Sep 022008

Hats off to the producers, Elenor and Marcus, of this social, cross-media show. Scorched – Australis’s first ‘what-if’ disaster telemovie with a few enhancements. Did they get their fingers burnt, is it really over and was it a little too scarey?

As I have mentioned before in various articles sized posts on this blog and my cross-media item on wikipedia, Cross-Media is absolutely necessary today to reach a fragmented audience. But it is also extremely hard to do, both in terms of scale of production, online rights and also getting the many parts, that make up the whole, to ‘link’ to each other in a meaningful way. To make things even harder we have to consider a new layer today, that of social media and associated networks.


I have been running the LAMP initiative for over three years and we have been helping top notch, traditional producers of TV and Film to take their first steps down this road. We were lucky on the third ‘incubator’ residential back in 2006 to have one of the eight projects called Scorched. This had at its core a ‘traditional’ 90 minute ‘what-if’ telemovie about an Australia on fire, no water and interestingly set in a future five years away. It was led by switched-on, Ellenor Cox and Marcus Gillezeau who were really open about trying to bridge the push/pull, shout-at/listen-to divide that permeates a broadcast dominated TV landscape – especially in Australia. Since this laboratory a few things have become much more dominant, Social Networks and particularly Facebook and YouTube have come to lead the thinking of cross-media creators and as much as possible I and others tried to help the team move forward with this, their ‘trial baby’.

(It was interesting that a few thought leaders in Australian cross-media game story design were actually mentors at that LAMP residential too including writer/producer Jackie Turnure now with Hoodlum (who are probably the world leader in this area) and Cross-Media specialist Christy Dena who runs Universe Creation 101)


The telemovie (which aired in Australia last Sunday evening) is without doubt the part that became the focii of the producers and Channel 9’s thinking. Everything else I feel was seen as peripheral and an unknown commodity to the team. Indeed sponsorship issues kicked in reflecting this – but that would be revealing too much! But the Firelight team stuck at it and created a range of alternate distributed media, fictional character profiles and faux web sites that extended (in pseudo ARG style) the story world outside the narrow confines of a scheduled transmission. Why do this? Why put in all those extra hours? What’s the point?

Around a single transmission on a winters Sunday evening, there is a small chance to pull a few 100 000s into your story – much of the audience will be nibbling away on their laptops and home office computers, getting ready for a busy week. These other online elements which often seem add ons actually help introduce the back story into a persistant ‘onine’ world. They spread the narrative across time and space.

Today, any TV show or Film without a range of social media scattered around it is effectively naked, producers must learn to clothe their ‘single-point-in-time’ linear video story in online enhancements. This is nothing new, at the BBC I pioneered a lot of this ‘wrapper’ when eventually all programmes aired had a place for viewers to extend and discuss. This slowly grows your audience towards the ‘event’ (which is what TV is now of course) and keep them entranced and participatory long after – ready for the next ‘event’.

One thing that really reduced the effectiveness of the Scorched Social Media Entertainment campaign was the timing. The original plan, was to slowly build the interest in the show over 2-3 months but the broadcast TV schedulers decided, in their wisdom, to transmit a full 2 months ahead of schedule. This obviously threw the social web production into turmoil – some things you can prepare for, others make it even tougher than it needs to be. I feel for them, as I have created many cross-media packages in the past and I know they had prepared a range of crafted online layers that would have made the TV event much more compelling for by then, a ‘potentially’ captive and engaged audience.


The centre of their online cluster was a media channel site which acted as a hub. A faux news channel called CPN, or Cross Platform Network. OK a bit of an ‘insider’ name and with NineMSN branding sitting above it, it felt rather half-way house. But it served it’s purpose and gave a good sense of the story style with a range of fixed video, studio style news content – set off in the future 2021. What didn’t work well for me was embedding too much ‘viewer content’ and character supplements on this channel too. The whole front page was very busy and turned into a bit of a ‘video catalog’ site and played down the ‘viewer’ contributions. Give them their own space and make them feel ‘important’ vs literally buried underneath the ‘professional’ stuff.


