Fans: Transformers, Catalysts, Creators

Fans: Transformers, Catalysts, Creators

Ten years ago it would have been inconceivable to say to entertainment professionals that audiences were turning the entertainment business model on its head. Sure there was a lot of talk about technology, piracy and convergence; but surprisingly little about consumers. Television, film and even games had a tradition of keeping people at a distance– at the far end of a screen. Nielsen ratings, retail units sold and other metrics treated audiences like blobs. Blogs hadn’t been invented. There was no YouTube. And in the entertainment business, there was no grand tradition of “the customer is always right.”

Today, the line between “audience” and “entertainment” continues to blur. Audiences are changing both the entertainment content and the entertainment business.

In terms of shaping content, there are three main digital audience types: Transformers, Catalysts and Creators.

Transformers take premium entertainment properties, for example the show Heros, or the game Halo, and riff on them, producing everything from new storylines built on old clips, to full-length scripts to new gameplay with old characters.

Catalysts are people who love to comment. They will raise hell online if they see something they don’t like in their favorite show or game, They’re also the first to champion whatever they think is great– telling their Facebook friends and the forums exactly why they were entertained and coaxing others to come along for the ride. Catalysts are also great interpreters, translating confusing plotlines from shows like Lost for the benefit of casual viewers— helping the show writers who rely on digital fanatics to provide the depth and context missing from primetime episodes.

Finally, Creators are amateur producers who finance, develop, produce, and broadcast original user generated content—everything from digital anime to casual games, to Youtube videos to audio podcasts. When it comes to User Generated Content, creator audiences are changing the relationship between producers and viewers; production quality has lowered the bar for even on-air productions; and broadband distribution channels like YouTube have lowered the barrier to entry for everybody. Just ask Obama Girl, who appears in BarelyPolitical‘s “I Got a Crush … On Obama”.

Please enter the url to a YouTube video.

Yahoo has said that 89% of its video audience just views the content; 10% of the audience remixes the content; and 1% of the audience actually creates new content.

By the way, clever Transformers, Catalysts and Creators are all finding ways to monetize their digital content – through models as simple as Google AdSense – so should you! When the CW network failed to deliver final episodes online of its show Gossip Girl, after streaming the series all season, fans were first baffled, then outraged. And while the network was painfully absent from online discussions, fans were educating fans in online economics and proposing some great online revenue models.

Update:  Sam Ford, prominent blogger on fan culture and soon-to-be graduate of MIT’s Convergence Culture Consortium, similarly lists five categories of fan behaviour, another great framework for thinking about fans.