Feature

Campaign Promotion: Media Essays - Media brands can play host to personalities

Blogging has brought consumers into close contact with broadcast stars, and brands must cede control to those personalities.

A curious aspect of broadcast media is the sense that the box in the corner of the room forges a genuine bond between the viewer and those in front of the camera.

This phenomenon is often cited in relation to soap operas, which create a strong connection between the show's audience and its characters. The latter become surrogate friends for the former, developing into extensions of the person's social circle. The action of turning on the TV brings that "friend" directly into the audience member's life.

Until fairly recently, this was pretty much where these relationships began and ended - the passive viewing experience and a controlled window into another world. But, as online technology strengthens its grip on people's daily lives and extends its tendrils deep into the world of the studio set, these connections are becoming more complex.

What's more, they are no longer confined to the casts of Coronation Street, EastEnders and The Archers. The advent of blogging, augmented by social media - in particular, Twitter - has brought the opinions of chat show hosts, comedians, newsreaders and directors within touching distance of the public.

The way in which audiences have embraced these new channels of communication underlines their appetite for closer connections with the people they watch, listen to and read about. It has flung open doors that would previously have been locked tightly shut and applied new levels of intimacy, detail and spontaneity to relationships that were traditionally carefully controlled.

Want to know what Stephen Fry had for breakfast? Follow him on Twitter and he'll be sure to let you know. What does Robert Peston really think about the latest stock market movements or corporate revelations? His compelling blog has given everyone from City traders to housewives a detailed insight into his view of that world.

Blogs are perhaps the ultimate expression of a crucially important movement in broadcasting - a new breed of editorial professionals who package and market themselves. The idea of journalist as marketer is writ large in blogs, where authors can tag their work and send feelers out to those searching for specific content.

From expert opinions and commentary down to simple banter, blogs allow broadcasters to shape their personal relationships with audiences. Bloggers can seek to secure their own loyal followings, independent of the media channel that hosts them.

There have always been big personalities with high individual profiles in broadcasting, but the opportunity for such people to harness their influence so effectively is a relatively new and hugely interesting development. It also tees up some intriguing opportunities for media marketers. With technological convergence already beginning to change the way consumers interact with television, the age of linear broadcasting seems likely to segue into something more egalitarian.

In this context, the importance of individuals as, effectively, media sub-brands begins to escalate.

When audiences can go directly to a variety of content, it becomes vitally important to indulge their need to develop a close and direct relationship with that content.

Of course, the logical fear for any media brand is that this scenario feels rather like allowing a mutiny on board the good ship. The prospect of ceding any control to such a variety of different sources of content and individual personalities would clearly take some getting used to.

But it shouldn't necessarily be feared. Just as brands in all areas of industry have become more comfortable with yielding a degree of control to their customers, media owners can turn such changes into something positive. After all, even a mutiny only becomes dangerous if the ship is steered into trouble, and content creators are as interested in attracting a loyal following as the media owners that host their work.

Perhaps the future for media brands is as a host for this collection of semi-autonomous sub-brands; a broad church that can accommodate personalities and opinions, while giving them room to breathe and evolve.

Essentially, it is the media brand as a meeting point. Audiences will gather because they know people with whom they can interact - whether presenters, correspondents, writers, directors, or other viewers - will be there.

Audiences can then form relationships with self-sustained and active sub-cells of the organisation. This model could provide a more engaging, varied, creative and interactive environment for content, which could be a very good thing.

- Sanjay Nazerali is the controller of marketing, communications and audience insight at BBC Global News.

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