Purpose and focus

Last month, Participant Media announced that it was acquiring two cable networks, the Documentary Channel and Halogen TV, with a plan to combine them into a new network reaching 40 million homes.

Participant is known for its topical, trenchant documentaries addressing current issues. The New York Times noted that its films have included “An Inconvenient Truth”, “Food, Inc.” and “Waiting for Superman”.

Buying cable access is not quite novel – Current TV’s recent acquisition by Al Jazeera is a variation on that pretty common theme. What caught my eye was the way that Jeff Skoll, Participant Media’s founder, described the initiative:

“The goal of Participant is to tell stories that serve as catalysts for social change. With our television channel, we can bring those stories into the homes of our viewers every day.”

When the new channel debuts this summer, Participant plans to target viewers younger than 35, a demographic that has been tough for cable companies to attract and retain.

Participant offers some lessons for periodical and book publishers. The first is a clear sense of purpose. “Telling stories that serve as catalysts for social change” could easily pass as a publisher’s mission statement.

The second is the value of staying “niche”. By focusing on an under-35 audience, Participant creates a stronger argument to use with cable operators who are eager to respond to an age group for whom wired services seem old-school.

Yesterday, I wrote a bit about creating platforms and building communities. As media continues to fragment, periodical and book publishers might also consider more actively partnering with appropriate video platforms. That approach has already worked reasonably well for publishers like Hearst and National Geographic.

About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.