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Target Audience

by Ryan Johnson, Dec 16 2008

 

I ran across a comment on the blog that I wrote last week. It caught my interest.  

Ejdalise wrote:

Not to say you guys won’t get there, but . . . I don’t know; perhaps it’s where I live, but I don’t often meet people who would be considered your target audience. Quite the opposite, in fact.

I thought about it for a bit, and wondered, why would he make that type of comment?  It didn’t take that long to realize that what is happening at least in terms of Ejdalise, is that many people don’t really understand our goals and intentions for this program, and thus think that we are aiming to create a show that is aimed at our smallish, yet active skeptical community. This is just not so.  

In order for a TV series to be successful in a “real” way that’s judged in the scale that will even make a blip in the Nielsen ratings, one must create a program that is consumable on the national, dare I say, international, scale. Too bad really, because that means that we have to create a show that must be, hmm how to say this correctly well… just easily understood by the general TV viewing audience. 

If we went out and created a TV show “For the Skeptics by The Skeptics” We wouldn’t last a season, probably only two episodes.  Forget the major networks, it wouldn’t get off the ground. As big as the community is, we’re not nearly big enough…yet.

I find most TV pretty dull, and rarely educational.  I have my favorites, generally divided into two categories: Mainstream network sitcoms that I can watch while working away on my laptop without fear of missing an important plot point.. A handful of network weeknight prime-time shows. Then there’s a few shows that I truly anticipate and watch, Mythbusters is surely one of them, I love to learn how things are made, how processes work and I really enjoy learning about new science, though most science shows seem to be re-hashing of pretty out of date science “wow” bits.

This sounds like I’m bashing the very industry that employs me, I’m not.  We all understand that in order to be successful in business you need to provide your customer with goods or services that they want, and in this case, our product is televised entertainment, and our customer just happens to be the majority of the TV viewers.  Well, that’s the hope anyway.

The Skeptologists needs to be a show that non-skeptics can watch and really enjoy.  A show that teachers can comment on in their 5th grade class the next day to their students. That the assembly line worker can joke about to his buddy over the din of the machinery.   And.. I didn’t forget.. A show that skeptics can watch, be entertained and educated by.   That’s a tall order. I want to create more than a show, I want to create a culture, and carefully injected into that culture is hopefully a few small bits of a molecule that will grow within the public.  An idea that thinking things through with different ideas and opinions is good.  Questioning things that are taken for granted, and sometimes just stopping to wonder why.

We all used to do it so much as a young child?  Why this? Why that? At some point along our growth, we stopped asking why, and got concerned with how much? What’s in it for me?

I know what your thinking, “Oh no, the show is going to be boring and dumbed down.” Not so.  My aim is to assemble a program that’s got great, new, relevant science, fun and interesting tests and experiments to determine and come to conclusions right before our eyes.  The show is about a cast of characters who all come from different but amazing backgrounds and a way to watch as they all bring their own perspectives to bear on the subjects.

The show is about The Skeptologists and without giving away the format, it’s about how they interact to come up with solutions to problems and challenges.  It’s not about the things, it’s about the emotions, the wonder and the creativity that’s required to be a good thinker, scientist and skeptic.  It doesn’t matter if they are performing high level equations or simple arithmetic, that’s not the story.  The story is why we do things this way and why some people choose not to take the time to consider why, or how.  

The world is full of people taking advantage of other people in many different ways.  The Skeptologists have the power to show people how to think better, deduce, use logic and critical thinking.  Maybe we’ll start to find that people just need a common ground in which to discuss tricky topics.  It could be that they never gave it much thought, or perhaps, they didn’t dare bring it up for fear that their own doubts would be looked upon by others as negative. By creating The Skeptologists culture within our show, our viewers can talk about the show… but hey, look at that, what they are really talking about is how they’re suddenly skeptical about something. 

So who is our Target Market? I’ll be bold and greedy and say: Almost everyone. That’s a really tough demographic, but I intend to give a bit to everyone, and my amazing cast and crew will deliver the goods… I’m sure of it.

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14 Responses to “Target Audience”

  1. If entertaining education is the product, who wouldn’t be a target? Go for it and good luck!

  2. Susan B. says:

    Maybe you’ve answered this question before, but what can we as hopeful viewers do to help this show get off the ground? Would letters to tv production studios help, either requesting skeptical shows in general or specifically expressing our desire to see The Skeptologists? I’m sure that part of what will get studios interested in the show is an awareness of how big the potential audience is, but I don’t know enough about the tv industry to know what actions on our part will help the most.

