Your Critics and Complainers

In Italy, Ferrari racing fans are called “tifosi.” Formula 1 is their religion. The tifosi worship Ferrari drivers passionately when they win, but become wrathful when they lose.

Passion is good business. It is rumored that Ferrari makes more money from Ferrari-branded merchandise than they do from cars. Ferrari is worth more as a company than both General Motors and Ford. I am not aware of any Buick tifosi.

Great broadcasters also evoke passion. And as the song says, it is a thin line between love and hate.  Authentic, compelling on-air hosts sometimes generate complaints. Evocative, dramatic or funny content often sets off critiques.

Complaints can be a good thing.

What about “cancel culture,” you ask? What if something we say upsets people?

It has always been the speaker’s job to know the audience and how they will react. This is nothing new. Think back to medieval times. A smart court jester would consider carefully if his joke about the Queen’s new hairdo will get a laugh, or get him beheaded.

Knowing where to not cross the line is part of the job. “Cancel culture” is usually invoked by presenters who blame the audience for rejecting their bad content. Sort of like Ford blaming drivers for not purchasing more Edsels.

Instead of “cancel culture,” think of changing culture. Audiences today are evolving superfast to new ideas. A changing culture mindset implies that as people change, your content changes.

We encourage on-air players, “if you think it, say it.” If your intent is genuine – to engage, to inform factually or to get a laugh – the audience generally accepts it. If your intent is to harm, to spread disinformation or evoke negativity, the audience rejects it.  

Complaints are not the goal, but pushback indicates your audience is engaged. They care.  Zero complaints may indicate that your content is not impactful.

If you are a woman, a person of color or other minority you are likely to get complaints that have nothing to do with your content or how good you are. Think of those complaints as yippy barks from tiny dogs threatened by your power. The good ones will come around to you eventually.

In-house, hearing complaints from your own team may seem like a bad sign, but maybe not. The United States Navy has a saying; “a bitching sailor is a happy sailor.” When sailors are invested in the mission, commanders hear grumbles. When complaints stop, start worrying.

Expect complaints from passionate presenters. Comedian John Belushi bitched incessantly about television. Belushi turned down NBC’s invitation to join Saturday Night Live several times until his complaints about boring programming were heard. Belushi and his fellow players produced groundbreaking SNL content – and more than a few complaints – to become legend.

There is not much future for broadcasters who are uncomfortable with complaints. The era of safe, generic programming ended in the advent of the streaming era. Linear TV viewership is in a nose dive and AM/FM radio in-car listenership continues to erode.

To compete with the on-demand choice and fewer commercials of streaming services, successful broadcasters will boldly go where there is more drama, more emotional impact, more comedy and possibly a complaint or two.