I was invited to keynote at the 2013 Merging Media conference in Vancouver last week and it was great to meet up with the wandering band of transmedia/multiplatform ‘global gliterati’ that frequent these events. All in all a top notch affair, well attended, mostly on the ball in terms of topics and refreshing to take in the effervescent youthful passion that abounded from the attendees.
My next post will be detailed coverage some of the themes of my presentation but what follows below is something I sneaked into my talk last minute – partly as a response to some of the previous speakers on day 1 and the ‘challenges’ that still pervade this fledgling industry, still, after all these years.
The ‘digital’ brochure-ware website/mobile-app industry is doing fine and dandy – quaint silos inside traditional broadcasters, studios and ad agencies make ‘broadcast interactive’ stuff that is proven standard fare for large sections of the mostly passive audience – but where are the truly original and/or mature multi platform transmedia services and how will we get there? I then thought of a series of scales on which to gauge and see if we can really get a sense of the State of Play in ‘whatever’ we will finally agree to call this thing.
I presented this section partly interactively (well the sort of magician like interactivity we all sometimes despise) – I asked the audience to shout out where we think we are on the scale and then I pressed the magic button and the needle floated across ala an interactive worm (in fact of course these were all my already set valuations – but anyway most of the time it was within 1 or 2 points!). I did tell the audience by the way, although they probably sussed it after the 2nd or 3rd one
So the State of Play of the Multiplatform / Transmedia Industry across 10 scales of measurement
Language and Grammar – Tower of Babel or Industry Shared – 3/10 – It is critical everyone is singing off the same song sheet for it to be a mature industry, how else can we create a business on something if it is not a shared terminology? Imagine if for example in film we called the editing stage either the compile, the chop, the edit, the merge, etc: depending on who was producing or which country we were in. Chaos. But as we know in multi platform circles, we don’t have to look far to see the cracks – not only are the transmedia folk stretched from arty fluffiness at one of the spectrum to hard core marketing at the other but there is still across the industry (& academia) no real agreement on what the ‘T’ word actually means. Then on the ‘serious digital production’ side of the fence, whole swathes of the industry who do bare bones digital ‘cloning’, nothing new, just pure turning the app/site production handle. Every sector from academia to agency to studio to broadcaster all use different terms. 3 out of 10 suggests we have at least another 10-15 years before we settle down into a shared taxonomy – lets hope it is sooner.
Multiplatform formats – Formless to Productized. 6/10 – Oh and by productised I mean a service which can be delivered as a package, boxed up and shippable. We are still someway from that but I am more optimistic in the range of forms that are being developed. Driven by pretty locked down silos of devices (think mobile, PC web, consoles, TV, cinema) or the foundational services that stretch across them (social networks, games, augmented reality, serial stories, film, doco etc) it is not impossible to come up with 20-30 basic formats. This I think will be the way to slowly improve the grammar and vocabulary but we do need to move beyond the simplicity of iPad app and webisodes folks!
Business Models – Cap in Hand through to Sustainable and Formalised 4.5/10 – Lots of talk at this conference of how Canadians and Australians get small handouts to make this digital stuff and at the other end the Brits and American’s talking about big sponsorship or tent pole IP based funding for projects. At the end of the day there are still very few multi platform forms that are truly self sustained. Sure there are games, some ad or sponsored serials on the web all doing well and in the black but most truly hybrid services are simply not there. Of course the definition of business model is pretty flexible and if we include branded entertainment, ad supported, video subs, freemium and even some infomediary/data mining models there are some solid examples emerging. But we have a long, long road ahead before it becomes a no-brainer to produce a complex independently funded, expecting a return, transmedia creation. BTW I was optimistic here and even someone who is well versed in the business models gave this a 3 and a few 2s were shouted out too!
Multiplatform Metrics – from Finger in the Air through to True Measure of Engagement 8/10 – In retrospect I think I am being really kind here as although we have a lot of big data around our services we are not digging in as deep as we should. Certainly when comparing this with traditional media, digital services with the right tracking codes embedded and semantic analysis engines are light years ahead of crude arbitron or neilsen channel monitoring boxes for say TV. It does lose out in what we are doing with the data but from a monitoring and tracking perspective across all the multi platform domains we can really understand how are services are being used and what people think of them – we still have someways to go to measure for example the CTA (call to actions) across platforms as well as industry standard sentiment analysis but probably the best of the scales in the bunch.
Level of Interactivity – Pushed (broadcast interactivity) through to Immersive & Game Like 4/10 – I am being generous here. Yes I know each project is different and some are not intended to be games, and yes immersion can exist by sitting back in a cinema and letting the story flow over and through you BUT at a very high level where is the industry in terms of providing truly personal and resonant multi platform services for users? I feel like we have stagnated from the heady days of late 90s and early 00s where there was a sense that anything is possible. Now we tend towards tent pole, locked down interactivity around web serial video or a branded casual twitch game as the majority of projects. Sure there are a handful that try to push the envelope, but even they are still variations on a theme around web serials or embedded inside a traditional genre video game. We are a long way from personalised multi platform, or massively participant interactive storytelling…possibly because many execs and managers have basically given up on pioneering new form and settled into ‘let’s not mess with story’. A new generation will need to emerge to get us up in the 8/9s here…another decade waiting.
