Returning from a five day stay in the embrace of Glastonbury 2017 is perhaps an odd time to write a blog about television. Indeed, apart from the 500 hardy souls packing out the Theatre Bar to watch the British Lions test match at 8.30am on Saturday morning, I don’t think a frame of television would have been watched by the 200,000 residents of Worthy Farm.
But something struck me as an audience member more viscerally than ever before. It was both the symbiotic nature of the relationship between audience and entertainer, and the importance of audience context when watching a show.
So here are three quick lessons in audience behaviour and context from the Pyramid Stage:
Lesson One: Welcoming Visual Cues (Radiohead)
Much has been made of Radiohead’s set-list construction, with an hour of their more “challenging” material upfront. As a spectator, though, what really struck me was their decision to use the jumbotron screens on either side of the stage to scratch, distort, layer and generally obliterate the picture of the band playing with a dizzying cut rate. What this succeeded in doing was effectively alienating anyone beyond the front 30 rows from participating in the show. They might as well have dropped a black drape in front of the stage and played behind it.
A live audience feeds off the energy and artisanship of a band and, as I discovered during a lengthy version of ‘Bloom’, a surprising amount of that response is due to the visual cues. So a lesson for brands is that the opening of any form of content must visually draw in and welcome.
Lesson Two: Audience Context (The National & Ed Sheeran)
The National, possibly my favourite band in the world today, played a set to another huge Pyramid Stage crowd. But the section of the audience I watched with were mostly using The National’s timeslot to get a good position for the headlining Foo Fighters. So whilst enthusiastic and eager to listen, they just weren’t that emotionally involved with what they were watching. An important lesson for entertainment brands and television brands alike is that live audience context is still everything. For example comedy is still ideally a collective experience. As neuroscientists have proven, laughter is scientifically contagious, and this should affect everything from scheduling and release times of material, through to the use of live audiences for studio recordings.
Trying to learn from The National experience, my friends and I decided to watch Ed Sheeran - an artist we had very little relationship with ourselves - from the heart of his most passionate fanbase.
Sure enough, a set that could have been coolly and dispassionately observed (see the Independent review) was transformed into an uplifting, triumphant celebration of all that is great in mass musical participation. Just by viewing context. Because others believe, you are swept along. Integrating a positive audience response from social media as part of your campaign is a clever way of generating this even within linear television.
Lesson Three: Casting Chemistry (Blossoms and others)
For brands seeking to create entertaining content, understanding the dynamic of a team of performers in a show is crucial.
Chemistry is why the original Impractical Jokers on TruTV in the USA is such a hit that the hosts can sell out the O2 Arena in London three nights in a row. Chemistry is also why the UK attempts at a remake of the same format have flopped twice.
Establishing the right chemistry between performer and the watching audience is singularly difficult. For Impractical Jokers the first “audience” response will actually be from the other performers. As viewers at home we feed off their reaction. See also Sky One’s A League of their Own. The unabashed joy that the four stars have in each other’s company draws the audience in. Our Nissan campaign for Team GB works in large part because of the dynamic and the chemistry between our two lead performers - Kirsty and Gareth.
So when reflecting on the best moments of the Glastonbury festival - from the small stage performances by the likes of Little Mammoths, Joseph, Blossoms and Circa Waves, through to the secret shows from Elbow and The Killers - a golden thread runs through them all. Performers who visibly and demonstrably love both each other’s company and, more importantly, what they do.
Audiences like that.
Charlie Mawer is executive creative director at Red Bee.