a long time, atleast till we have a social element in real life interaction.
Vitamin M- Money matters: Further, building a community is like building a library. Once you build it, you can keep adding and subtracting different sections of books and even go on to have other things like toys and kids’ sections. Monetization sources can multiply and diversify once you build a community. For e.g. You can start with a runners’ community and expand it to ‘health seekers’ and give them products that they would enjoy. Or merge different communities based loosely on the health platform to offer integrated benefits.
Degrees of separation: This however differs from the 360 degrees approach that was a buzzword (and still is) in marketing circles. While 360 degrees was also associated with multimedia it was largely referred to one off activity and the marketing associated with it. The marketing ended when the event ended. In Communitainment, continuous engagement is the key to building and sustaining communities.
P for Passion: Lastly, just like ‘Passion’ is integral to achieving higher objectives for an individual, it is the same for achieving higher levels of engagement and monetization with communities. The ability to generate this passion is the ‘X factor’ and lies on the creativity of the creator. While ‘Game of thrones’ is able to generate this with its characters and special language, YouTube creators like Pew Die Pie and Superwoman have been able to do the same by relating closely to their audience.
Zack Coffman, Head of Content at One World Studios Ltd. said in one of his talks that they were able to build a passionate niche audience around motorcycling and live-streamed motorcycle events online. They even did a live ghost hunting streaming where a team went in a haunted place, wired it and stayed tune for 72 hours! This wouldn’t have been possible without the power of the passion of communities!
While traditional models built audience around content, now it is the content that gets produced around communities. All power to the big C!