Lost ©ABCFollowing on from my recent posts on Mark Burnetts exploits with Gold Rush here is another ‘distributed-story-quiz-quest’ thing borrowing heavily from Alternate Reality Games. Reuters reports with “Hit series “Lost” inspires a global online game” and demonstrates the fine line now between content and the marketing of that content

The marketing initiative, announced on Wednesday, is a fresh example of how TV producers are seeking new ways to take advantage of the selling power of their most popular programmes by engaging fans whose media consumption habits are evolving.
“Cutting edge technology has vaulted us into a new era,” said Steve McPherson, the president of ABC Entertainment, a part of the U.S. network behind “Lost”.
“Audiences are demanding greater depth of content and more creative ways of storytelling,” he added.

I like the idea that the story spread across multiple platforms has no specific time-base and is in fact a parallel narrative to the main episodes of Lost AND that it works across international ‘episode’ differences. This definitely takes the ‘service’ into a unique realm for mass entertainment – a back story, an alternate story world, a parallel universe running alongside the ‘real’ thing. Now wouldn’t it be something for there to be cross references between these two now and then, but I feel that is out of scope for the moment and very difficult to produce when to be honest the revenue from advertising inserts in the main show still eclipses the ‘marketing’ supplement income – meaning the tail is not wagging the dog yet. As an interesting tangent Channel 4 has announced today that they are now offering ‘Lost’ on-demand. Anyway…

The game is mainly Internet-based, but the broadcasters suggested that “any and every platform” could contain clues, echoing other marketing efforts that have used e-mail, billboards, phone calls and fake Web sites to tantalize fans.

I wonder how many ‘real’ sites there may be around in a future where it is easy to create a medium that ‘fools’ easily – it was never that easy to create a fake 35mm feature film was it 😉 There is constant reference in these ‘games-around-popular-brands’ (the Da Vinci Code is an obvious example) to the fact that it is part of the hype or marketing machine. Creating an enigma which at least gets many thousands of brains activated is not a bad thing in itself but one feels a formulaic format and standard template is just around the corner. One can imagine TV execs already talking to their New Media departments in elevator grabbed conversations “Oh yes we have to do a cross-platform video adventure, clue, quest thing…”

Added Vicky Powell, a spokeswoman for Channel 4: “It’s not about winning a prize, it’s an opportunity to raise the level of the program and sustain interest for viewers.”
“It’s like a giant, mysterious jigsaw puzzle that will come to life for all the world to solve, whether you are a fan of the TV series or not,” said Mike Benson, the senior vice president of marketing for ABC Entertainment.

These formats are still very new of course and it is quite exciting to think that in a few years the ‘show’ will be in a supporting role I suspect – much the way the box office film helps support the DVD release, or perhaps not. Whether Gold Rush, Lost, Survivor, Apprentice, Big Brother or a multitude of other so called non-scripted ‘reality’ shows will naturally evolve into this viral/ARG format is very likely but I do ask that the creators allow more resonance for the audience beyond the occassional vote-in to the actual ‘show’ element…viewers will be happy beavering around the periphery with branded puzzles for a while but in reality they want to feel completely immersed and participating in the real ‘show’ world.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006