From marijuana to Minecraft enthusiasts, news media audiences are in constant flux

My family recently moved back to our hometown of Denver, Colorado, after having been gone for just over 12 years.

During the time we were away, the world changed a great deal. When we left in 2002, there was no such thing as Facebook or YouTube. Google was still privately held, and the word “google” hadn’t even been used as a verb yet! Cell phones did little more than make calls and no one had heard of “smartphones,” “apps,” or “tablets.”

Many things changed in Denver while we were gone, as well. The city had grown a great deal and infrastructure development projects that were just in the planning stages in 2002 (such as a highways and the light rail system) had become a reality and are still developing.

As I pondered these changes both locally and across the United States, it occurred to me that these developments also represented the potential for new audiences.

When we talk in terms of audience, we are talk about demographics, psychographics, etc., but we also focus on culture, interests, and trends. As the pace of global change increases, so do the audiences that are available to media companies.

In addition, because of the pace of change, many audiences haven’t even emerged or been defined yet. Newspapers need to be aware of and on top of developing trends that could potentially produce new audiences.

Probably one of the biggest changes I noticed in returning to Denver was that recreational marijuana had become legal, and dispensaries were now more common than convenience stores across the city. While marijuana remains illegal at a federal level, 23 of 50 states now have some form of legal marijuana.

In 2012, two states – Washington and Colorado – became the first to legalise recreational use of marijuana. In 2014, Alaska, Oregon, and The District of Columbia passed different forms of recreational legalisation. It is estimated that in 2016, up to a half dozen more states will legalise recreational use to some degree or another.

Now, whether or not you agree with this wave of marijuana legalisation, one thing that can’t be denied is that this is an example of a potentially new audience on many different levels.

This fact was certainly not lost on The Denver Post. The Post does not accept marijuana advertising in its print product (Colorado passed legislation that put severe restrictions on marijuana-related advertising; this is being challenged as a violation of the first amendment). But it does report regularly on issues related to marijuana and does offer other content targeted to the marijuana community in Denver.

Not long after voters passed the measure in Colorado that legalised recreational marijuana, The Post launched The Cannabist, a Web site dedicated to marijuana culture and news. The site also does not accept most marijuana-related advertising, but offers such features as an interactive map of Denver dispensaries and reviews of different types of marijuana.

The Cannabist Facebook page offers the same articles as found on the Web site and has more than 14,000 followers (an informal survey of the various Denver Post Facebook pages indicate that this is one of its most popular pages).

I am not suggesting that newspapers should launch marijuana culture Web sites. They should, however, be cognisant of predicted and emerging trends such as this that could translate into new audiences and new revenue streams.

Here are examples of other emerging trends that could include viable audiences for newspaper publishing companies to attract:

  • “The Sharing Economy” – Developing companies such as Uber and AirBnB have created new services using peer-to-peer sharing to offer affordable alternatives to hotels, cabs, etc. This is typically a younger audience that is extremely mobile and spontaneous.

    This is not a new concept. eBay, for example, has been around since 1995. Still, the concept seems to be permeating other goods and services and is creating an emerging audience of “sharers.”

  • Entrepreneurship – The Internet has produced creative disruption in many areas. Certainly, one of these is entrepreneurship. The term “crowd-funding” didn’t exist until just a couple of years ago, and it has now become a multi-billion dollar industry. Many people are starting businesses by appealing to their peers who invest because the venture is something that interests them.

    This concept has also become very prominent in the area of fundraising.

  • The Arts – The Internet has made it easier than ever to self-produce and self-promote in the areas of publishing, music, video, and art. New audiences exist on both sides of this equation with those who want to produce and the audiences they are trying to reach.

  • Health care/retirement – Another multi-faceted emerging audience. As Baby Boomers continue to age, health care and retirement issues will continue to provide an audience for multi-media companies. This one has been around for some time, however, and newspapers have done a good job in developing this audience. Take, for example, The Spokesman-Review’s “Live Well” section that offers some great content in this area.

  • Community caming – While community gaming is not new, I believe it to be in its infancy stage. My grandson, who is almost 7 years old, already belongs to gaming communities tied to his favourite game, Minecraft. My guess is that community gaming will continue to be a growing, emerging, and evolving audience for some time and will become a more and more common leisure activity.

  • Globalisation – In general, our ability to communicate in real-time on a global basis is creating local, national, and international audiences in many areas both economic and cultural. These broad new audiences will provide opportunity for the savvy entrepreneur and marketer.

These are just a few examples of areas that are changing rapidly and have the potential to create new audiences. The point is that it is important to watch for new audiences that could come from something not even thought of yet.

Futurist Thomas Frey recently published an article called, “33 dramatic predictions for 2030.” In it he predicts that “humanity will change more in the next 20 years than in all of human history.” In the article he predicts that the most common leisure activity will be something that hasn’t been invented yet.

The rapid change we are seeing in our economies and our cultures – and new economies and cultures – will continue to produce new audiences. As we think about topics such as Big Data and customer segregation, we must keep a watch on trends and emerging technologies that will enable us to reach new and more niche audiences.

And remember, many of these audiences don’t even exist yet.

About Dan Johnson

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