  3. AaronSTL says:

    As a skeptic I love the idea of the show and I hope it gets the success it deserves. Most people, the people who could make up a large audience, a) believe in a bunch of woo woo, b) won’t accept they are wrong until they can understand the probability of which explanation being correct is greater, and c) don’t understand enough to know that woo woo explanations aren’t strong to be accepted. If the show maintains an attitude of “phenomenon x may be truly supernatural but can be explained naturally with reason, logic, and evidence a, b, and c” and make the case that skepticism is beneficial it might work more efficiently at persuading the public. Just making a compelling case, giving your sound opinion, and leaving it up to the audience to decide if their beliefs are right or wrong might have to be considered a success.

  4. SeanJJordan says:

    Ryan,

    If I understand what you’re saying here, you’re arguing that the Skeptologists is a show that can _appeal_ to almost everyone. And, given the diverse audiences that Mythbusters draws, you may be correct in your assessment. I think the Skeptologists is a fantastic concept, and I will certainly tune in when it airs.

    But, with that said, I think you’re misunderstanding the difference between a target and an appeal.

    The purpose of targeting an audience is so you can focus your marketing efforts towards the group most likely to watch the show. At the same time, the group you are targeting will have some impact on advertisers’ interests in the slots around the show. Having a target audience in mind is not a bad thing, and in fact, understanding your target market is key to getting any product successfully off the ground.

    Don’t think of it as being the zone where you’re confined — think of it like an archery target, where the bull’s eye is the audience you know you can get to watch the show, and the rings around the bullseye are the people in audiences who might be interested if the show picks up some steam. You have to make sure that you communicate the details of the show to the people in the bullseye because they’re the ones you’ll be counting on to get those outside your target audience to tune in via word-of-mouth referrals.

    I’ve worked in the comic book industry off and on for the last six years, and I’ve seen a number of products come and go because they couldn’t define their audience quickly enough. There’s only so much shelf space in a store; if you don’t have an audience ready to buy, your product gives way for something else. The same is true on the ultra-competitive television landscape, where promising new shows rarely get the chance to grow.

    So, don’t be afraid of targeting a specific audience initially; just make sure that audience is large enough to sustain success long enough to allow you to grow the target market outwards into that second ring. I hope the show enjoys great success once it’s ready to air; I know far too many people who think “Ghost Hunters” is the real deal and who need some balance in their television diets!

  5. ejdalise says:

    My comment was based on the assumption your target audience consists of people who are at least open to hear the reasoned argument.

    I know people who swear to the efficacy of magnets, and no amount of information will sway them otherwise. They don’t even want to hear the argument, let alone to skeptically evaluate the claims. Same with power drinks, vitamins (and associated pyramid schemes), homeopathy, Bigfoot (just had a long discussion regarding hair samples found to not match any known species), ghosts, orbs (especially frustrating since I’m an amateur photographer). I provide countless links on all this stuff whenever I have occasion to do so, most of which, if not all, gets ignored.

    Perhaps I am wrong, but these people are not likely to tune into your show for the same reason I have no interest in watching The Ghost Hunters. So, much as I am not The Ghost Hunter’s target audience, most of the people I know would not watch your show (I say this based on my understanding of it). Then again, I may be discounting what really good production value might be able to accomplish; you might draw people I’ve not been able to affect.

    The bottom line is I should hang around a different class of people.

  6. Using the popularity of Mythbusters as an example, it might be more illustrative to ask not who watches it, but why. Urban legends and common myths are very popular. Science is not. But, combine the two and.. voila!

  7. Ian Mason says:

    One of the problems is that skeptics are seen as negative. I’ve even been on the receiving end of it being used as an insult. Homer and Bart may like watching programmes about buildings being blown up or demolished but come anywhere near their “cherished beliefs” and they get annoyed.On the other hand, Mythbusters has been good because 1) things get blown up and 2) there is the opportunity for the viewer to be the first one in his/her crowd to be the deflater of urban myths.
    It’s a difficut path to walk, between killjoy and “truth is fun” advocate, but it can and chould be done. Bon chance, mes braves!

  8. Ryan Johnson says:

    To SeanJJordan Your description of Target and Appeal and spot-on and I do understand your points made and you can bet that we’re not waling into pitch meetings saying that ‘Everyone” is our target market. I was casting a much wider net on this blog only, for the sake of discussing where this show could and should go. In retrospect I should have used “appeal” that much more accurately describes what I was talking about. The show’s target demo will likely be “adjusted” depending on who we’re pitching to as well. Commercial and advertising support is critical as is likely in-show integrated marketing. Trust me when I say, we’ve got those bases covered, but I chose not to delve into that droll here.

