Media companies would do well to do some soul searching about who their customers are. Why? Because knowing who your customer is helps focus your efforts and your mission.
The easy and obvious answer is that, for a media company, the customer is the same thing as the audience. But allow me to be heretical for a second and propose this counter point: the audience is only truly the customer if the audience is paying directly for content.
You see, there are two classic business definitions of “customer.” One would be the person who pays money for a service or product. The other would be the final consumer of a service or a product. But, guess what? Unless the audience is giving the media company money, they are not the customer according to either definition — instead the audience is the product.
Hear me out.
Sure, if you are a subscriber to a newspaper, then you are one of the customers. And if you are paying a cable company to access a news channel, again, this makes you a customer.
BUT, if the audience isn’t paying directly for content, the content ceases to be the product and then becomes the raw material — the thing used to create the product … the audience.
So, how is this useful?
Because, in newsrooms across the country, we go out of our way to advocate for our audience, and this is a great thing — to a point. If our audience is paying for the content, then, by all means, give them all that they want.
If our audience is not paying for the content, then we need to reevaluate why we are producing it. For example, if producing it and giving it out for free allows us to make money from another customer — namely advertisers — then terrific.
But if the audience neither pays us directly, nor is an attractive target for advertisers, then it sounds harsh, but we should reconsider whether they are an audience worth cultivating. We should instead use our efforts to create content that attracts customers — paying customers.
Now, as I said in the 4-D Funding Model, some content is not profitable but serves a higher mission. That content is still worth producing, but again, we need to find a customer for that content, and that customer is someone who will support our mission — namely donors and patrons.
Making content that attracts customers is paramount. Without customers, profitable media cannot survive.