Fans – those completely entranced people who tweet and share and talk about their favorite TV shows and films and books and whatever else they care intensely about – are increasingly far more valuable to networks and other content creators than just accreting big audiences, said Mary Meeker, the long-time Internet investment analyst. Meeker gave a brisk and broad-ranging rundown of major Internet trends as the opening speech at this year’s Code Conference, the rebranded confab in Palos Verdes, California for Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher’s new tech-news site Re/Code.
“Fans trump audiences,” Meeker said, crediting the observation to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who will speak tomorrow before the show closes. “An audience changes the channel when the show is over. A fan base shares, comments, creates content” when the show is done, magnifying the show’s reach and engagement with existing and potential new audiences. And the research suggests that, “when TV is combined with social interaction, there’s a nice lift for brand/purchase/advertiser recognition,” improving the impact of ads that accompany those shows.
That engagement with highly connected and passionate fans will become all the more important as more tablets and other smartphones are sold. Meeker trotted out stats showing that sales of such mobile devices are increasing at rates outstripping anything that happened in the rise of the personal computer. And about five in six people watching TV now also are using at least one other device at the same time. That will increase the efficiency of advertising, as more information is coming in at once for users.
At the same time, all those mobile devices are also changing the way people find programming, as the old TV Guide and electronic programming guides are outstripped by search engines, particularly Google’s massive YouTube operation, and with dedicated apps from big media companies such as ESPN, HBO’s HBO Go and the BBC’s iPlayer. Meeker also called the rise of Google’s Chromecast and Amazon’s Fire, both cheap gizmos that allow people to take video content from the web and put it on a traditional screen, “game changers.”