Aug 232013

Why are TV companies often the worst offenders when it comes to producing original and creative multiplatform offerings? Why are most just serving up brochure websites, the occassional ‘send in your video via YouTube’ or ‘tweet in what you think, we really want to know’? Where are all the great integrated-with-show online, game and mobile offerings, all the innovative 2nd/3rd screen stuff and really resonant social audience contribution? TV Broadcasters are fighting dwindling audiences overall (apart from great golden age US drama & singing talent shows of course) and struggling to come up with great multiplatform strategies to help reach and re-connect audiences to TV shows? Why is this?

Note: this refers generically to the TV industry not any one particular broadcaster…

Credit: Scott Adams

Credit: Scott Adams

1. Succeeding Backwards

Did that once, didn’t work, won’t do it again. Rather than failing forward or more importantly trying something and organically improving it over time, many broadcasters fall into the trap of nervously dipping their toes into new formats, only carry on doing it if it succeeds immediately, if not, do nothing to improve it and then wonder why nothing bites. There is a spiral of diminishing returns if iterative success is what you live and die on. Risk averse – Jobs on the line. Make a mistake and the kids are mortgage are in jeopardy. Best to just keep things stable, solid, not rock the boat, deliver the barest minimum. Surround everything we do in layers of ‘process’ so it looks like we are busy. Sadly many broadcasters are busy making nothing, of real value for their audience.

2. The Silo Wars

TV broadcasters and TV studio organisations are highly political and have set up division and departments that make joined up, original multiplatform projects particularly, nigh on impossible. This is often a symptom of the people structures combined with being judged on your last project not future potential. Also it is important to have a strong group of allies (or reports) who justify and keep you in your position/role, but these roles are part of a tight pre-defined structure. They are like bricks in the wall of the internal divisions set up by senior management to make it easy to, er manage the company. But this sets up many nasty habits. Competition and protection of the mini empires, fighting for budgets, duplication (we can do that too and better) and most importantly from a creative multiplatform perspective – really hard to do projects that cross these ‘locked down’ silos. If it looks good everyone fights for it, if it looks bad no one wants to touch it. Companies who have vertical products (radio,tv,film,books etc) need to build lots of internal bridges or watch all of their products fail.

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Jan 022012

Originally published (& cross translated?) Oct 2011 in Wired Magazine ‘Change Accelerators‘ by Gary Hayes 5 of 5

Image by Gary Hayes

“Anyone up to battle aliens at the local museum tonight?”

It might sound like a farfetched idea at the moment, but this question may soon be another option rather than the old invitation to go see the latest 3D blockbuster at the Cineplex. The previous four posts talked about major experiential paradigm shifts, where more and more people desire to be ‘inside their entertainment’ —literally. The need to watch a show or read a good book in isolation will never go away, but right now, a new form of immersive entertainment is taking hold that sees users hyper active online and more and more participatory outside of their homes in unique, social story locative experiences. These shifts leads us to confront some basic questions, like, “What is an experience?” and “Are some experiences more engaging than others?” as well as some not-so-basic ones, the all-important, “Who will create all these new experiences?”

Designing any new media format is challenging, especially when the goal is to create highly engaging pervasive entertainment, that is more compelling than what already exists. Since the grammar has not yet been invented, for many, it presents a quantum creative leap. Right now, there is still conflicting opinion about what to call these new types of distributed stories—and let’s not mention the transmedia wars!

One of the greatest challenges for professional storytellers, who are accustomed to traditional linear plots, is to transition into a new platform. Rather than writing straight lines to be delivered from a stationary stage or studio, they are now being pushed to create content for a shifting stage or multiple shifting stages at once— often in different cities or time zones. Given the growing appetite for this type of connected, collaborative, dynamic content, the well-established line between audience and producer is becoming increasingly blurred. Right now it remains to be seen if conventional storytellers will adapt to these new demands, or if they will be outpaced by users themselves. User who are as voracious (and in some cases as adept) in creating content as they are in their insatiable consumption of it.

I was trawling the web the other week looking for a good description of levels of experience and how to design for them. What I discovered, however, is that, much like the missing lexicon, there isn’t a lot of science to this yet either. To fill the gap for now, I created a diagram to explore increasing levels of experience or engagement: It begins at the first level of physicality as the least complex and builds its way up through mental engagement, then social inclusion, and finally the emotional and spiritual levels. These last two being the hardest ones to deliver. Narrative games, like L.A. Noire and the earlier Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophesy, are brave examples of games trying to develop emotional, interactive responses (albeit skipping most of the real social & physical elements).

For audiences in the developed world, 3D and 4/5D cinema is gradually moving into the home and has the potential to make box office visits unnecessary – not worth the added effort. Audiences are starting to expect more value and more payoff for their play time (and trouble): For many, a trip out of the house to be entertained is a transmedia experience in itself. This forces new entertainment providers to seriously take these “audience journeys” into consideration. Likewise, since marketers have begun to tell more interesting stories across places and platforms, traditional writers need to get up to speed on these changes as well. Take for example, a recent holographic product display for Lego. These types of interactive promotional events work to increase the expectations across the board for what is possible in terms of entertainment.

However, film is also slowly catching up. The internationally renowned artists’ group, Blast Theory created a locative cinema project called A Machine to See With, which is a good early evolutionary example. Less about sensory immersion and more about a healthy combination of imagination and locative storytelling, the project allowed viewers to “live” inside a cinematic story unfolding on the streets of Brighton, England. According to the San Jose Biennale last year, the experience mixed documentary material, stolen thriller clichés, and the films of Jean-Luc Godard to let participants walk through the city and receive phone calls, stepping into bit parts or leading roles.

