Apr 112006

Some more words of wisdom from Gary Carter CCO of Freemantle that should have been in a previous post. These are from the final q and a and even though the questions are a little shallow the answers offer a simple ‘manifesto’ for traditional producers looking down into the black hole of digital cross-media entertainment.

How do you change the way you do things?

“That will happen by itself. Really what I am trying to say to you is that there is a distinction to be made between the entertainment that is going to be experienced on other media apart from television. Sooner rather than later I do believe that forms of entertainment will emerge that have little to do with television and a lot to do with the medium that carries them. That’s the particular area that I am interested in. I don’t have any answers though.”

The threshold for tolerance for someone watching a smallish screen form of entertainment vs sitting on your couch with a plasma. Will it be that a 30 minute show will translate to your iPod or do you think audiences not have that kind of patience that we see with a two hour feature film ?

“I have my suspicions that they will only want to consume the 2 hour feature film in certain circumstances on a very small screen or at least versions of it on a very small screen. But that is simply to use all these new devices as a distribution medium for existing content which is perfectly valid but it is not what I am about. I would prefer to think ‘what type of content would make an audience sit and want to watch a small screen for two hours’ if it were possible. But I don’t think it is going to be content that is going to come from a different form.”

What are you trying to develop (paraphrase)?

“I am trying to develop entertainment properties which are in part application and in part content – to the extent I want them more content than application. I am not primarily going into the software business but I do understand that the development of any kind of entertainment, or entertainment form will have to include some kind of software development itself. I am very interested in exploring ways in which audiences can generate their own content and invent their own rules for what they do with material in a given set of circumstances.If you look at Flickr for example, a photographic database on the web, but in my opinion it represents a paradigm for new entertainment. That you may say is surprising. Flickr is a place where amateurs and professionals can store their digital photographs online. It is a huge database but it has two interesting features. First is you can tag your photographs with your memories…and other users can tag with their memories. People started to use it for different things. Firstly it became a community which requires a certain degree of participation in the content. Secondly they started to use it in ways that people hadn’t quite imagined it would be when they first put it up…something else has started to happen. The users themselves are starting to generate their own games out of the rules of flickr. They are starting competitions to tell the best story from photos in flickr. They are starting to elaborate competitions and content of their own by playing with the rules of flickr itself. That for me is the definition of modern entertainment in this environment. The makers of flickr have made a gesture towards the audience, the audience has picked that gesture up and they have started to explore the possibilities. So the people who run flickr rather than being producers of entertainment are more like curators in this kind of environment – and I think that’s very, very significant…

I am not trying to challenge television at its heartland. In fact I am really trying to specifically get away from the conversation about television and what kind of content will be distributed on other technological devices. I think we as people who work in the media industry have to rethink the nature of our engagement with the audience.”

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Apr 102006

Gary Carter ©Gary HayesFollowing on from a couple of posts ago on the theme of how we are going to find stuff in the sea of content, one of the other overriding themes of Milia (and the Mip market) was that of the deluge of viewer created content coming over the horizon. Every panel talked about or referred in passing to vlogs, video, audio and picture messaging, mash-ups, good and bad short films, citizen journalism and so on. Some panels took it very seriously, others (mostly the older execs) talked about it being a superficial, fringe activity and unlikely to affect their business (we won’t see them around for long then).

A couple of keynotes and panels addressed the issues head on. Gary Carter, Chief Creative Officer for FreemantleMedia gave a slightly irreverent but highly witty, surprisingly educational keynote/lecture (refering to sociohistorical tech, comparing with Orson Welles and a handful of philosophers) on the wonderful, cross-platform, democratised future we are all entering into. Called “Whose TV is it anyway? his intro poked fun at the ‘death-of…” brigade – (parts sounded similar to one of my rants in the EPIC post on the same issue some months ago).

“these days, when I turn on the television, when I listen to the radio, when I listen to the radio on the web, when I watch the news on the web, when I read the newspaper, when I read the newspaper on the internet, when I read my email alerts on my blackberry, my rss feeds, when I click on google, when I listen to a podcast on my iPod, I hear and see the following messages…reality television is dead, 30 second commercials are dead, broadcasters are dead, old business models are dead, schedules are dead, tv is dead, everybody is dead except iTunes (audience laughs)…and except technologies companies, who are the new broadcasters, and brands who are also the new broadcasters, content is king and of course gameshows, gameshows are back”

His talk whose title was loosely based around the stage play “whose death is it anyway” gave a tantilising glimpse on where Freemantle particularly will be putting many of their eggs in the future…another quip “if TV is going to die, to paraphrase Joey from Friends, how will we know which way to face out furniture”.