Where this project really started to work for me was in the characters and story threads that had just started to permeate the web. Although many of the sites were blatantly ‘under cooked’ it had all the hallmarks of traditional Alternate Reality Entertainment (or ARGames) – some political conspiracy, a few ‘personal’ websites but also real characters reaching out to us on YouTube and with profiles on Facebook. Cassie (the lady featured in the embedded clip above) as the main link to the show and her YouTube channel and personal website have within it something that the producers could develop further, a post apocalyptic story. There are some interesting comments on the YouTube site, but little conversation back from Cassie which is absolutely critical. Given time I believe this conversation between a knowingly fictional character and a real ‘participatory’ audience would have been the most compelling part of the whole package. The two existing sites are highlighted below:


Once you commit to creating a cluster of fiction online the hard part is deciding how thinly to spread yourself vs how deep to go with a few threads. The Residents Against Water Theft is an example of somewhere in the middle. Like Cassie above they have a few videos and their own 5 or 6 page site and again over time this could have grown into something far deeper and may have sprung (excuse the pun) a life of its own. The two Residents Against Water Theft are linked below.

And now to the strongest links to the main Telemovie. A site about a premier Angela Boardman and the energy company with whom she had been very naughty with. OK I actually went to these sites after the TV transmission and found they were true to the narrative but left me wanting more – they are a veneer but nicely designed and ready for growth. Again I would have loved it for Firelight’s sake (the production company) if they had had time to develop this and allowed some conversations from ‘players/audience’ with the crooked premier. Perhaps she could have shown her flaws outside the drama so on TX we felt we already knew her. Simple and no doubt planned. The simple pre-tx character portraits are very nicely done regardless of the depth and I love the look and feel of Argon energy – it has a proof of concept feel but then I popped over to a few similar energy sites, many of the new ‘save the planet’ ones exhibit a similar nievity in design too.

One site they linked too that provided a considerable element of depth was H20 transport. This was a 2012 site with some deep links and history about a scarily likely business in the future, water haulage. This element of the story arc was not apparent in the telemovie as it was linked from the Argon company aboce and one wonders (without spoiling the film) if this element is altered by the story itself if the site needs to update somewhat? After all the corrupt dealings between government and Argon corporation was exposed. Something about the company below:

Established in 1997, H20 Transport Group continues to offer our customers a superior level of service and solutions for the great environmental challenges of our time.

Our emphasis on customer’s needs has been the focus of our business since it originated over fifteen years ago as a small, family-owned water transport group.

Today, having grown to be one of Australia’s leading and largest transport logistics groups, we have built on our traditional base to become a widely recognized and award winning logistics provider in the national market place. Our comprehensive fleet of trucks and storage facilities, coupled with the friendliness and ‘can do’ attitude of our staff means whenever you need water in a hurry or need to move water, H20 Transport Group are well equipped to provide you with a total solution, at a very competitive price.

So talk to the company where great service is simply second nature – H20 transport group.


Finally a little icing on the cake as Jade Hall aka Bushrangerhall, is Cassie’s boyfriend and has his own YouTube channel. He provides a little extra ammunition for Cassie’s story and gives it credibility. It would have been great to see a longer format drama play out online between these two and it might still. This was the intention and it had started on Facebook (see image below).


I am sure the Scorched team really started to consider what happens to these online living, approachable characters ‘after’ the TV event. It shows that you respect and want to engage with the audience if you take into account their ‘needs’ once they are engaged. So many times in the past we have seen a big viral campaign lead up to a TV show and then the whole thing is left to rot and die – indeed several social virtual world spaces, especially generically branded ones have succumbed to the same fate. In many cases the online drama is switched off but the worst case scenario is actually something that really makes me very sad – to see eager and loyal ‘fans’ and participators creating content, wanting a dialogue yet they are presented suddenly by silence at the other end. A relationship dies.


