Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Is crowdsourcing the answer for NBC?

When companies that rarely innovate attempt "open innovation"  I often wonder:  is this a sign that they finally understand the number and range of excellent ideas in the broader world, or is this a desperate sign that they've recognized the idea well is dry internally, and are left with nothing but an external search for ideas?

This question presented itself to me today when I read that NBC is crowdsourcing ideas for new TV shows.  Is NBC leading the way to greater democratization of television, breaking down barriers to find new talent and better stories, or have they simply exhausted their regular sources?  It will be an interesting experiment to watch.

While I don't have the data at hand as I write this, I've seen statistics that suggest that ABC looks at over 800 ideas for new shows in a season, and will actually script about 20 and create about 10 pilots.  Of these, typically two or three new series will enter a lineup, and typically one or two of those will fail.  This math isn't a surprise to many of us in the innovation space - it often takes a lot of ideas to uncover some really good ones, and with selection bias and other factors at work even ideas that seem great internally may falter when they encounter the audience.

What NBC is doing is a high wire exercise, and I wonder if they are prepared for the results.  While they are asking for ideas from their audience, I doubt that they've done much to change how they evaluate ideas or the internal culture of the network.  If you read the article you'll see that the judge panel they are using to evaluate ideas and pilots consists of a range of comedic talent that they've featured in other shows, some successful and some that failed.  If NBC really wanted to understand what people want, they'd go further, allowing crowdsourced ideas to be evaluated and ranked by the crowd.  One wonders if they know who their audience is and what they want.

The audience is increasingly separating.  People over 50 are not finding much on TV worth watching on the "big four" especially comedies, because they don't reflect what the audience does.  People under 50 are increasing consuming content on the web that can be spun up quickly, with little cost or risk, or are playing video games or consuming other content.  Few people in the audience are willing to allow a set schedule to force them to watch what's presented, or when it's presented.

ABC's Modern Family is probably the pre-eminent show for a number of reasons, including the fact that a wide range of demographics are represented (old, young, gay, straight, even some people of color) and manages to be both poignant and funny.  The rest of the sitcoms and comedies on TV rehash old plots and present caricatures that aren't funny.  Large studios face increasing competition from anyone with a web cam and the ability to upload content on YouTube, which is where my 15 year old spends as much time as anywhere else consuming content.

So, NBC's experiment should be fascinating.  The questions we should ask:

  • If NBC is presented with some really good comedic talent and content, will they recognize it?
  • If they accept new shows, will they have the courage to leave the ideas and talent alone, or will they force it into the boxes that they understand?
  • If they can successfully bring new shows to market, will anyone be left watching regular broadcast TV anyway?
  • Can NBC innovate not the content of the show but the entire broadcast model, competing more with webcast, YouTube and other online content providers to reach new consumers where they are, rather than compete with ABC in "primetime"?
Innovators, here's your chance.  If we are all as smart and funny as we all think we are, we should be able to create interesting, funny shows that can't be ignored by the studio.  I'm hoping to see some of your ideas at NBC in the near future.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 4:36 AM


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