More seriously he tried to work out what exactly we mean by the death of television and how statements like this are a nonsense misnoma. “Do we mean the device or the form…if we look at the history of mass communication technology we can learn some interesting lessons…the only mass communication technology in history ever to be replaced was the telegraph, and it can be argued that that was not mass communication”. He then got into the over used term UGC –

“We don’t own creativity. Now that audiences have the same tools as us, its only natural they want to do what we do. My advice is this” before you issue a writ, just remember that copyright was initially introduced to stimulate creativity”.

Simon Assaad ©Gary HayesMore from Gary at the end but this leads into a specific panel (not the BBC 360 content pitch on UGC) but one moderated by the transformational Brian Seth Hurst. His panel (which included David Jensen) hit upon the same themes as Gary Carter but talked more about the practicalities of engaging with the social network, getting viewer trust and some of the rights mechanics of UGC. The Panel User Generated Content: The Next Big Thing in Media? Had Simon Assaad (Heavy.com), Andy Grumbridge (Channel 4 UK),, Alex Kummerman, (Clicmobile France), Phil Jones (Extreme Sports – perhaps the first user generated brand) and David Jensen with his 12th Street Jam, Yahoo! hat on.

Simon announced like David Jensen that they will be launching a video rich upload area of the service, in this case ‘myheavy, in June of this year.

“the ecosystem of community and user generated content, is something that involves users, platforms, editorial outlets and it also involves advertisers, that really helps make the whole thing run – from our point of view we are trying to put something in the hands of users that no only gives them a way to get noticed because the currency of user generated and community is really attention. – that’s really our job to facilitate how can they get attention and then leverage that into something else – getting paid, new job, another career, people looking at them and getting credibility in their peer group”

Andy Brumbridge ©Gary HayesAndy from Channel 4 of course talked about the relationship they have with their audience through such initiatives as 4 docs and Slash music. He didn’t really throw any nuggets of wisdom into the pot but simply that they found it quite easy to ‘set-up’ the scenario’s, make it easy for anyone to take part and present the output in a compelling way and the users will follow.

David Jensen’s offering was more in the self-help, transformation space through shared story domain – he said there are comedy propositions which he didn’t show. The ‘Principles’, aims to work in communities using video arts techniques to help people document their lives. He played the trailer, which possibly was the Yahoo! pitch? Here is an excerpt…

“I want to hear your story and I want to tell you mine. You could give it a fancy name like social networks or something but really it is just our basic need to communicate, connect and identify with one another. We tell stories at 12th street Jam and we use technology so that after you hear our story you can share your own, discover yourself…Principles are based on Patrick Moore’s self discovery book of the same name. Patrick believes in the principles of 12 step recovery to address their day to day problems, the key is to do it with another person…the first principle is surrender, in other words, giving it up…”

The panel talked about the perennial issues of moderation, quality and filtering, making the users think it is their brand and rights/money issues. I asked the panel in a web world of hundreds of portals asking for user content for their top three tips to engage and get video contributions…David Jensen replied

David Jensen ©Gary Hayes“In the case of 12th St Jam and in relation to some of the data Yahoo! shared with us is the need or desire for users to bring life around the stories and not just through text and graphics. That is one of the most compelling reasons. I also think that when someone quoted that 99.99% of the content may not be usable but for certain select audiences I think it is very powerful and very usable and very inspiring. A lot of this content is from a youthful demographic and they have grown up with this technology and they want to own it and they are going to respond back to it. But even broader and niche groups who you think may not want to respond, at first they participate and then maybe eventually they will respond to contribute video stories. We need to think about building a broader demographic around UGC”

Alex from Clicmobile added “I think one of the dynamics of UGC comes from this idea of social networking. One of the first really strong things of social networking is to first build your profile, say who you are. The second thing is to build a buddy list with whom you will exchange information and be visible with your friends. The third step when you are visible, a small star among your friends then you continue the process and build content.”

Finally back to Gary Carter trying to get a handle, a term on what professional producers actually do in this world and after a few jokey false starts ended up with “to acquire and/or develop popular entertainment with audiences in an altered context.” Some final portentous words that sum up why the power is now in the hands of the audience –

“The reason were all struggling to identify new business models is because the audience hasn’t told us what they are yet. TV will continue to grow, but we need to rid ourselves of past expectations of what that means”

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Apr 052006

The conference presentations have from my perspective, been the usual mix of ‘heard-it-all-before’, occassional cool bit of a service demo, global convergence and very entertaining philosophical gazes into the future – emerging media.

