“Subscriber,” “customer,” “home passed.” There are many terms that cable operators or other pay-TV providers use to refer to those who purchase or who are potential purchasers of their products and services. “Audience” is rarely one of them.
As distributors of television programming, operators traditionally left the concept of audience development to programmers. They're the ones who conduct primary research to try to understand audience preferences and promote audience affinity with promotions, fan clubs, events, merchandizing, etc. But “knowing your audience” has remained alien to the operator, unless it is the byproduct of creating a program network of their own that targets an “audience”. That will need to change.
Operators have tended to focus on a relatively limited suite of core products: a number of pre-defined television packages; ISP service offered in one or more tiers; telephony service that may include wire and mobile, all in consumer or business versions. Like advertisers, their goal is to target individual households for the services they don’t already have. Then they hope all customers pay their bills on time and never call customer service. Job done.
That was then, this is now. Now it’s TV Everywhere: TV unbundled from the network-packaged, linear-streaming, to-the-TV bundle. Now it’s more than TV/video for the cable operator. It is second screen. It is apps. It is brand extension and experience extension beyond the TV, the smartphone, and the router. It is thousands, if not millions, of products, services, and transactions flowing through their pipes. Operators reaches an engaged public 24/7, across a multitude of devices, with more reach & frequency than any individual program network. They reach an audience, waiting to be addressed.
The TV Everywhere audience is ready to be engaged. Operator must be impresario, auteur, stage manager, ring master, and performer to keep them engaged. Increasingly, it's their show.
An audience member is better than a customer or a consumer. A customer simply purchases goods or services. A consumer consumes those commoditized goods and services. By contrast, an audience (according to Dictionary.com) is a “regular public that manifests interest, support, and enthusiasm.” Audience implies regular, positive contact: a relationship. When you have a public visiting your website, using your apps, accessing their preferred content and services via your pipes throughout the day, every day, you have an impact on their daily experiences and lives. You have the opportunity to build an audience, hold an audience and yes, monetize that audience. If you treat the audience well, they will come back to you again and again while the customer or consumer will always shop around for the best deal.
How do you get to know your audience? You listen to them. In the case of an online audience, you watch them: where they go and what they do. Not in a way that invades privacy, but in an observing group/network/social behavior, trends, and correlations way. You need data, big data that breaks free of the silos that typically hold it: the usage-metrics-for-publisher silo, ad serving data for advertisers, search data for SRP optimization, tablet usage for the tablet app, etc. You need to understand how these metrics move in synchrony. It is less about what the guy in the 3rd row on the aisle is thinking, and more about how the audience (your audience) as a whole is reacting to what is being offered. Where are they? What are they doing? What are they primed for?
A better understanding of the audience means that operators can better define, expand, modify, and configure their product suite and make it more relevant and appealing to their audience Knowing the audience and where its attention is directed at any given moment means a cable operator can more effectively market to that audience. Only by embracing the concept of audience can operators hope to capture, redirect and hold their attention. The audience has purchased their tickets -- they are waiting to be engaged.