John Erickson…. Ted Turner of the retirement set.
About three years ago, I gave a speech at the Cable Conference in Chicago.
A few days later, I got a call from someone who had seen me speak. He said that the Chairman of their company was going to be ‘in town’ and would like to meet with me. Did I have time?
I did not realize then that ‘in town’ meant in Baltimore, so I soon found myself on the Amtrak to BWI, where I was met by a well dressed young man in a blue suit and red tie. He picked me up in his blue Volvo and we were soon off to ‘headquarters’.
The CEO we were going to meet was a man named John Erickson, the son of a coal miner, he had single handedly built one of the largest retirement community chains in the US. Erickson had an idea. There are 500 channels on TV, but not one of them is dedicated to the interests of retired people, (which represent a pretty good chunk of the population). Patrick Baldwin, the man in the blue suit pretty soon informed me that retirees represent 25% of new car sales, 50% of cruise sales, 25% of toy sales, and an astonishing 75% of pharmaceutical sales – yet no one paid attention to their needs or interests.
Erickson went on to point out that when you do get the occasional bit of programming for the 40% of our population in the ‘upper age brackets’ it tends to be Golden Girls or Matlock.. and that’s about it.
Erickson, radical and visionary that he is, asked if it would be possible to ’empower’ his people with video cameras and edits and let them tell their own stories.
Of course, no one had ever done anything like that, or even thought about it.
But for the next 18 months we did just that. We ran ‘bootcamps’ in his retirement communities and equipped and trained 125 of his people to shoot, write and edit their own stories.
The results, I have to say, were remarkable.
I was astonished.
An interesting by-product of this revolutionary experiment was a kind of in-house focus group. We used to screen the finished pieces before open assemblies in the communities. Sometimes hundreds of people showed up, and they were honest in their opinions. The pieces they liked the best tended to be a bit slower and more deliberate than what you would normally see on conventional television.
“You all watch TV”, I said to them, “and you see that these are different”.
“We like ours better” they said, almost to a person.
They had created a style of their own.
Think of it as anti-MTV.
When we had finished, Erickson committed to building the first cable channel dedicated to the needs and interess of retired Americans. And now he has. You can visit the Retirement Living Network at www.RL.tv
Some of the people who took to the gear and the skill set were in their 80s. The oldest was in his 90s. Age was no impediment.
Indeed, as the ‘democratization’ of television comes to pass, you may be surprised at those who want their voices heard.