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Tech trends swing like a pendulum. Mobile phones got smaller and smaller, culminating with the popularity of the Motorola RAZR, only to start getting larger each year as consumers flocked to smartphones with bigger and bigger screens. Cameras followed a similar evolution. Manufacturers raced to release pocketable devices – until DSLRs and Polaroids took over.
But one tech pendulum arguably swung in one direction for nearly a hundred years. And its swing in the other direction has just started gaining momentum.
Communication technology in the late 19th century concentrated on getting a message from one individual to another. One of the first transcontinental telegraphs was from California’s chief justice, Stephen Field to Abraham Lincoln. One of the earliest transatlantic radio transmissions was from President Roosevelt to the King of England.
Before long, though, as communication devices got cheaper, audiences on the receiving end started getting larger. Radio stations let one person transmit nightly news summaries to a vast audience. Television signals were used to disburse video coverage over a broad area, like a fisherman casting a net.
Then, the internet blew up the broadcasting market. We’re headed back in the other direction, away from the fixation on one-to-many communication and toward “narrowcasting.”
What is narrowcasting?
Narrowcasting is the opposite of broadcasting. While primetime network television caters to the lowest common denominator with shallow, mass-market broadcasts, narrowcasting leverages technology to create content tailored to tiny, niche, and sometimes even individual audiences.
Broadcasting made the most sense for a long time because when the total number of US households with a TV was in the tens of millions, creating one episode or advertisement that only 10% of viewers cared about still translated into millions of meaningful impressions.
Today, the equation is a little different. People now spend more time in front of a computer or smartphone screen than a TV. But even more important than audience size is the technology driving online content delivery.
If you’re posting a video to YouTube, you benefit from its algorithm, which will suggest your content to people who may have never heard of you but who have similar viewing habits to your most loyal followers. So, narrowcasting to a small but very passionate audience can have a massive impact on your popularity.
Image credit: YouTube Targeting Options You Need to Try (SEMrush)
If you’re an advertiser, you can specify exactly who you want to see your content. You could create one ad that only Gen Z’ers in the tech industry see and another for the same product that only 40-somethings working in finance would see. When you have granular control over your audience, and it’s cheaper than ever to create content, there’s very little reason to invest anything in broadcasting. Everyone wins with narrowcasting.
Broadcasting vs narrowcasting examples
We’re still somewhat early in the pendulum’s swing back towards one-to-few and one-to-one communication technology. So, you can often still see the influence of broadcasting on its successor. Over time, narrowcasting will likely look less and less similar to the technology it followed. But for now, here are some of the best examples of broadcasting vs narrowcasting examples:
Super Bowl commercials vs. YouTube ads
Pay six to seven million dollars for a 30-second spot during the big game, and 100 million people – split equally between 20-somethings and 60-somethings – will see your ad. That’s around seven cents per untargeted view. Pay a little more per impression, and you could narrowcast your ad to a very specific audience. Which do you think will convert better: a car commercial during the Super Bowl or the same spot spliced into a car review video?
Network sitcoms vs. niche streaming services
Want to know what Hollywood thought the average American family looked like during any specific year? Just watch the most popular sitcom from that year. Shows like Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond were written so that the country’s largest demographics were represented in a way that would, hopefully, get them to watch. Netflix’s on-demand catalog hits a little different, letting users self-select their programming. What’s more, there are now dozens of highly specialized streaming services like BritBox for UK classics, Crunchyroll for anime, and Shudder for horror lovers.
National sports news vs. team-specific channels
ESPN, no matter how many cable channels they launch, still has to stick to the biggest headlines to keep advertisers happy. Meanwhile, any lifelong fan of the Chicago Cubs with a laptop can launch a podcast or Twitch channel that covers everything from practice recaps to farm team updates. ESPN’s audience is undoubtedly bigger, while the super fan’s viewership is almost certainly more engaged.
Airport digital signage vs. lobby digital signage
Flight information, weather updates, and duty-free advertisements are about as targeted as airport screens get. General information for travelers of all ages and backgrounds. Digital signage in an office building lobby can get far more specific because you know significantly more about the audience, like what industries companies operate in, when their employees go to lunch, which caterers are most popular, and more. All of this would make it much easier to tailor content to specific goals with smart digital signage.
For certain situations, audience size might still be more important than audience alignment. For example, if you’re still trying to determine your product-market fit or you’ve found a holy grail topic that interests people of all ages and backgrounds. We’re not here to tell you broadcasting is 100% dead. There are just so many reasons to prioritize its more targeted alternative.
Benefits of narrowcasting
Anyone with a Canva account and a Mac with iMovie and GarageBand installed can start narrowcasting. Whether it’s images for Google Ads, videos for YouTube, or podcasts for Spotify, you’re only limited by your knowledge of the target audience’s preferences. As long as you know what people want, you have several advantages over scattershot broadcasting.