These steps are evidence that now would be a good time for these types of indie projects to start receiving the big-budget attention that clunkers like Phone Booth did. Entertainment is truly moving toward a variation of the infamous Star Trek Holodeck, a complete surround experience that fools our brains into thinking “this is really happening” or “we are really there.” Experiences can either be delivered through layered digital storyworlds, or peppered your everyday life through fragments and bits so that your real world starts to become the storyworld.

Parallel to this transmedia trend, there are complete virtual screen environments of game driven and socially focused spaces known as MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games). These alternate “worlds” are host millions of peoples ‘minds’, melded into the characters they are playing. Many approach a game with the same gravity as a method actor taking on a new role, wholly losing themselves in an alternate reality. The way people interact with these virtual selves is also rapidly changing – making new interface technologies like the Xbox Kinect and iPad/tablets some of the fastest-selling items in history.

These new forms of entertainment will require creators to become writers of place and time, creating relevant and game-like personal experiences. Let’s imagine a simple future? You are at home watching a story experience teaser on your surround 3D head mounted display. You decide to rent it with some friends and project it on your wall-size, AR home cinema screen. It sets up the challenges; you all become the heroes. You all don in-earphones and sporty AR glasses, which have tiny cameras connected to a 6G network that point out and down, tracking the external world, as well as body movements and speech.

You undergo a physical and mental training exercise in your home to prepare for the outdoor challenges. You walk outside and start to explore your city. The open park becomes a fully rendered fantasy environment; urban streets and buildings are layered with story and critical game information. You have X-ray vision; you can see inside coffee shops and stores. Past and future scenes play out before your eyes. You talk to digitally rendered, artificially intelligent characters who respond to specific questions. You work as a team and add your own story challenges. An iBrain scan afterwards let you record your experience for others in 3D.

Welcome to your personal experiential entertainment Holodeck. Of course, you can turn it off at any time and read a good book or watch a film. But that’s so 2011.

Dec 292011

Originally published Oct 2011 in Wired Magazine ‘Change Accelerators‘ by Gary Hayes 1 of 5

Image by: Gary Hayes

We all do it.  We sit in our local multiplex waiting for the latest blockbuster film to start. The room darkens and minutes later your world has disappeared. The seats and people around you evaporate and for the next hour or so, you are living vicariously “through” the heroes in front of you. You have an out-of-body experience of sorts.

And so it has been for the last century, cinema and other large group events have fulfilled a need to be somewhere or someone else. But pervasive “surround us” technology has been quietly maturing in the background and our entertainment needs and desires are shifting. Audiences have turned into users. They want, to be part of the show, have the game surround them, influence their media, have their voices heard, and share the experience with friends—they want to not just see, but be those heroes. Because now they can.

We are living in experiential times and mass entertainment is in rapid transition. We, as producers of this content, are clearly marching down a road toward a personal entertainment Holodeck. Once the sole domain of theme parks every part of the media landscape is becoming experiential and there is a good deal evidence over the past few years of this behavioral and content media shift.

  • Cinema and home entertainment is evolving, becoming hyper-sensory, extending our sense of disbelief. There is also mass audience 3D, now with added scratch-and-sniff, smell-o-vision 4D.
  • 3D virtual game worlds are being mapped over real space. Examples such as Parallel Kingdom on smartphones or Flying Fairy and others on Sony Vita are moving outdoors.
  • Transmedia, sophisticated multiplatform storytelling embeds us into imaginary fictional story worlds. By surrounding us with a sea of content it reaches out to us across (the trans bit) our plethora of personal digital devices and channels.
  • Personalized life-games where your world and everything we do in it becomes gamified. From loyalty points to leader boards we are drawn in to a parallel, participatory social game world.
  • Augmented reality storytelling—early stages of immersive digitally layered worlds. Layers of Augmented Reality viewable on our smart-connected-camera devices surround us in media, information and story—bringing contextual entertainment to anywhere and everywhere we go.
  • Social and Live events encourage us to share our views, to extend the experience outwards into our personal networks. From Social TV through to the “look where I am” check-in apps to sticky social games and even theatrical experiences such as LARPS (live action role playing), we become part of the participatory, viral web.

Advertising is known to bring experiential marketing to new levels—surrounding us in the real world with 3D projection mapping, locative advergames, and branded flash-mobs. This shift is being driven by business too. The experiential economy has taught us that people view digital media as free, but they are willing to pay top dollar for an exclusive, all-consuming experience at a live event.

These emergent forms of media are starting to touch on virtuality, singularity, and even transhumanism as we choose entertainment that fools our minds into out-of-body, matrix-like experiences.

All of this will raise other questions such as:

  • Will heritage mono media such as print media be around in five years time?
  • Why go to the cinema when you can be in the film at home or out and about living the story?
  • Will broadcast TV become just a window on live events or will social elements evolve it?
  • Will our real world be submerged beyond recognition in layers of digital overlays?
  • Who is going to make all this stuff?

In the following four articles this week, I will try to answer some of these questions and drill down deeper into how our media world is forever being altered. From social transmedia storytelling through to pervasive all-around us locative experiences to augmented reality entertainment, I look briefly at the paradigm shifts ahead and how we as experiencers will evolve as well.

Are you experiential, yet?

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