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What to Watch?
Audience motivation in a multi-screen world

With so much screen content available and so many ways to experience it, how do people decide what to watch?

What to Watch? Audience Motivation in a Multi-screen World builds on the broad trends identified in Screen Australia's 2011 report, Beyond the Box Office, to focus specifically on 'screen stories' – feature films, TV drama and documentaries.

The new research, conducted by Auspoll for Screen Australia, looks at how motivations for watching these types of long-form content change across different distribution mechanisms or platforms (cinema, DVD and Blu-ray, online video, subscription and free-to-air television). It also explores the importance that viewers place on Australian content and their level of engagement with social media.

Key insights

1. Lifestyle factors are key motivators when viewing scheduled content

For cinema and television, where content is made available according to a programmed schedule, it tends to be the lifestyle opportunities offered by each platform that are top of mind motivators for viewers – the social event and immersive screening environment of cinema, for example, and the ability to turn on the television at any time of the day to relax and unwind for free.

When the content itself is a key motivator on these platforms, it tends to be because people want to see the film or program as soon as it is released. Although this is a consideration for many, it isn't representative of the most important motivators overall. Viewers seeking particular content are more likely to be frequently engaged with the platform or among those most responsive to word-of-mouth and direct marketing messages.

2. When content is provided on demand, people are looking for depth of catalogue and control over when and how they watch it

DVD/Blu-ray and online offer a wider selection of content that audiences can access on-demand to complement, or even replace, scheduled viewing.

Given the in-home experience and growing mobility offered by these on-demand platforms, it's not surprising that greater comfort and flexibility in time and place of viewing are among the top motivational considerations for DVD/Blu-ray and online viewers. And decisions based on aspects of the content itself, rather than the platform, are also more often cited as primary considerations than they are for viewing at the cinema or on television.

Successful titles can build momentum from their first release, with the buzz intensifying as they make their way onto other platforms. Trailers and word of mouth continue to play a significant role for feature films on DVD/Blu-ray and online, while catching up on missed programs, watching back-to-back episodes and seeking out programs not yet locally broadcast are the standout motivators for TV drama and documentaries.

3. The internet has broken down supply constraints, with most online viewers watching more screen stories overall as a result

Most online viewers use the web as a complementary content source, not as a replacement, with 57 per cent saying that overall they're now watching more feature films, TV drama and documentaries than they did five years ago.

For producers, the opportunity for online viewing to extend the experiences of traditional platforms offers not only new ways to distribute content but also new ways to promote it. No matter how the audience got there – primarily motivated by the platform, content or both – they will always come to the point of having to choose what to watch from the films and programs available.

At the same time, however, more choice for the viewer means more competition for the producer. For online viewers, choice is virtually unlimited. With such a wide selection available, browsing for content becomes more difficult and 70 per cent of online viewers search for a specific title. In such an environment, content awareness has never been more important.

4. Social media networks offer a strategic opportunity to build awareness as word of mouth evolves in speed and scale

Awareness built through other platforms plays a very important role in guiding the decisions of people seeking out content online, with 41 per cent saying that ads and trailers at the cinema, on television and outdoors are an influence.

Furthermore, 26 per cent of online viewers said they often see, hear and read interviews with the cast and crew via television, radio, magazines and newspapers. And 22 per cent said they viewed official screen content sites with 28 per cent viewing general sites.

However, social media networks such as those offered through Facebook and Twitter are growing in influence. Not only have they given trailers a new lease on life but 30 per cent of online viewers now say they often read posts on these sites before deciding what to watch and half of those post comments back once they've viewed.

While word of mouth cannot be controlled, it can be influenced by targeting the right types of audiences with the right types of marketing messages.

5. People who care about both screen culture and social media are the perfect targets for social media marketing

Out of four audience profiles identified in the research, one group, Connectors, is deeply connected to both screen culture and social media. For social media marketing, they are perfect targets. Connectors account for 34 per cent of people aged 14 years and above. They're generally affluent, modern, young people who live in cities. They stay in touch with the latest technology, and rely on social media to organise their lives. They find the time and the cash to watch all kinds of content, on all platforms.

Seventy-five per cent of Connectors watch feature films, TV drama and/or documentaries online. Of those, one in five hype their viewing experiences via social media and other online forums. The scale and complexity of these networks gives the hype from Connectors immense reach.

This offers opportunities for Australian productions.

6. Australian audiences value Australian stories. The challenge is to make sure they can continue to find them

Nine in 10 people feel it's important to have a local film and television industry that makes Australian stories, with the most commonly cited concern being to ensure local stories aren't overrun by Hollywood productions.

That's good news, but the challenge is clear. Creative, dynamic efforts are needed to ensure audiences continue to be engaged with Australian stories in an increasingly competitive multi-screen world.