Fooled by Spectrum

In his podcast, Akimbo, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discussed how we had been fooled by the magic moment that television created because that moment is over.

The scarcity of electromagnetic spectrum created the magic moment of television. When the number of channels was small, the network TV model created a culture where everyone saw or heard what everyone else was seeing and reading.

That scarcity in spectrum created value for the era between the 1940s and 2000s. The economics of TV networks made it so that it was cheaper to take one thing and replicate it in lots of places. Also, people wanted to hear what other people were hearing because we had only a few sources to choose from.

We thought the scarcity of spectrum and the “average stuff for average people advertised widely” model was the only way to succeed. Once the digital technologies showed up, the rules changed. We used to have three TV networks, but now we have room for three billion TV networks. At the same time, it got cheaper than ever to make TV or professional quality content.

Another culture shift was that people responded to this freedom of choice by being very choosy. We realized that we do not want to hear what everybody else is hearing. We started to put up our filter bubbles. The filter bubble says that people want to hear only what they want to hear.

Two key ideas are emerging as a result of this cultural shift. First, when we give people a choice, it turns out that they often take the choice. Building a market for the mass used to be the only way to go. Limited channels for advertising and limited shelf space meant only the most well-known brands could succeed. Now the Internet has created an environment that has unlimited channels and unlimited shelf space.

Second, it is no longer possible to build a nationwide brand using scarce spectrum. That used to be required but no longer. What is being replaced with is the minimum viable audience, not the largest possible audience. If we can find those people and vice-versa, we can work hard to delight them. We can make something just for them, something exclusive, focused, and meaningful.

With the help of the Internet, any message can get to the people who want to hear it. Also, any product can be purchased by the people who seek it out. This change tells us that the Internet is not a mass medium, it is a micro medium. The Internet is a collection of tiny markets.

When it comes to our culture these days, we have thousands and millions of growing markets. Those markets are pockets of real passion and pockets of connection. As creators of culture, we get a chance to make something worth talking about. We are now in the business of interacting with people who choose to interact with us and connecting people who want to relate to other like-minded people. We also get to weave together pockets of culture that we will be proud of.

“This is a moment in time when you don’t need a big budget to make a big difference.”