The Internet and the future of TV plus The New Reality

Mark Burnett, Jonathan MillerThe last presentation I was at at the end of Tuesday, was the keynote from Mark Burnett and Jonathan Miller (CEO of AOL). The Esterel hall was jammed with around 900 people in a 800 seater I reckon. Jonathan gave an OK look at the future punctuated by a look at the success of Live8 and a sneek preview of In2TV (the latest archive on-demand offering). He came across as still immersed in technology (showing off the latest ‘q’ codec that showed DVD type quality live over the internet – rather than content or services and not as inspirational as Mark Burnett who followed.

Mark struck me as one of the lads down the local pub in the east end of London. Very practical, bit of a del-boy, all about reaching audiences through engaging stories that they care about, making money and getting to the audience wherever they are – peppered with his primary driver in all he does in terms of really integrating advertising and driving ad dollar. The most interesting aspect of his talk though was his cross-media approach and his delving into the broad area of alternate reality games. I asked him about that in the q&a session and he agreed that his new “Gold Rush” (see below) proposition is in that domain but also that producers need to really make stuff the viewer cares about otherwise they will turn away. Specifically when I asked about the differences between play (game/tv/reality combinations) and tightly scripted content he replied:

“It’s a free for all. It is not anyone or the other, its a bunch of different stuff, what the internet really stands for. Its like America, its a free market economy, a global free market economy, not a country anymore, its the internet. All things to all people, only those who will make it are those who will create content that you care about, that moves you”

The Gold Rush service to be released in Sept is a “massive undertaking” from Mark’s perspective when talking about the production tensions between his 1000 strong TV team with the AOL internet operation. Here is a transcript about the cross-over production from my audio notes:

” Goldrush which is an online treasure hunt created and produced solely for the internet. But to make it really work you still need to have the giant scale and razzamataz of the way you launch the big television special. So just to take it into story this is how gold rush starts. The sun is going down. Were at Fort Knox, the greatest bastion of where gold is stored in the USA. The music goes upbeat, a Jerry Brockheimer movie. Trucks start to leave Fort Knox, helicopters excort them, the military, police blocking off roads. 13 trucks are leaving Fort Knox as the sun is going down. Inside each of these trucks solid gold. 12 of these trucks contain $100 000 in gold and the 13th (they are not numbered) contains $1 million in solid gold. They head out under the cover of darkness to be buried in plain sight all over the continental united states. Here is a reality show that not just 16 people can play and win, everybody, and not only in America. The world can come and go to america online, decipher the clues that are very pop culture, and find out and dig up the gold. We are creating content that is in 3 minute to 5 minute segments on AOL. The content will be clues, the content will be when someone digs up the first set of gold, we will interview them and unravel how they worked the clues out. Also funny content a little old lady from Arkansas who is up in Wisconsin digging holes all over a national park, 3000 miles in the wrong direction. The guy from england who left his fiance, left his job, got on a plane to america, to find the gold in gold rush. The reality show that anybody can play and is created for AOL but we are not turning our back in this endeavour on mainstream TV networks or on publishing empires, we will use magazines and televison to support and work together to create cross-platform media. That is the latest thing I have been working on.”

He was very tight lipped when Ferhan (sat next to me) asked about how cross-media was going to be used to promote gold rush – hinting that it was going to be very viral and probably already begun – nuff said mate! The key thing in this presentation was that Mark came across as passionate about what he did. He wasn’t an interloper at these type of events – like many who shall remain nameless. His transmedia approach like many producers is simple – you deliver in the most entertaining way to where the people are, while keeping a strong eye on advertising dollar.

“We are not there making TV shows for pleasure, we are making TV shows so that the big networks and the giant portals can sell ads…” –

On demand tvhe later said that ad growth on TV networks will flatten and drop over the next year, so that leaves the portals as the next big thing then. I suspect Gold Rush may be the first global participatory TV event, although heavily borrowing from alternate reality games (this is ART, alternate reality tv, of course) it blends interactive tv, with gameshow, with puzzles, with reality tv, with location based programming. This will indeed break the mould finally – shame in retrospect it may all be about greed, but that and porn is how most break-throughs begin in media of course 😉

Further sessions I attended, conference blogs to follow when I get a few moments: Mobile video on demand, mobile Tv content showcase 1, internet tv comes of age, on-demand tv super panel, Gary Carter keynote and tv without frontiers. May do quick single paras of those to catch-up as there is some good 360 stuff on the way.
Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006