Lower costs and higher returns on investments
Imagine you’re opening a restaurant in Los Angeles. You need to get the word out, so you’ve set aside a few thousand dollars for advertising. A broadcasting approach might involve running an ad on the LA Times website, which promises 100,000 impressions starting at $1,530. You could even run ads on digital signage in local taxis for a couple hundred dollars per ad.
Some impressions will be locals interested in your restaurant, some will be people who aren’t even located in California. Paying for coverage that broad is way more expensive and generates far less engagement than, say, an ad that plays in a nearby office lobby between 11am and 1pm.
If you were to start a podcast about marketing, you would show up on a search results page with thousands, possibly tens of thousands of other broadcasters. Zero in on conversations specifically around marketing for LA-based Thai restaurants, however, and you could probably count the competition on one hand.
Image credit: Facebook Ads Tutorial 2023 (Ac Hampton)
More performance data
Narrow-casting platforms like YouTube provide content creators with an extraordinary amount of information. You can see viewer demographics (e.g., age, gender, and location), number of shares, and even where people tend to drop off in a video. This data can inform future content decisions, showing you what resonates the most with your audience and what they skipped. Compare that to cable TV and freeway billboards, neither of which can collect data on who saw the content or what they did with it.
Broadcasting is a one-trick pony. Its only benefit is access to millions of faceless consumers. Like the Motorola RAZR and the Canon PowerShot, broadcasting is being replaced by new technology, by apps and platforms focused on quality over quantity.
Narrowcasting software and platforms
Since it’s more of a communication strategy than a specific feature-set, narrowcasting applies to a broad range of software and platforms. How you target consumers in one app will look very different than how you target them in a different app. It’s fitting, then, that it’s often best to start with a narrow focus on which software and platforms you experiment with first. Here are some examples.
Social media platforms
Ads and promoted posts on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn let you pick your audience’s age, location, interests, job title, and behavior. All within ecosystems that users specifically use to find and interact with content and creators.
Apps like MailChimp, HubSpot, and Salesforce can help you segment leads and customers to add personalization and better manage relationships. You can fine-tune your narrowcasting efforts based on any contact details you’ve gathered from previous interactions or third-party data.
Shopify, Optimizely, and other software help online vendors personalize product recommendations, shopping experiences, and page content based on past interactions. In some cases, you don’t have to create any narrowcasting messaging at all. The software automatically customizes what’s on the page for every website visitor and shopper in your database.
Digital signage tools
By connecting smart TVs and screens to apps like ScreenCloud, businesses can tailor visuals to specific situations and environments. For instance, a screen behind your office’s front desk might automatically greet visitors or interrupt preprogrammed content with an incoming storm alert. You could also embed QR codes on slides to see which ones get the most attention and create location-based channels with dynamic content based on your database.
Digital signage is unique among narrowcasting software. It’s the solution where content creators are closest to content consumers: HR managers creating internal communications messaging, retail shops advertising promotions, etc. Digital signage audiences also tend to be much smaller than a Facebook lookalike audience or a MailChimp newsletter list. So, it’s worth spending a little extra time on your narrowcasting strategy.
Narrowcasting tips for digital signage
The best digital signage apps are flexible. If your company uses Microsoft Teams, your signage software should have a built-in integration. If you frequently need to create quick and easy static visuals, a content management system with in-app image design tools is better than one without. And if you want to take a narrowcasting approach to digital signage, your software better able to handle all of the following:
- Time-based and event-based triggers: Even an audience of one changes their interests based on the time of day or the weather outside. Program your content accordingly.
- Integration with external data sources: Outdated information is uninteresting information. Update text, images, and video as often as possible. Ideally, by connecting to real-time data.
- Let users interact and influence signage content: Use touchscreens, display user-generated content, invite viewers to take surveys. Anything that makes people feel like they’re involved in the conversation will increase engagement.
- Mix and match broadcasting and narrowcasting content: There’s a company-wide meeting at 2pm and a sales-team meeting at 4pm. The former goes on all of your screens. The latter only goes on the screens your sales team sees. Broadcasting vs. narrowcasting is not a strictly either-or decision.
With ScreenCloud, you can get as targeted or as broad as you need to for your use case. First, spend some time defining your audience, then, spin up a digital bulletin board or a product discount sign, gather audience feedback, and adapt from there. Eventually, you can wade into more advanced narrowcasting and digital signage strategies. Like creating branded animations or sending images to your screens with a voice command.
It all starts with a free trial of ScreenCloud’s CMS. Grab one today and start engaging your audience with targeted, compelling content!