(By Randy Lane) The human brain is wired to be interested in just about anything if it is presented in the form of a mystery. Movies like Top Gun cause us to ask, what will happen next? Sporting events like the NBA Finals, cause us to ask, who will win the game?
According to behavioral economist George Lowenstein’s Gap Theory, curiosity happens when we feel a gap in knowledge. That gap makes us feel compelled to fill it with a resolution. In media, one key formula for captivating content is mystery + resolution = memorable content. If Nielsen gets it right, that equals higher ratings.
Many radio shows deliver solid content that falls short of compelling content because it lacks mystery and resolution. Let’s look at how this happens with various types of content:
Interactive topics with no resolution: If your show asks the audience for stories about the meanest thing your ex did, you’ll get some interesting stories. However, if you go on a quest to find the single meanest ex, you’ll get more engaging stories, and the topic will end with a resolution. Interactive topics that conclude with a finite resolution voted on by the cast and listeners are more satisfying to the audience.
Either/or topics with no resolution: While it can be entertaining to hear callers, texts, and posts’ views on a topic like whether prenup agreements are a good or bad idea, it’s more gratifying to conclude it with what most people think on this topic. Moug and Angie on Seattle’s Star 101.5 recently asked listeners to chime in on this topic and they wrapped it up by saying, “The consensus is, don’t do it.”
To illustrate the importance of resolution, film companies spend big bucks to get movie endings right. The Shawshank Redemption is regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. Did you know that the ending was reshot because test viewers didn’t like the original ending? The same is true of many other classic movies, including Titanic, Bladerunner, and ET.
Story arcs with no resolution: Focus group respondents often tell me their favorite shows discuss various relationship scenarios and “we never hear how it turned out.” Let’s say two friends or family members have had a falling out, one apologizes but the other wants to take time to process it. Schedule the resolution or follow-up at the same time as it originally aired.
Stories without a moral: Since childhood, we’ve heard stories end with, “the moral to the story is…” Many stories we hear on radio and podcasts just end. How do you end your story with a moral? Conclude your story with how it changed you. What did you learn or realize? Did you have an insight?
Resolutions can be funny, emotionally moving, or revealing.
Contact Randy Lane by e-mail at [email protected].