    Ejdalise: Sorry I singled you out, and I understand why you made your comment. It provided just the right catalyst to describe the type of viewer that might be interested. I still maintain that the characters of this show will drive the content and that will bring in the True-Believers, Skeptics and everyone in-between. We have a tough road ahead getting that wide of a viewership, but hey, no guts, no glory!

    And Susan B. Firstly your active voice on SkepticBlog is helping and we all appreciate that. It’s important to have an active forum where we can point agents and execs to show them the power of this community. Right now the other most direct way of helping is by going to the main Skeptologist webpage (http://www.skeptologists.com) and making a small donation to the pilot fund. That helps us defray the cost of the materials, travel, legal and communications fees during this development phase. It’s all money going out with nothing coming back in at this point. The better our resources, the better chance we have. As things continue to evolve we’ll be sure to let you all know how else you can help!

    I am enjoying the discussion and appreciate the support and well-wishes!

  9. Nathan Magill says:

    If you’re trying to reach everyone possible, especially those who have beliefs in woo-woo, you can find no better cast than the ones you have right now. Michael Shermer is at the top of my list for entertaining skeptics who can reach wide audiences.

    Obviously there are some controversial people, like Brian Dunning, but even though a lot of believers don’t like him, he is very good at getting his point out to those who aren’t skeptics and the middle ground. I know his podcasts have even made him controversial to other skeptics because of a few topics, but what mattered was that he was right and he changed a lot of minds of skeptics themselves (including me), which proves how great he really is.

    Phil Plait and Kirsten Sanford (I always forget her full name and just think of her as “Dr. Kiki”) can show the awe and wonder of science, which is a big boost that science needs right now. I read Dr. Plait’s blog about Mt. Wilson, and it definitely reached me. Dr. Kiki has a bright attitude, which could sway the average Joe from thinking that the group is a bunch of serious skeptics.

    If you’re trying to make sure it’s entertaining then a magician is the way to go. Since entertainment is how they make a living having them in a skeptic’s show is a necessity. I’ve seen very little of Mark Edward’s act, but from what I’ve seen and heard from him in the skeptic world he’s a great choice.

    Having a scientist in Medicine is absolutely mandatory. Medical woo-woo is the most dangerous of all. I’m glad you got Steve Novella on the cast, I enjoy his podcasts, and it’s a shame I didn’t get to go to the last TAM and meet him.

    Though I admit that I’ve never even heard of Yau-Man Chan (I’m afraid I don’t watch Survivor), it’s great that you’ve got a physicist in the crew. I’m a budding physicist myself and I would love to hear from someone in my own field talk about even more things that I care about.

    Everything I’ve seen from you guys (from skeptologists.com to the blogs here on skepticblogs.org) shows topnotch work. I’ll be sure to watch every episode and buy your DVD box sets once you guys get on the air. I’m going to e-mail you guys as an e-mail recommendation (the kind of which you’re asking for on http://skeptologists.com/support.php , for those of you who are asking how you can help) today!

  10. ejdalise says:

    Ryan, no problem. I did not feel “singled out”. Besides, there is no such thing as bad publicity . . . especially once you get used to it.

  11. shoshidge says:

    While I agree that making the show too nerdy and inscrutable for regular people willl doom it, you have to be careful not to aim too low.
    I compare it to firing old-fashioned artillery, you have to aim a little over your target to compensate for fall of shot.
    If you make the show a little more sophisticated than the average level of the type of person you want to attract, than they will understand most of it and also be motivated to explore the ideas independently in order to get the rest.

  12. Resume says:

    Using a scientific term, there must be a jillion paranormal shows on TV currently. It would be nice to counter these with a show dedicated to critical thinking.

  13. There are a few these days. CBS has Numb3rs, The Mentalist, and you ‘could’ put a show like The Big Bang Theory into that camp as well. You have to keep in mind that TV is about entertainment first and foremost. So, shows like The Mentalist, and Numb3rs, are the best way to get the point across. That is if you want the show to be on a major network.

    Another way to go about this would be to get something like the Skeptologists on something like the Discovery Network, or another main stream Cable/Satellite channel.

  14. Ashley says:

    I think the reason that there are so many paranormal shows these days has to do with “[James] Oberg’s Law of Paranormal Sponsors”, which notes that advertisers prefer audiences that are gullible, because they are likely to get suckered by the ads. Woo-woo shows attract such an audience.

    I think there’s also a niche for skeptical shows, though.