Just a Thought: Competition Vs. Community

Back in 1997 when I was barely 19 years old, the internet wasn’t anywhere even close to what it is now in terms of an entertainment source. Television and terrestrial radio were still the most viable options, and Howard Stern was considered the “king” of the radio airwaves. Here in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Stern was just arriving to the market. I wasn’t hugely familiar with his radio work outside of the E! Network TV show he did, and the autobiographical movie Private Parts – which I actually really enjoyed and found humanized him – but his local debut was still an event that I looked forward to witnessing.

I had grown up listening to the local ratings champ The KQ Morning Show for years up to this point. They were very good, and the host Tom Barnard was always one of my major influences in terms of radio and creative ventures. So much so that I even pursued and was granted an interview with him a few short months ago. When Stern eventually arrived, I decided to check out his first show here in Minnesota. I didn’t expect to be pulled from KQ completely, but I thought that it’d be a nice thing to check in with every so often, and if it did win me over, I felt that I could like both equally for different reasons.

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These days, my preferred media of choice is largely podcasts. I listen to anywhere from 8-15 per week, and I wish I had time for more. It takes me back to those old radio morning shows I loved where the banter was great and the personalities varied across the spectrum. The benefit now is that we can choose what topics we want to hear about. Video games, music, politics, comedy, advice, sex, comic books, etc… all of it is fair game and there’s an audience for each topic and show.

One of the best discoveries I made along the way were community podcasts; independently-run shows from fans of a genre that just wanted to talk about the things they liked. Hearing these shows influenced me to want to do my own program even more and I eventually started the BlankShowCast with my friend, Tim, whom I met out of a mutual podcast fandom. While many of these shows were of similar topics, they each had their own flavor and were able to share real estate in my mind as separate yet equal entities.

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When I remember back to hearing that first Stern show, I remember not being entertained at all. There were long periods of dead air, the comedy wasn’t as great as I’d expected, and it just didn’t seem to have any flow. Perhaps the most standout aspect of it was when Stern and his gang dedicated a large amount of time to trashing the KQ Morning Show and picking apart its programming. Not only were their assessments totally false, but they were overly cruel and attacked parties that weren’t even involved in this newly-formed ratings battle.

KQ’s response was simple; “do nothing.” Somebody at the station had the foresight that acknowledging the drama wouldn’t do any good for them, and so they left it alone. Meanwhile, Stern and his goons continued to fire potshots at them in the hopes of garnering a response. This was Stern’s M.O. in every market he arrived in, and it was often the retaliations from his opponents that would become their undoing, making them look petty and scared in the process.

Terrestrial radio was highly competitive during that era, and for good reason. For the stations, it was all about ratings and profit and with two big names battling for market share in a small market like the Twin Cities, being #2 meant a huge difference in revenue for each of them. You had to win and win BIG in order to succeed because the number of ears on your airwaves was limited.

That is no longer the case in current times. With the growth of the internet and social media, an audience is no longer limited to one city and its surrounding suburbs. Youtube videos, podcasts, livestreams, blogs, fandom sites, and their ilk can reach anyone around the world. Supporters can number in the millions for a particular creative outlet and it happens regularly. Fans of internet entertainment can consume media whenever they like and can be into a number of different and/or similar things of their choice. The viewer/listener has total freedom.

Sadly, there are still some creators who either fail to recognize this or perhaps just choose to remain in a competitive mindset. They see other shows comparable to their own as threats or as outright “thieves.” It’s a thought process that feels antiquated and a bit regressive. Whenever you see two online ventures go toe-to-toe in some sort of clash, one or both parties can often come out of the ordeal looking petty, vindictive, or downright foolish.

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In 1999, after the two-year Morning Show War was all said and done, the Twin Cities chose their champion. The locally-grown boy from North Minneapolis and his friends had defeated the self-proclaimed “King of All Media” and sent him packing. The tactic of silence worked in their favor. By remaining unresponsive to Stern’s prodding, Barnard and his crew dedicated their efforts to creating a quality show for their listeners and the show retained its loyal following. All the while, the cockiness and brash behavior of Stern and his troupe became off-putting and abrasive to the public. It was only a matter of time until the station that brought Stern to Minneapolis/St. Paul decided that his presence was unnecessary and unprofitable.

Here in 2013, media is taking the opposite approach. Programs of various styles are beginning to see that community wins over competition, and that there is a place for everyone to produce content and find a following. Prolific vloggers on Youtube – collectively known these days as “youtubers” – are seeing the benefits of collaborating. Appearing on each other’s videos only spreads good will and popularity and usually boosts the audiences of any and all creators involved. People like Grace Helbig (DailyGrace) constantly feature other vloggers like Hannah Hart, Felicia Day, Harley Morenstein, and others in an effort to help out their peers.

We are even now at the point where Youtube hosts themed weeks of programming, such as Comedy Week or Geek Week, in which they have a number of notable creators contribute to the theme and promote said videos as a group effort. The crossover can only benefit those involved. The same has also happened in podcasting, to an extent.

But again, there are those who seemingly want to exclude. The other night, I witnessed someone state that they felt as if one of their ideas had been plagiarized. Normally, this could be a notable accusation among content creators, especially if it’s one based on an intellectual property or other artistic vision. In this case, however, the idea in question was merely one of basic format and scheduling.

While these two groups may share a number of viewers, there is very little reason for them to compete with each other. Both are independent productions and are not monetizing their content in any way (as far as I know), so for there to be any kind of clash between them is pointless. Each endeavor should be free to establish an audience and attempt to thrive however they choose, free of the environment of accusations and publicized grumbling.

How this specific situation will play out is up to the parties involved, but if the video gaming community and, by extension, the streaming community want to grow as a whole, there has to be a mentality of inclusion within them. If two or more outlets want to create and happen to share a schedule for their work, then it falls to their supporters to decide which they choose to watch and when. Luckily, most outlets archive their stuff so that we can elect which to view live and which to go back to after the fact. Either way, creators must allow each other to produce content without discouraging one another from doing so. Embracing others’ efforts can only serve to establish positivity and a stronger community for all participants. Being competitive and possibly divisive will only lessen the sense of inclusion, and would likely intimidate newcomers from becoming a part of the fun.

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Currently, the KQRS Morning Show is on its presumed final stretch, according to its host. Barnard tires of terrestrial radio and its outdated revenue model. However, he still loves performing for his loyal fans and friends, and so he has also dived into the podcasting world with his own show, The Tom Barnard Podcast. Recently, he has taken the show to a live streaming format similar to radio but without the ad interruptions and incessant station messaging that usually goes with it. His embracing of social media and its power to reach a wide audience has inspired him to produce something that he enjoys doing without having to worry about ratings and ad sales and my butt of corporate machinations hanging above him. He’s even reached out to other radio personalities and former “enemies” – except for the aforementioned Stern – to appear on his show as guests. In his eyes, he also wants to help build the community he is now a part of.

And that’s really the underlying message that I feel should be focused on. If you want to produce content, do it because you enjoy doing so; because you like the process of creating and showing what you’ve made to the world. At the same time, others are probably doing something similar but instead of getting catty about it or wanting them to disappear, we as creators should embrace that growth in both our respective media and the communities that surround them. It’s a whole wide world out there on the web, and we all have plenty of room to coexist and still have fun doing what we do. Let’s actually practice this message of inclusion that we hear so much about and maybe we’ll all be better for it.

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