Back in the good old days of television, defining a potential audience market was fairly straightforward- what age group in which areas were available at 7pm on a Tuesday and looking for something to watch? With the internet, though, broad audience demographics are actually a detriment, because with so much content available for literally anyone to watch on their own schedules, you have to get specific.
This is a list of all the questions you should ask yourself and your team as you develop a project and/or, better yet, ask your existing audience. This will inform everything from story structure to shooting style to marketing, and absolutely needs to be considered from the beginning.
- Gender identity
- Race/cultural background
- Mental/physical disabilities
Some of this seems easy and basic, because you can often copy and paste your personal answers to these questions. Keep in mind, though, that the audience you’re defining here doesn’t just have to be one type- perhaps you think your content is useful to both women and nonbinary people (women 18-24, nonbinary people 25-30) from small towns. The point of this exercise is not to limit you- it’s to focus you to the exact segments of people who will enjoy your content the most. Also, in the case of audiences with disabilities, knowing they’re there in advance specifically will encourage you to make sure your content is as accessible as possible, like adding closed captioning or even providing full text transcripts of episodes. You should definitely be closed captioning anyways though.
Example: my web series Sam and Pat Are Depressed has an audience that is largely aged 18-30, all gender-identities (but female-leaning definitely), is on the asexual spectrum, is from a middle-class/ lower-middle-class cultural background, suffers from mental illness, and is located in a city where roommates are necessary well into adulthood. That’s the most specific version of our audience, but knowing each of those answers allows us to target women in particular, asexual people in particular, people with mental illness, and people with roommates.
What they do
- What life stage are they in?
- What is their educational background?
- What do they do for work?
- What are their hobbies?
Life stage refers to the fact that, for example, not every 26-year-old woman is built equal. When my mom was 26, she was married, had one kid (me!) and one on the way, and was about a year from owning a home. I am currently 26, am unmarried (but in a long term relationship with a partner who I live with), and am nowhere near financially secure enough to have children or buy a home. As such, if my mom at 26 and I were potential viewers for content at the same time, we shouldn’t actually be in the same market, in the same way that a 26 year old med school student and a 26 year old Silicon Valley entrepreneur and a 26 year old unemployed person living with their parents aren’t in the same markets. At least, not because of their ages- some content is just more interesting to people who are parents of young children, or parents of teenagers, or childless adults, or couples trying to have children, or couples putting off children until their careers are more stable. See where I’m going with this? Life stage is arguably a more important piece of information than age.
Presumably, educational background, work, and hobbies all speak for themselves.
Example: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries probably had an audience segment of people who either still lived at home or were living in a dorm for college or graduate school, were college/grad school students currently and thus likely didn’t have a job (yet), and enjoyed watching YouTube vloggers.
What they consume
- What are their favorite movies and TV shows?
- What are their favorite books and blogs?
- What are their favorite bands and podcasts?
A lot of the time, an easy way to find an “in” with an audience is by appealing to them via something they already enjoy consuming. You’re piggy-backing on a pre-vetted piece of media. The best way to capitalize on this is to fill in the blanks:
“It’s like [existing media] meets [different existing media]!”
“It’s like [existing media] meets [different existing media] but with [unique twist]!”
Example: My other web series, Brains, is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Zombies (a reference to the popular book parody ‘Pride And Prejudice And Zombies’ based on ‘Pride and Prejudice’ which itself is the book The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is based on.) Our audience tends to enjoy zombie comedy media (Warm Bodies, Zombieland), vloggers like Anna Akana or fictional narrative vloggers like Lizzie Bennet, and books like The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot.
How they consume
- Where do they hang out online?
- What device do they use to watch video content?
- What are they willing to pay for?
Final tier! Many articles on Stareable and across the web emphasize knowing what pockets of the internet your audience hangs out in- Reddit versus Tumblr versus Twitter versus MySpace- but that’s only one variable of the behavior equation. Equally important for you to understand an audience and how best to serve them is to know where they’re physically watching your content. Is it on their mobile phones, on the bus? On a laptop in their bedroom? On the YouTube app on their smart TV? All of these screens are wildly different, and the content being consumed on each needs to reflect that. If you have a sense that your content will be viewed on larger screens, camera quality becomes much more important. Alternatively, smaller screens make it hard to be invested in scenes that play mostly in wide shots- if someone watches your show on a phone, will they be able to see the actors? Or the small details layered into the production design? If not, you might need to scale those details up, or cut into close up coverage sooner.
And then, there’s the $$$. This question is best asked directly to your audience, perhaps in the form of “have you ever paid for access to content or a creator? What platform did you use (Patreon, PayPal, Ko-fi, IndieGoGo, etc), what is your average contribution, and why did you decide to financially commit?” Even without direct access to ask this question, though, browse around common funding platforms like Seed&Spark and Patreon for content similar to yours (you should already know what that content is from the last section) and see what they offer at what amounts and if it’s been successful for them.