Social Media Integration – from anti-social (well not quite the best term!) through to participatory 6/10 – One of the better performers in that almost every transmedia service has to include Facebook and/or twitter plus any of the other kids on the block from SoundCloud to Instagram and YouTube. The level of integration though still tends towards the share and spread end of the spectrum vs rich friends/update story embedding. Services that have tried early social graph scraping have been quite crude too and there is much room for improvement, so the real successes have been using the networks as vehicles for contributions into the main hubs which is a very robust and mature model now with the big four, 1.2 billion Facebook, 1 billion YouTube, 500m Twitter and 350m G+ but good work so far SMI.
Integrated Production – After thought through to Parallel Process 4.5/10 – So I have covered this in a recent post, the Ideal Transmedia Parallel Production Process , with the simple conclusion that TV and Film are very robust pipelines with Games coming along a close 2nd – they would be marked 9.5 and 9 respectively. Sadly the weakling is multi platform with pipelines that are still rarely the same for any two similar projects (OK simple websites and template based smartphone apps are pretty samey). This means projects still require a lot of overhead in managing them and devising bespoke pipelines each time. This is exacerbated by the common activity of the ancillary transmedia elements to the TV or Film or Game being tacked on at the end and the multi platform being a rushed and confused final push, never resulting in truly authentic experiences.
Job Roles & Definitions – Tower of Babel (again!) through to Locked Down (ok did these last few in a rush) – 4/10 – This is a very important category. Not only for the cross communication of teams working on complex projects and clearly needing to know (based on the job label) what they are supposed to be doing and the boundaries of responsibilites – but also for any kind of career attractor in that a role can have clear pay grades and levels attached to them. I know that a TV producer and Film producer are quite dissimilar but within their silos they are well understood. In the digital world a transmedia producer in one agency is completely different in another -sometimes a website developer in one and more of a creative officer in another. Then we open the pandora’s box of social media roles, various tech roles and the new kids experience designer or story architect – all new, vary across agencies, broadcasters and studios. Defining the JDs (job descriptions) for these I have had lots of first hand experience of and I am always amazed at my superiors who just say ‘oh make it up’ – at the end of the day their role will morph based on their skills.
Multiplatform skills training – from None to It’s everywhere (yes struggling with the scale labels here!) 2/10 – Right, one of my big bugbears. Is there enough of the right kind of training available for good storytellers, new straight out of college or seasoned pros. Can tech centric people be brought up to the interactive storytelling levels the same as storytellers who are introduced to the vast potential across platforms? I marked this very low as the training, which really needs to turn mono sports people (100m runner or high jumper) into decathletes, or at least decathletes who understand each sport intimately, is very poor. What is available at the moment tends to come from two clear directions. 1) Traditional curriculum in higher ed who have bundled a bunch of linear courses under a ‘transmedia’ umbrella but not really delivering a truly integrated, new form qualification – and especially not what the industry requires. 2) Traditional film/TV script development types who deliver more or less the same as if it was linear but then tack on discussions about platform at the end and invariably all projects end up as iPad apps or web series. There are a few different styles of training that pull together a varied mix of professionals into intensive front end boot camps and back-end handholding project development. Some of these start from ground up, some work on getting existing ideas to users, some are tech based hackathons and some are just talk fests without any tangible outcome (apart from process & evangelising). I have done many posts on this area, but industry itself is too under resourced to come up with solid so it will have to come from academia or independently run training labs. A long way to go as the labs are very sporadic and only do a handful of projects at a time.
Audience/ User Perception – Marketing through to truly unique storytelling 3/10 – An odd metric to throw in the end but like good user centric design we need to consider how the users themselves see the industry. Are they even aware of it? If we asked them ‘those apps, websites and other cool stuff’ around the film/TV/book/game – what do you think they are’ – what answer would we expect. I think it would skew heavily towards the marketing sides of the scale as the intention. In fact the diagram below I used in a session on Film Multi Platform Campaigns lab and seminar to illustrate this simple problem – that all this stuff we are doing is more about focusing on the tent pole IP/story and not entities unto themselves. We are still spending budgets as marketing vs making money as a new form – in fact a long way from the right side of the scale.
OK I didn’t work out a proper average so the above ‘overall’ is purely indicative. Where is the overall industry? Is there in fact an industry outside of the many ‘digital departments’ creating low hanging fruit services. I am not being intentionally derogatory here, but there is a long road ahead and many new opportunities around the next corner – we have, in my view, just come out of the wood and in constant transition we need to keep an eye on progress.
My next post will be a much more in depth transcript and extension of the overall presentation and as I ran out of time to really dig down deep in the actual physical presentation, it will be a longish post covering some more important challenges ahead and some solutions too, naturally. For now I embed some of the slides…