The Medium - Message Fit

I am pretty sure you are annoyed by facebook posts like the one below. The “Tag this guy/ tag that girl/ tag that Apache Helicopter” genre of Facebook posts has proliferated in my news feed in the last year. These kinds of posts have minuscule entertainment value but still, generate massive activity because people keep tagging their friends in the comments section.

Another thing that has annoyed me for a long time is the abundance of daily soap opera on Indian television. All the primetime shows are soap operas and nothing else. “Hum Log”, The first Indian Daily soap aired for 154 episode in 1984. Today it is not uncommon for a series to have 1984 episodes. I think the reason for this proliferation of Soap opera on Indian television and for these annoying Facebook posts is the same. They have achieved the Medium-Message Fit.

“The medium is the message” 
– Marshall McLuhan

Let’s take an example of a TV producer. Let’s call her Ekta. Now, Ekta knows some key characteristics of Indian TV audience. Those are

  • Majority of the audience belongs to Middle and Lower economic class families.
  • Prime Time TV is a family watching and families rarely change their TV watching habits.
  • There is no reselling value to the content she produces. No one will buy the DVD pack of her Show’s episode due to rampant piracy.
  • Each TV set owner is paying less than 5 USD per month for cable. Revenue per minute of content is low.

It is obvious to Ekta that she needs to create a show with low production cost and a lot of episodes which can run for years. Ergo Soap Opera.

Now, take the example of a Facebook page admin. Let’s call him Rajesh. Rajesh makes money by doing some small brand advertising on his page and some affiliate links. His income directly depends on the reach and number of his posts. He cannot trust the number of Likes on his page as Facebook only show his posts to the audience which actively interacts with his content.

Now, he is compelled to create content that nudges his audience to “interact” with it and not necessarily entertain. And the “tag that guy” genre of posts provides him with most “interaction” for the least creative expense.

The Medium — Message Fit is a state in which the content creator has maximized his return on a particular platform while minimizing creative risk and expense.

Every content platform has a content genre that achieves the Fit. For Instagram it is Selfies, for Reddit it’s memes and for blogs it is listicles. 
The content platforms are actually in control of this fit as they can sway the incentive structure. Youtube has successfully done that by changing its recommendation and revenue sharing structure. A few years ago small 2–3 minute catchy videos were popular, now daily vlogs are all the rage. Facebook has also done the same over past few years. Quora also seems to be changing their recommendation system to maximize their revenue (decreasing the overall quality of content on their platform in the process)

An important question here is Should Platforms keep changing their incentive structure to avoid Medium — Message fit?

Well, I don’t know the answer to this question. All of these platforms are profit-seeking businesses and they will do whatever it takes to maximize their profit. Even if they have to keep a significant minority of audience displeased.

What about the audience?

It may seem that in this Medium — Message Fit, the audience isn’t in much control. This is obviously not true. The content creator, as well as the platform, cannot function if there is no audience to consume the content.

When Medium — Message fit is achieved, the platform may remain appealing to the majority of the audience, it will become annoying to a significant minority. The network effect might ensure that they still use the platform but their loyalty towards the platform will decrease.

The Minority audience has no option but to shift to another platform. Don’t like the soap opera filled cable TV? Shift to Netflix/Prime. Annoyed by shitty facebook posts? Shift to Instagram/ Reddit/Twitter.

I, myself am a prime example of this. From past one year, I have gradually shifted my usage from Facebook to Reddit and Twitter for most of my social networking needs. I still use Facebook as all of my friends are still on it, but my loyalty towards facebook has certainly decreased.

How the content creators, the platforms, and the audience interact with each other will continue to evolve as platforms, media form factors and audience behaviors changes.

So next time you are frustrated by annoying posts your friends have tagged you in, maybe think of ways to incentivize the content creator to create better content.

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