New Media isn’t Just for the Big Guys
by Douglas E. Welch
It is too easy these days to focus on the big entertainment news coming out of New Media and ignore all the things that New Media can do for everyone else from individuals to freelancers to small companies and beyond. Sure, it’s great to see new shows with big name starts being picked up by Netflix and exciting to hear about one company buying another, but for me, this isn’t the heart of what New Media is about.
Eleven years ago, when I started podcasting, I saw it is an opportunity for letting the world hear the underheard and see the underseen. It was about giving distribution and exposure to millions of people who never would have made it through the gatekeepers of mainstream media. Mainstream media, by the very nature of its technology had extremely limited time available for shows, so the competition was fierce. This often drove content to the lowest common denominator, designed to please the widest range of viewers possible — and deliver the largest number of eyes and ears to advertisers — rather than produce great content.
New Media had no such constraints. You could do a show about woodworking, or knitting, or gaming, or butterflies and easily make it available to those who wanted to see or hear it. You didn’t have to garner 3 million viewers to stay on the air. You only had to create a show that served an interested and devote niche base of fans. We have lost of a bit of this idealism, though, as money and the influence it buys started to make its way into New Media. It took a long time — and much outright denial — for mainstream media folks — actors, directors, producers — to understand New Media, but now they are taking over.
In many ways, mainstream media has done much to increase the viability and visibility to New Media, but with this comes a deep danger. With companies like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and more, we are seeing the resurgence of the gatekeeper, along with a blockbuster mentality that threatens to push aside smaller — and sometimes, better, efforts, — by independent productions. Among the overwhelming success of shows like House of Cards and others, we begin to lose sight of the individual or group podcasts, the small YouTube channels, the excellent blogs that sustained New Media through the early days.
I spend my days reminding myself, and others, that while huge success is nothing to scoff or or avoid, there are millions of people today who can make great use of New Media tools to better their lives, their careers and their businesses. Sure, it can feel a bit overwhelming to feel like you are competing with Netflix or Amazon, but there are different levels to that competition. Sure, you are competing for time among all these others players. After all, there are only so many hours in a day for viewers, but in another way, you aren’t competing with them at all. If you produce something the is niche-focused — directed at a very specific audience — then, beyond the time limitations themselves — you aren’t competing.
Just because you can’t be a producer of shows for Netflix or Amazon, doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be producing shows and information that mean something to you and your niche audience. As with all things in life, there are levels to New Media and benefits to be gained at all of these levels. You don’t have to be producing House of Cards, but you can be producing a great show for you and 1,000, 10k, 100k fans who really want what you have to offer.
In one example, look at the number of gamers who have turned their love and passion for gaming into a money-making career. Again, while we might be most fascinated with the stars of the genre, there are countless others working every day — and supporting themselves — doing something they and their fans love. Heck, I watch an hour or more of gaming content nearly every day, but these aren’ t the top money makers of the genre. Rather they are the journeymen of the industry, working every day and developing their craft. I liken them to the host of “working actors” we meet living here in Los Angeles. For many of them, you might not know their name, but I can almost guarantee that you would recognize their faces. They don’t have international stardom, but they do meet my own definition of success — “Supporting yourself and your family doing something you love.”
I guess what I am really saying is this. Don’t let the Hollywood model of blockbusters, gatekeepers and star power prevent you from starting or continuing to develop your own great content. Sure, if someone comes knocking with a 7-figure TV or movie deal, sell out. Just make sure you get the money you deserve, Until then, though, keep working on our craft and developing your own level of success from day to day. The news may be filled with stories about big stars and big producers, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be producing some great work yourself.
Even today, New Media still has the ability to do an end run around mainstream media by taking your product directly to the audience that wants it most. Yes, top-down entertainment will be still be created and still be successful due to the money and names attached, but great content can continue to bubble up from below, too. Witness the recent move of celebrity YouTuber’s Smosh. While they may have a movie deal now, they achieved this by working long and hard for themselves and their audience. They proved themselves by developing their own success, as many other YouTubers, podcasters and bloggers have. They weren’t annointed from above by some mainstream media system, but rather rather forced mainstream media to deal with them due to their overwhelming — personally driven — success.
So, how do you make New Media work for you, even in some small way? For me, the first goal of any New Media production is to share. Share your insight. Share your knowledge. Share your silliness. Share your gameplay. Share whatever turns you on the most. Whether you are producing a how-to show, silly or absurd comedy sketches, Let’s Play gaming videos, inciteful political opinions or simply pretty views of nature and the world — if you share your passion, you will find others that share that passion. Even better, New Media has no gatekeepers to tell you you can’t do this or can’t do that or that no one will watch a show about woodworking or knitting or car repair or whatever. Rather, you just do it and help the audience to find you.
As surprising as it might seem, there is an audience for nearly every topic under the sun. Want proof? Search on any obscure topic on the Internet and see what turns up. For some reason — I think I was making a joke about it in an article — I researched left-handed ventriloquist dummies. Of course, as is normal in our Internet age, this search turned up a number of resources and much discussion on just this topic. If this isn’t an obscure topic, then I don’t know what is. That said, there was some great discussion about the topic by a number of very interested and committed people, just as there is around any niche. You might be thinking your New Media idea is too niche, too obscure, too, minor. In my experience, this is rarely the case.
For me, New Media is about passion. It is about finding your own passions. Finding others with a similar passion and sharing your passion with them. This passion can be about something relatively mainstream like music or sports or photography or very, very niche like concertina music, Quidditch or artistic electron microscopy. Your New Media project is yours and yours alone. It can be about whatever you want it to be. This is one of the fundamental freedoms of New Media and one I wish more people would exploit.
So, what New Media are you going to create after you finish binge-watching House of Cards or Hell on Wheels? No matter how big the big boys of the entertainment world might get, there is always a place for you — and everybody — in the New Media world.
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— This Article was written by — Douglas E. Welch
New Media Interchange
Episode #020: New Media For All
This is New Media Interchange where we talk about the media world beyond mainstream television and radio, including podcasting, YouTube, live streaming, gaming and more.
NMI is Hosted by Douglas E. Welch, Pioneer Podcaster, Blogger and Writer in Los Angeles.
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