Part 1: The Death of Reach?

First part in a multi-part musing about audience fragmentation…

Over a heated email exchange about media and advertising a close friend and former colleague recently declared that “reach is dead.”

If by “reach,” one means the communication of a brand message to a large audience, then it certainly can’t be dead. After all, brands still need to reach their consumers. And this is not what my insightful friend meant. What she meant was that media properties which can independently reach audiences at scale are increasingly rare (i.e., dead). In other words, it’s tougher and tougher to find massive reach in a single shot. Broadcast and cable TV were one of the last places an advertiser could do this.

Lots has been said about the fragmentation of media – in both its creation and its consumption. Creation, because there is undoubtedly more content being created than ever before. Consumption, because fans are consuming more of it. We’re lucky enough to live in a world with both cheap production technology AND internet connectivity, so more content is finding its way to more consumers than ever before.

This fact has given rise to the most important (and difficult) challenge facing media companies and advertisers: how to reach large audiences when consumers can increasingly choose from a multitude of niche (i.e. fragmented) content.

The most obvious answer is that advertisers will need to aggregate many smaller  audiences in order to resurrect the reach they need to do business.To do that, they’ll need to select the right mix of many disparate, niche media properties. Another way of saying this is that advertisers increasingly need to become curators. But this is a lot more work and requires a much deeper understanding of content and fragmented audiences than buying a 30 second spot during a single prime-time series did.

You could argue that this has been obvious for many years. What is an ad network if not an aggregation of many smaller audiences? Viewed through this lens, MCNs and influencer networks are simply the latest in a long line of digital aggregators, combining niche audiences in an attempt to recreate TV’s waning reach.

Next up – what reach might look like tomorrow.