Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Diversity on Demand: Challenges to LGBT and Other Minority Entertainment Content

During @BitchFlick’s Tuesday chat about racism and racist stereotypes in Hollywood, @Jamiejhagen asked about LGBT rom-coms.

There are multiple barriers to increasing the number of LGBT rom-coms in video/film. The problems are shared with other minority groups who also want to see themselves represented more accurately and more frequently. Here are some of the most obvious challenges:

1)  Not enough writers who break through to traditional outlets;

2)  Not enough producers who are willing to seek, advocate, promote non-traditional content;

3)  Traditional industry outlets locked into chasing white/male/18-24 demographic;

4)  Insufficiency of ready funding mechanisms.

The first three barriers are quantified in studies like that published by USC-Annenberg’s study on gender inequality in films from 2007-2012; while the study focuses on women in film, other minority groups generally have less representation than women in the same media.

The fourth barrier is in flux; Kickstarter and other crowd- or micro-funding systems are emergent and changing the way programming is funding. The audience commits to the programming it wants upfront, bypassing investor funding compensated by ticket sales and/or advertising/merchandising revenue. Example: Funding for new programming under the once-defunct Veronica Mars series was recently obtained within 48 hours through Kickstarter.

But there are other challenges affecting production and distribution of content like LGBT rom-coms.

5)  Awareness of longtail distribution curve limited;

6)  Inadequate identification of key audiences under the correct portion of the long-tail;

7)  Missing distribution and promotion systems serving the long-tail;

8)  Lack of big data allowing development of cross-genre content to serve more of long-tail.

Minority communities must acknowledge that entertainment serving their needs is not likely to become blockbuster content. Goals for funding, production, and distribution should be tailored according to the longer end of the market. In contrast, traditional industry targets the 20 percent of content producing 80 percent of income within a very tight timeframe; it is in part this 80/20 approach which precludes content with broader appeal and representation for minorities from breaking through to traditional production and distribution.

The markets served under the longer end of the tail are those which attract attention over time; this is where internet-mediated firms like Amazon make money, by providing many less popular items over a longer time.

Audience ID and Promotion
Non-traditional content like LGBT rom-coms can improve their positioning under the longtail by knowing their audience. In the case of LGBT rom-coms, the audience is not only LGBT community and LGBT-friendly straights who are seeking out this content. For example, straight consumers who are actively making slash fiction content should be considered a target audience; these people are underserved to the point that they are willing to make their own entertainment. They are strong advocates for the LGBT community; they also represent an under-tapped source of potential content.

Promotion of niche content will be much more effective if audiences are identified more effectively. With better promotion, increased demand may push niche content higher up the longtail. A key part of the promotion process includes identifying trusted voices to review and critique content, as well as placement of reviews in appropriate media.

Once non-traditional content has been created and is ready for distribution, there are relatively few vehicles serving the longtail. YouTube is the largest video on demand (VOD) content service, but it has only recently begun to create channels and revenue sharing. Vimeo is much farther behind as a direct competitor to YouTube. Hulu was established for the benefit of traditional media outlets; Netflix is still geared toward serving traditional content though it has begun to compete with traditional content producers with its own in-house content. Amazon is also pursuing niche VOD based on in-house content, to be offered alongside its existing content offerings in competition with Netflix.

An example of a  niche market VOD opportunity is CrunchyRoll; it serves the niche markets for anime, manga, and Asian Drama. This service is owned by venture capital firm Venrock, not a traditional entertainment media firm. Would CrunchyRoll consider creation of a channel specializing in content?

Big Data
Moving content higher up the longtail to wider audiences may require use of big data to shape the content pre-production. An LGBT romance, appearing within the context of a larger comedy appealing to mainstream audiences, requires key attributes to hook more consumers. What are they based on data from existing traditional and non-traditional content?

There are other opportunities which should be explored, or reconsidered if already approached.

— Have groups within the LGBT community dedicated to the arts discussed development of an umbrella organization for development and production of content?

— Have investors within the LGBT community been approached about creation of a venture capital mechanism to fund content as well as distribution systems?

— Are other natural allies with similar constraints being engaged to co-produce content or distribution?

Again, other minority groups share the same challenges. Responding to these concerns cooperatively may yield results earlier and make use of economies of scale.

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