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The Spectrum of Entertainment Participation

And how different types of entertainment will be incentivized to increase audience participation in the battle for attention.

Key takeaways

  • Four levels of entertainment participation: Consuming, Participating, Co-creating, and Owning.

  • Successful formats offer diverse engagement options based on interest.

  • Co-creation captures attention through simultaneous content creation and consumption.

  • Fortnite and Roblox succeed by enabling varying participation levels.

  • Web3 technologies like NFTs and blockchains reshape entertainment interaction.

  • Participatory experiences allow new revenue streams and better audience retention.

Read on to get all the details: 

Entertainment comes in different formats. Movies, series, music, live events, social media, gaming, etc. They all have one thing in common. Success equals capturing attention.

Attention is a scarce resource because the currency of attention is time. And time is naturally constrained; We all have 24 hours of it daily. The battle for consumer attention is already raging, and the intensity will only increase. Especially as emergent technologies like generative AI enable more content faster and cheaper.

To understand how this dynamic will change the entertainment landscape, I’ve created a model. It can be used to map how different types of entertainment drive different engagement levels. And discover what opportunities exist for these formats to evolve into other parts of the spectrum; to increase engagement through participation, ultimately capturing more attention.

The breakdown

This is The Entertainment Participation Spectrum.

(and it’s a work in progress, so I’ll be happy to hear your input).

There are four distinct areas of the spectrum.

  • Consuming - passively entertained

  • Participating - actively shaping your entertainment experience

  • Co-creating - actively shaping the experience for others

  • Owning - a stake in the value creation of the entertainment experience itself

Let’s look at a few practical examples:

Watching a movie in a movie theater is a passive, activity that yields some engagement. Playing a game driver higher engagement because it is active and participatory (try playing without touching the game controller…).

An entertainment format can hit different parts of the spectrum at the same time. Consider Roblox, for instance. Most players are participants. Some are co-creators, spending time creating games and assets that other players use.

Social media is another such example. Most people doom-scroll. Some people create content.

Most entertainment exists on the spectrum between consuming and co-creating. Very few entertainment formats have successfully tapped into the ownership area of the spectrum in a meaningful way. But, I believe it’s a very strong opportunity to drive more engagement and stronger connection with superfans. This is one of the core unlocks that web3 technologies enable when leveraged by entertainment companies. More on that later.

Evolving entertainment

We can also view these different levels of participation as a funnel. A way of allowing consumers to engage with an entertainment property in various ways. 

And that last part is essential; this is about optionality. The target audience for watching a blockbuster movie can be massive. The subset of the audience that's so passionate they want to own assets related to the movie IP is likely much smaller.

But this is by design. Entertainment experiences should leverage the spectrum to create different ways for people to engage based on how much they care.

If 100 000 people consume, and 1 000 end up as co-creators (or owners), you have successfully created an engagement funnel where you've also identified your super-fans.

Consider The Avengers movies from Marvel. Tens of millions of people watch these movies. They have a broad appeal. But they also have a subset of super-fans. One such super-fan signal is the thousands of fan fiction stories published online for this movie franchise alone.

That's a strong signal that some fans want to engage with this entertainment property beyond merely consuming. They want to participate. 

Developing entertainment experiences into structures that cater both to the masses and the super-fan is akin to a retail store designing special and optimal experiences for its most valuable customers. 

Designing structures to identify, engage and retain the fans with the most passion should be a core strategy for every entertainment property. 

Over time, most successful entertainment formats will expand towards this kind of structure.

Either by evolving the core experience. Like Fortnite releasing their updated Creative studio for co-creators.

Or creating and connecting multiple experiences together. Like being able to watch a movie in a theater and then redeem your (NFT) ticket for access to exclusive digital content.

The ones that don’t, will be relegated to the attention battle arena. Continuously competing, with an ever-growing pool of contestants, fighting for attention via paid ads at an ever-increase cost. No joy.

