Since its inception 25 years ago, MTV has been using its centralized empire of channels to tell kids what’s cool. And clearly, they’ve had great success doing just that. MTV is undisputed as a major clearinghouse for mainstream youth culture. But now MTV is scared. Why? Because the future of media distribution is not in ‘channels’ in the traditional sense.
The channel of the future is based on personal preferences and is customized to the viewer. The individual creates the channel. Pandora.com provides a model for this future. Pandora is an internet radio site that gives the listener the ability to create custom radio playlists centered around musical styles they already like.
If you’ve never used it, here’s how it works. I enter, “Miles Davis” – and I get Miles Davis Radio. This station includes Miles Davis and other artists whose profiles contain elements that Pandora has concluded make up Davis’ sound. For example, the third song on the playlist is a live cut of Scotch and Water played by Cannonball Adderly. Pandora lists the following, as qualities that it finds similar in both Miles Davis and this track by Adderly:
- hard bop influences
- bop influences
- a lively alto sax solo
- a piano solo
- a driving swing feel
- strong melodies
- a groove oriented approach
Miles Davis Radio is great, all my old faves. But what happens when I add another variable? This is where it gets interesting. So next I enter, “The Rolling Stones”. Suddenly I am presented with not just Miles Davis radio and not just Rolling Stones radio, but a calculated mélange of artists who combine qualities similar in both Davis and the Stones. This is where I’m turned on to a great song called He Went Down to The Sea, by a group called The Monks–who I’ve never heard of. Pandora decided that The Monks song was something I might like because, according to Pandora:
Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features basic rock song structure, a subtle vocal harmony, repetitive melodic phrasing, mixed acoustic and electronic instrumentation and major key tonality.
Far out! At Pandora, each listener has his or her own channel and that channel is constantly changing as the listener’s tastes shift.
So why is MTV scared?
In a Pandora-style world, the winners will be those media outlets that prove to be the most personalized and the most diverse, not the most centralized. MTV can only offer so many shows in a day, and certainly only so many shows that any one person could be interested in. But with Pandora, the listener’s options are infinite, and all of those options have been custom-fitted to the user. Would you shop at Amazon or eBay if they carried only what they thought was cool? The Pandora-model works the same way – it empowers the listener. In a Pandora-world, kids no longer need an MTV to tell them what they like. Pandora offers kids a much bigger pool of potential favorites, and from those choices the kids can figure out what they like for themselves.
This decentralization presents a lot of problems for a network like MTV. But for the consumer and the advertiser alike, it’s a boon. Here’s why: advertisers finally have the information needed to target their ads at those most likely to be interested in their product. This in itself is revolutionary, but it’s nothing new: Google, Amazon, and many others are already using architectures such as this to direct their search engine ads and product suggestions. What I am really excited about are the new sub-cultures and cultural sub-groupings that these metrics are going to recognize and promote.
Take for instance, this hypothetical example. What if GameStop discovered, that as a group, punk rock listeners who are also Bach fans tend overwhelmingly to be avid Nintendo Wii players? It’s an advertiser’s dream. It’s a chance to carve out new brand loyalty in highly-specific groups that essentially didn’t exist or recognize themselves as groups before.
This is beyond the grasp of MTV one-size fits all youth marketing. But for those blazing the trail of advertising with metric-based placement it will be a chance to get the first scoop on new audiences as they are created. MTV, watch out!