On November 21 I participated in a Think & Do workshop at USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab (AIL). AIL was founded in 2010 as part of USC’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism to study the transformational impact of technology and cultural changes on the media industry. I’ve been a member of AIL’s Advisory Board since its founding.
The Lab conducts research projects in a number of areas at the intersection of media and technology. From time to time it hosts what it calls Think & Do events that bring together students, faculty members, research staff, industry executives, artists, entrepreneurs and policy makers to collaboratively explore new research ideas. The topic for this particular workshop was Leveraging Engagement. It was aimed at exploring new frameworks for fan engagement in a variety of media, including entertainment, music and sports.
Like few others, the media industries have been severely disrupted by the digital revolution and the forces of creative destruction. Everything seems to be changing at once, from the way content is produced and delivered, to the sources of revenue and profits. One of the major changes is the relationship between the creators and distributors of media content and their audience, especially their most committed audience members or fans.
What do we mean by fan? The briefing book prepared for the workshop draws a distinction between an audience of relatively passive listeners/spectators and fans. Fans are “enthusiastic followers or admirers… have a passion, are emotionally connected to the object of their passion, and experience their passion through their own subjective lens.”
The Internet, smartphones and related technologies, are enabling fans to play a more central and active role in the evolving media ecosystem. They are active participants in social networks. They are critics, co-creators, and brand influences. They are also potential consumers of all kinds of goods and services related to their passion.
AIL’s Leveraging Engagement project is taking advantage of all the data we can now access and analyze, - including from social media and mobile devices, - to get deeper insights into the drivers of fan behavior. “It is no longer enough to divide fans into classic demographic segments such as male and female or young and old,” notes Erin Reilly, lead project researcher. “Instead, we need to understand the unique emotional investments of fans in order to better comprehend their motivations and map (or, more pragmatically, predict and encourage) their engagement with media.”
This is particularly important as media companies struggle to come up with new business models. “By understanding how fans engage with content, media companies can better understand what motivates fans… and determine the most effective strategies to market, develop, distribute and offer content to fans, not only in a cost-efficient manner but also in a way that respects what fans enjoy and how they like to participate in it.”
“They can also find different pricing strategies and package deals for a variety of fan groups willing to pay more for certain fan objects, such as artifacts, experiences, or additional content. Media companies with large content libraries have the opportunity to find new audiences through, for example, fan psychographics domestically and internationally.”
Last summer AIL conducted their first global study of fan engagement during the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, in partnership with Havas Sports & Entertainment and IBM. The Fans. Passions. & Brands Global Footbal study aimed to identify communities of football (soccer) fans based on their passion for the sport. It used surveys, interviews and social media analysis to better understand how international football fans engage with their favorite teams. It reached out to 22,000 people in 16 countries, over 16,000 of which responded. Over 9 million football-related tweets were collected and analyzed. More than 50 ethnographic interviews were conducted, transcribed, labeled and coded during both the 2014 UEFA (European) Champions League and the 2014 World Cup.
The analysis of all that data was then used to develop a new framework to better understand the behaviors and motivations of World Cup fans. The core of the framework comprises eight different so-called Logics of Fan Engagement, each of which describes a different way in which fans relate to the sport.
- Entertainment – enjoyment of the overall experience and atmosphere;
- Social Connection – desire to create or deepen relationships with other fans;
- Mastery – interest in learning and understanding the details involved with stories, practices, or strategies;
- Immersion – desire to lose oneself in the emotion of the game/plot;
- Identification – self-association with the fandom’s central fan object (i.e., players, characters, team, show, restaurant, band) and strong affiliation tied to it and the community;
- Pride – reflection of the action/results in one’s attitude and outward appearance;
- Advocacy – championing on behalf of one’s passion and taking positions on issues related to the fandom;
- Play – virtual or real-life participation in activities related to one’s passion.
Each of these logics is a kind-of lens through which one can analyze the fans’ motivations for engaging with the content. Most fans engage in a combination of logics, and further data analysis reveals the most frequently occurring logic mixtures, yielding in essence a distinct set of football fan profiles.
The study isn’t finished yet. The final report is scheduled to be released early next year. A preliminary analysis of the data identified six distinct football fan profiles: Mascots, Appreciators, Gamers, Lovers of the Game, Guard Dogs and Dabblers. While the names and characteristics of the profiles may still change, let me illustrate what the study is after by briefly describing a couple of these profiles.
Appreciators comprise the largest segment of fans, although not by much. Being fans connect them to their homes, families, friends and communities. They truly enjoy the game both watching and playing, know a lot about their team’s history and players, and participate in social media forums. Appreciators tend to be rational, social people who love their teams but rarely get confrontational. They are relatively young, with around 25% between 13 and 24 years old, and close to 45% between 25 and 44. Over 70% are male.
Dabblers, on the other hand, enjoy the game but are not deeply invested in it. They view the games more as casual entertainment than as committed fans. They will watch games if friends and family members are already watching, especially if it’s a close, exciting game. They don’t follow the team all that closely, but are more likely to enjoy sports-related human-interest stories. About one third are women, and around 60% are over 45 years old.
The recent Think & Do workshop was an initial exploration of how the methodology developed to study football fans might be extended to other media. Workshop participants were partitioned into groups, each of which was asked to examine fan behavior in a different media category, - movies, scripted TV, reality TV, music, fine arts and politics. Each group engaged in a brainstorming discussion and came up with the logics of engagement and the profiles that might apply to fans in their particular media category, which they then shared and discussed with the overall workshop.
As was the case with the Global Football study, launching a full research project around any one of these media categories will take lots of work and time. First, the AIL team has to secure the support of the right sponsors and partners for the study. The proper data sources have to be identified, collected and rigorously analyzed. Surveys have to be designed and sent out to thousands of potential fans. In-depth interviews have to be conducted with some of those fans, and so on. A number of such studies are already being planned with media partners and will be conducted next year.
For media companies, these are the worst of times and the best of times. Advances in technologies and new competitors are wreaking havoc with their business models. But these same technologies are enabling the creation and widespread distribution of great content, as well as deeper relationships with fans of all stripes. Research studies that take advantage of the technologies and data all around us, - like AIL’s Leveraging Engagement, - will hopefully lead to many artistic and business innovations.