Consider Roblox and Fortnite

Let's look at a practical example of evolving entertainment along the spectrum:

Fortnite and Roblox are the two biggest and fastest-growing gaming ecosystems on the planet.

Both started out as games – participation. The meteoric rise for them both was largely influenced by leaning into co-creation. Enabling some players to direct their attention toward building experiences for other players.

It creates a very potent flywheel where player-creators create new content, attracting and retaining other players' attention. This, in turn, makes it more attractive for creators to create more. And so the flywheel turns faster and faster.

Co-creation is exceptionally potent as a mechanic to capture attention because it captures attention from the create-side and the consume-side at the same time.

Both ecosystems have also made strides toward the holy grail of entertainment participation: ownership. They don't offer actual asset ownership for players (but that's something we'll inevitably see orchestrated with NFTs and blockchains).

Fortnite and Roblox offer revenue splits, achieving a similar financial upside alignment.

Overall, both ecosystems have seen significant success by enabling different levels of participation. And they capture tons of attention as a result.

So much so that other brands now do branded collaborations inside these ecosystems to skim off some of that attention for themselves.

It's very meta that a massive entertainment property like Marvel taps the attention aggregator that is Fortnite to drive attention to their movies.

The actual effect of these brands building fan experience inside an ecosystem like Fortnite is that it fuels the flywheel of the ecosystem itself and makes it spin faster.

How web3 entertainment is different

In the past two years, we've seen some exciting entertainment projects emerge from the frenzy of NFTs. A few potentially exciting projects have stood out among thousands of copycat projects and vaporware. 

Many people take a look at this frenzy and dismiss it. Sure, there was a lot of noise. Garbage even. But there's also a signal in there. Signaling that the next big entertainment franchise will likely grow and evolve in a different way than its predecessors. 

Dismissing this movement entirely is a mistake if you want to understand how entertainment evolves in the future. 

These projects are interesting because they start at the right side of the spectrum; High levels of participation through ownership among a core group of enthusiastic fans. Several of these projects' plan is to gradually move towards the left and expand their audience by engaging them with new formats.

A present challenge with this approach is the financialization aspect. If the participants' core (or only) motivation is to make a quick buck, it's not a healthy and sustainable platform to build a big and long-lasting entertainment property.

On the contrary, when a project has a vision and a team capable of executing, adding in a core community that contributes because they're passionate and further fueled by a financial incentive can be a very strong moat.

Ownership is essential to us for many different reasons. One of those reasons is that it creates a stronger connection between us, the thing we own, and what that thing represents. Ownership is also an important part of our identity and how we signal that identity to the world around us.

The entertainment brands that manage to incorporate ownership in the overall participation experience will benefit greatly from it in the future battle for attention. 

That's not ownership for everyone but rather the final step of the participation funnel. The ultimate destination for the super-fan.

Why entertainment will evolve

The entertainment business model is simple: Capture attention and monetize some of it. We've already covered how attention is scarce, and the number of contestants competing for it will continue to increase.

Allowing the audience to participate at a level that matches how much they care means capturing more potential attention ("Total addressable attention," anyone??).

This, in turn, means two things:

  • Opportunities for new revenue streams

  • Capturing more attention, retaining more attention, and ultimately spending less money to compete for attention in the first place

Entertainment properties that successfully retain attention can build longer-lasting relationships with their fans. This also means avoiding the problem of "cold-starting" attention. Fortnite or Instagram don't spend much money on traditional marketing to drive attention to their entertainment property. Because they're continuous experiences.

In stark contrast, Hollywood studios spend a lot of money on marketing movies. Because they're cold-starting an attention grabber.

(For what it's worth, this explains why Hollywood fell in love with the franchise model. Because it enables retaining and compounding attention from one movie in a franchise to the next).

Closing thoughts

All entertainment can evolve to become more participatory. Eventually, the successful ones will.

Over the next few posts, I'll apply the model to different entertainment formats and projects to test it further, so make sure you subscribe!

This model is a work in progress, so please share your thoughts.

Until next time!

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