Some COVID-19 Production Styles May Be Worth Maintaining

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The Daily Social Distancing Show with Trevor Noah / Comedy Central

Live action productions are beginning to resume under carefully planned new guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19. But in this new normal, are pre-pandemic production styles still the ones that will engage your audiences most? For some content, the answer may be no.

Raw, authentic content appeals to younger generations

Market research company Magid recently found that, within the core advertising demographic of adults aged 18-49, a majority would like at least some of the ‘at-home’ styles of production to be sustained post-crisis. For Millennials and Gen. Z, 30 and 35 percent respectively would like ‘at-home’ styles to be retained completely.

Courtesy: Magid

Nearly half of Millennials and Gen Z are opting out of making TV programming part of their daily life. They are engaging more with the raw style of content on platforms like TikTok and YouTube. It’s therefore no surprise that this ‘at-home’ production style of TV programming is resonating.  

Magid Senior Vice President of Global Media and Entertainment Mike Bloxham cautions not to take the ‘at-home’ production styles too literally, since what resonates “isn’t necessarily content being produced from homes.” Simply put, audiences crave authenticity. Elements of ‘at-home’ productions feed this craving in ways that slick productions counteract.

“Seeing celebs in their homes, often without makeup or any kind of lighting, has often proved to be very successful, as it’s been perceived to have a degree of authenticity and relatability, explains Bloxham. These people seem like us, and they are in the same situation.” Additionally, when the content looks like it was made at home, it feels as though the on-camera talent had more of a hand in creating it. Plus, speaking directly to the camera makes it seem like “they are making the effort to reach out,” which also helps. Lastly, seeing the homes of celebrities in the background, instead of standard sets, offers additional satisfaction for audiences’ curiosity about the daily lives of on-air talent. 

What has also emerged during the pandemic and the increasingly tense political environment is a more unfiltered sharing perspective. Productions where on-camera talent push the limits on the content that they share, celebrate heroes and condemn hate are even more relatable to their audiences. What makes anyone credible with any audience, Bloxham thinks, is “the sense that you’re hearing their true voice.” Trevor Noah, for example, does not shy away from pushing boundaries on his show by sharing his thoughts on topics that are no laughing matter.

The desire for ‘at-home’ style content varies by genre

‘At-home’ production styles have proven to be more successful for some, but not all types of content. However, in all genres where some of the audience has shown higher interest in productions returning to pre-pandemic styles, at least half of said audience would still like some or most of the productions to integrate new, more authentic elements.

Courtesy: Magid

Offering audiences a wider range of styles could potentially increase engagement with the intellectual property. For example, since Gen Z prefers both shorter length and authentic content, creating incremental ‘at-home’ style content from a program that traditionally skews older could capture the interest of slivers of multiple segments based on shared interests.

Courtesy: Magid

However, the integration of elements with a raw style doesn’t necessarily work well with every type of programming. Bloxham points out that “scripted content doesn’t lend itself to this type of approach, though various unscripted formats can deal with it better, and audiences have shown themselves to be more open to it.”

He goes on to say that “established shows that pivot in order to carry on face the challenge of the inevitable comparison to their normal high standards of production. If they rely on spectacle and high production budgets, that is what they are inevitably compared to, even by the most accepting of audiences.”

Consider that the production style must fit organically with the content to feel authentic. For example, auditions shot at home might work well within a big competition show. However, if audiences enjoy watching the performances because they like the way large crowds react to them, then show creators must find a way to satisfy that need. It feels much more authentic for a suited-up Stephen Colbert to do his ‘The Late Show’ monologue in his bathtub than for American Idol to have its finale broadcast from home.

Maintaining authentic production styles to increase profits 

“The twin pillars of audience engagement and lower budgets” will keep ‘at home’ style productions going well beyond the pandemic, Bloxham argues.

The safeguards put in place to enable productions to resume as we work our way out of lockdown will increase costs. This also applies to the cost of advertising-related productions. Advertisers are struggling to ensure that their messages and the platforms that they spend on are as engaging, appropriate and authentic as possible. ‘At-home’ style productions, and even brand integration into them, offer the potential for higher audience engagement among the 18-49 demographic group, at a lower cost and a better profit.

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