Can “Hate-Watching” be a Cash Cow for Media Companies?

Posted on September 12, 2019

How often does this happen to you: You’re ten minutes into a new TV show, and you can already tell you hate it. The characters are unlikable, the plot makes no sense and the whole production makes you cringe. Yet your morbid curiosity won’t let you just turn it off? Welcome to the world of ‘hate-watching.’

Hate-watching and hate-reading can take many forms. In some cases it’s when viewers tune into a TV show or movie they expect to be awful, so they can make fun of it. Other times it can mean seeking out and arguing with pundits whose ideologies (political or otherwise) you can’t stand. And sometimes it can happen completely by accident, like in the example above.

But what impact does hate-watching have on media and content companies? Can people who hate your shows be as valuable as those who love them? Let’s take a deep dive into the business of of hate-watching and see how it can make or break businesses in 2019.

Making a Career as a Hate-Watch Lightning Rod.

For content creators and entertainers, being awful can sometimes be better than being average.

Mass media and the internet have turned many sensational failures into overnight success stories. Take William Hung, the famously horrible singer who landed a record deal from his laughably bad audition on American Idol. With ‘worst audition’ compilations still going viral to this day, it’s arguable that ‘bad’ performers were more valuable to the American Idol franchise than the ‘good’ performers the show was centered upon.

The same could be said of movie cult-classics like The Room, Sharknado and Human Centipede. Some of these films were produced tongue-in-cheek to elicit mockery, others were completely unplanned. But they all found success in the wake of critical pannings because of the joy that audiences found laughing at how bad they are.

There’s something to be said about the mainstream appeal of failure. ‘Bad’ content can drive its own kind of fandom, even culminating in events like the annual Razzie Awards for the year’s worst movies. Creating something universally loved is hard. But making something so bad that people watch it for fun, now that seems more do-able. 

Using controversy as a tool for business.

Another powerful tool in the world of hate-watching is controversy. People love discussing topics they are passionate about, and hatred can evoke just as much passion as admiration. 

Take political discourse as an example. As political author Sarah Sobieraj puts it, “[Opposing political parties] would have a hard time existing without the other… [The political discourse] is absolutely dependent on finding people with whom to disagree. So you need that opposition.”

This may in part explain the rise of independent extremist commentators like Alex Jones. The controversy of their views keeps their names in the news, driving clicks and pushing loyal readers to ‘defend’ them against haters. A large portion of their shares and impressions on social media actually come from opponents, who take the opportunity to mock or scorn them for their latest flub.

Though not equivalent, businesses like Nike have also seen success from sponsoring figures like Colin Kaepernick. They made a calculated decision to sacrifice some customers for the loyalty of others’, and it paid off massively. This can be a dangerous route that may lose you some partners, advertisers and once-loyal customers. But there’s no denying the platform that controversy grants to businesses.

How can you monetize your hate-watchers?

Hate-watchers can be your best marketing tool, if you play it right. Media companies often capitalize off of trending topics to ignite discussion and drive traffic, knowing that half of those visitors will be there to pick them apart. Taking a bold stance or making a bizarre artistic decision can do wonders for your brand’s engagement.

If you’re running ads, every impression on your site or content can be translated into ad revenue. And though you can’t monetize most social media platforms, hate-watchers who share or engage with your posts will increase your visibility and usually end up driving more traffic. 

Your best bet may be using the hate to fuel more brand loyalists. When outsiders come to attack your business, fans may feel more inclined to support and defend you. This gives you a perfect window of opportunity to promote your new offerings, sell merchandise and re-up subscriptions.

You could also get creative with merchandise and produce some tongue-in-cheek pieces that haters and genuine fans can both appreciate. Or write a book about what went wrong, like co-star of horrible cult classic The Room. Monetizing your haters won’t be as simple as asking loyal fans to buy content or subscribe, but there are still plenty of ways to get creative with it.

Is it worth the risk?

So if you’re a media company or entrepreneur, the question you may be asking yourself is: Do I want to intentionally factor hate-watching into my business model? There are some major risks to consider.

First, your reputation. If you consistently produce bad or controversial content for clicks, it can damage how audiences view your brand. This can lead to lower viewership and traffic for future projects.

Second, keeping a genuine tone and message. If you start chasing hate-watchers over loyal fans, you may find yourself resorting to cheap tricks for attention. This might work once or twice, but making a consistent business out of it will be difficult. 

Third, your advertisers. Many advertisers may not want to be associated with a brand that’s always trending for the wrong reasons. Think long and hard about any sponsors you need to keep before you put out anything that might risk the relationship.

Lastly, your business’s purpose. Very few people set out with the goal of being ridiculed or mocked for a living, and that’s for a good reason. Though businesses exist to make money, they really exist because of their teams’ passions and hopes. Consider if hate-watching is something you can really feel passionate enough to pursue.

Conclusions on hate-consumption.

They say any press is good press, but for companies in media and content things aren’t so black and white. There are infinite ways to make a name and build a business, and hate is just one of the many emotions your brand will have to play on to succeed. As a leader, you should work to develop a nuanced approach to hate-watching’s pros and cons that your team can use.

In a way, hate-watching and backlash are inevitable in today’s hyper-social landscape. So embrace what you can, and remember that feedback is an important part of your company’s growth.

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