Going underground

Duncan Bell
By , - Reshaping BusinessMedia

I’m a keen app user – everything from social media and gaming to ordering pizza. And the launch of Amazon Underground has got me thinking about how the media and entertainment industry will soon be facing a subscription revolution – if it isn’t already.

Revolutionising the media landscape

Amazon Underground is a new shopping app on Android which provides premium apps and games for free.  It removes the payment element for downloads and in-app purchases once you agree to sharing your personal information based on the ‘in-built permissions’ setting. Underground has completely shifted the current app business model, and will force other media organisations to sit up and take note.

Amazon Underground is only the first step to a complete shift in how the media sector operates. No longer will customers expect to pay ‘in monetary terms’ for in-app purchases, or subscribe to Video on Demand services. Many more will expect free content, all the time, regardless of where they are or how they are consuming the content.

I think there will always be a demand and market for access to premium, quality content.  The question is not about our willingness to pay, but what should we be paying with? Traditionally markets create a measure called ‘foot fall’ – create a space or event that will draw people’s attention, gaining you an audience to sell your wares or services. Take the same approach on a digital platform and the potential audience numbers multiply by a factor of X!

In both cases you will have what’s known in the car trade as ‘tyre kickers’: people just perusing your products, but without the desire or means to engage in a trade. So how do you spot the buyer? How do you attract people with a genuine interest in what you have on offer?

Identifying your real audience and customers

I believe the answer lies in simply knowing who to invite to the party in the first place. The key here has to be ‘knowing your audience’ which means that you will need to have a genuine relationship; one that is based on both trust and data.

In order to get to that stage, some questions that many of us are afraid to ask need to be addressed. The only reason for fear in asking the obvious is that the answers could seriously challenge or even break current business models.

That said, there is a growing acceptance amongst the ‘digitally aware’ that access to information, entertainment, social engagement and potentially even the ability to generate great personal wealth does not necessarily require any ‘capital cost’ outlay, but instead the exchange of knowing more about who you are.

Millennials – exchanging personal data for “free” services

And this is exactly what Amazon Underground is capitalising upon: the so called ‘Millennials’ who get what they want when they want it, and for free. Amongst digitally-savvy Millennials there is a growing understanding that their personal data is as valuable as their credit card details.

They understand that organisations are able to benefit from understanding their preferences. But to give up this information, they demand something in return, and demand it for free. Herein lies the problem for the media sector. Giving away content for free has been unthinkable until now. It requires a shift in mind-set.

Amazon says that users of Underground actually have access to over $10,000 in free apps and in-app purchases – and that’s exactly what the consumers of this service want.

The digital audience questions include:

  • Why pay a subscription or fee when you can gain access to free content by providing information about yourself as an alternative exchange?
  • How to best filter out all the ‘digital noise’ and ‘generic ads’, allowing the creation of a personalised and tailored digital media experience?

‘It’s not only what’s for sale that draws my attention, but what interests me that grabs my imagination!’

  • In the digital world, how to differentiate between what’s real as opposed to digital deception?

But there are a few tricky areas to think about before a business can make the leap from paid-for to free content:

  • What do you deem as ‘a fair trade’ in the true digital economy?
  • How do you create business value from modern society’s insatiable appetite for ‘getting things for free?’
  • How do you generate trust between the organisation and consumer? It’s basic human nature; the foundation of great friendships and successful personal, business and commercial relationships are built upon trust, as are Digital Communities. This is something businesses can ill-afford to get wrong.

Consumers today demand an experience that is customised to them and them alone. They only want content that is specifically designed to grab their attention, not something that is offered to everyone. For the media sector, this is no longer a ‘nice to have’. As a provider, you have to provoke, capture, catalogue and structure all the data you have on your audience to create a unique experience.

The Big Data challenge

Big Data is the elephant in the room. How can you filter, catalogue, and sensibly structure all the data you have on your audience so that it creates a true representation ‘at an individual level’? Crucially, how can you avoid paying a fortune for someone else’s interpretation of the information you’ve gathered and what constitutes your audience’s truth?

The answer is to incentivise your audience to provide this data themselves.  Providing a detailed profile including their preferences and interests in turn allows them to enjoy more relevant, personalised services.

The challenge for any single brand is to move on from being just one of many credible sources and to develop a level of genuine audience ‘stickiness’. To do so, media brands really need to focus on getting much closer to their respective audiences and communities!

Having trust in branded service offerings as a digital source I think is one which is already well understood. This is currently achieved through the provision of quality content, accurately represented with digital integrity, all of which needs to be done in a timely, if not real-time, manner.

Reaching the next level of audience trust and engagement

It’s the next level of trust: ‘How you will treat, respect and protect my personal information?’ which I believe leads to a completely different degree of relationship and depth of engagement. This level of personal trust is a prerequisite for any media brand to establish before it can genuinely tailor its services to create a truly immersive and personalised experience for its audiences.

To achieve this, broadcasters need to become a trusted source, meaning everything you do for Me needs to be focused on Me to create a relevant, tailored, experience. In exchange I, the consumer, will allow you access to my personal data.  This exchange ensures that what you provide and recommend to me is both relevant and valued, including things that I would have genuine interest in purchasing.

I predict that within the next 5 years, the norm will no longer be in-app purchases and subscription-based Video on Demand services, but free, quality content. Amazon Underground and the new Facebook Live is only the first step towards this new paradigm. There’s a long way to go, and some sensitive issues to be worked through, but the first step to realising this broadcast revolution is acknowledgement.

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