Almost three decades ago American rock-and-roll singer/songwriter Bruce Springsteen made an entertaining song whose title, “52 Channels And Nothing On,” still makes me chuckle a good bit. It was obvious even in the past that the increase in the number of channels did not make the material offered by those channels any more compelling. More options does not always mean better options. This ought to give us some pause; we are used to thinking that we need is more options, when often what we need is better content, or at least a recognition of the best content that exists. And yet content is a problem. For a variety of reasons, it is not always possible to get the best content available, or at least not easily. And the fragmentation of options often leads to less recognition of the good content that is available, except if that content is so compelling that it receives attention anyway.
One of the ways that this is most obvious is when it comes to sports. One of the more entertaining aspects of the NFL this year has been the fact that the uncertainty of schedules and covid test results has led to the possibility of NFL games being played on potentially any day of the week. This is a good thing as far as I am concerned. In previous years I always enjoyed the way that smaller conferences in college football would get attention for their games by hosting marquee mid-week matchups, knowing that ESPN would much rather have an evening lineup featuring Sun Belt or MAAC teams rather than having spelling bee reruns. Europe seems to operate under this philosophy as well with certain days being devoted to national leagues, European competitions, footsal, and national teams in a way that gives attention to all of them and at least some fresh content to discuss just about every day. Is Bayern going to hold on for a crucial win at Lokomotiv Moscow? Is Shakhtar Donetsk in trouble because it was held to a scoreless draw at home against Inter Milan after putting 3 goals across at Real Madrid? You may never watch Russian or Ukrainian league soccer, but the fact that these teams are playing at a high level will draw eyeballs and attention because they do not have content as compelling to soccer fans getting in the way.
The first important aspect of creating compelling programming is to have compelling content. And what counts as compelling content can vary widely. I find, for example, shows that feature people racing around supermarkets to grab items in a limited time or seeing people scramble to cook a compelling dish with limited food supplies in a limited time to be compelling, and so the Food Network is something that I have enjoyed watching. Other people may find Lifetime or Hallmark movies to be compelling content. Still others can’t wait for ESPN’s 30 for 30 to provide sports documentaries. Still others, myself included, enjoy watching move-by-move commentary on chess matches played between Grandmasters. And so on it goes. It is not necessarily hard for there to be compelling talent, but it does require effort, namely some sort of production effort or some sort of live or taped event where there is real drama and human interest. Sports, food, games, music videos, reality television shows, and scripted comedies and dramas can all offer that depending on the skill of the people involved and how it connects with viewers.
But even if one has created content that is compelling and interesting, that is only half of the problem. The other part of the problem is getting that content to people who would appreciate it. This is a problem that a great many people struggle with. Recently, for example, the band Semisonic released their first new music in nearly two decades, and though the first single off of that project had been released some months ago, I was unaware of it until I happened to come across it while I was looking up information about the band. If I had not done so, I would not have noticed the new album as there are few means that I would have had to pick up on it, perhaps hearing it on AAA radio in Portland while driving, but the odds of that happening are not good. This is where I think the real issue is with the fragmentation of markets and the problem of communicating good content to people who would want it. Unless one is a part of a community that regularly shares compelling content (say, really good sermon messages) with others, it is hard to stay up to date on what is going on and what deserves our time and attention.
It is interesting to see the ways that creators and marketers of content have of trying to communicate content with others. As a prolific book reviewer I find myself pretty frequently receiving e-mail messages encouraging me to read and review various books, in the hope that my review of such materials will help the book to reach more eyes. When I watch YouTube videos content creators are continually asking me to like, comment, and subscribe to drive their viewer engagement numbers up. As a blogger, I am aware of the struggles that are faced in creating content seemingly in the wilderness and wondering if it will get to the readers whose engagement I want, so I can definitely understand where content creators are coming from. It is not that I believe that there is little good content to enjoy, but rather that it is hard to get content that people would appreciate to the people who would appreciate it. And until that changes, a great many people will be frustrated in the lack of interest in content created, and the lack of content that one finds available that is of interest that one comes across.