Admittedly there were many things ‘I’ would have done differently, and unlike more innovative stakeholders, NineMSN seemed pretty insistent on making sure the ‘extras’ didn’t stray too far from its shores, hence a fourth wall breaking, branding situation on the main hub. I know many participants would have worked out that this was a fictional ‘package’ but they are also willing to suspend their disbelief if you don’t spoil it at every visit by having ‘real world branding’. I also know the effort, the 24/7 requirement of being in a hundred sites at once, and trying to do this scale with a small team can be back-breaking. For the larger scale ARGs a pyramid structure of puppet masters are put in place of course to handle large numbers of ‘participants’…remember cross-media services such as The Beast and I Love Bees were getting 3-5 million players, you are not going to manage those with a team of two!

The views on YouTube and visits to the websites are pretty small in real terms, but remember this is about engagement and dwell. Imagine you spent millions and months creating your 1 hour TV movie. Perhaps 500 000 intensely watch it (I say that as meaning, deeply engrossed vs background). So simple calculation 500 000 viewer hours. By comparison online is seen as minimal but hold on. Lets say only 20 000 are active online followers. Each spending about 60 minutes a week plugged into your distributed show which has been going for 6 months (24 weeks). Do the math. 20000*1*24 = 480 000 ‘user’ hours. But remember these are engaged and non-passive contributors, creating impressions across the social web that spread to another 500 000 and it grows and grows. The show is a blip – OK DVD sales for the main film and 160 minutes of HD extras increase that ‘dwell’ with the IP, but even that is generally only doubling the engagement with the story.

So what we have in Scorched is something that has real R&D value for all concerned, especially rather ‘heritage’ media, Australian commercial free to air TV. It was not as slick, deep or well managed as some of the higher end ARGs or online stories we see from the likes of Jane McGonigals (Serious ARGs – World Without Oil, Superstruct) or Hoodlums (Lost, Emmerdale, Fat Cow Motel, Spooks) of the world, but that is not unexpected considering the low budget that Scorched had compared with the others mentioned. Overall though something that will definitely open a few more Australian minds to alternative story telling and to be honest Australia is a world leader already in this space. Ellenor and Marcus now join those ranks. Well done to all.


Matt Costello 02SCORCHED is Australia’s first ‘what-if’ disaster telemovie. – “The Year is 2012 and Australia has run out of water.”

There is a lot more than meets the eye to Scorched, destined to be Australia’s biggest landmark doco-drama event this year. The social media, community generated story elements that build up to and after the 90 minute tele-feature being transmitted on Chn 9 in December have been work-shopped through LAMP workshops, on-going consultancy and the 3rd residential in Perth back in 2006.

Marcus Gillezeau and Ellenor Cox are the co-directors of Firelight, the creators of this groundbreaking drama format. They are wonderful example of leading independent producers who have embraced the significance of creating entertainment that spreads across platforms and time but also draws in content from the audience and makes the whole ‘experience’ more collaborative and engaging.

The surrounding online service is a hybrid of an Alternate Reality Game, an Episodic drama delivered via social media sites (such as Facebook and YouTube) and a range of fake (faux) websites that are part of the futuristic element of the story. The main hub site is CPN News, a 24-hour live news channel broadcasting stories from 2012 and including many of the lead characters – these include notable actors Vince Colosimo, Georgie Parker, Rachel Carpani, Cameron Daddo and Les Hill. You can already follow one of the characters, Cassie, on her own YouTube channel Cassie Has Dreams – which follows her ‘accelerated’ story up to the beginning of the tele-movie. More from the team and the official press release below. More coverage here:

Good luck on this project, there will be a great deal of expertise gained from this journey – for audience and producers alike!

SCORCHED is a groundbreaking all-media event incorporating television, online and user generated content that will revolutionise the way Australian’s engage with television drama. A gripping 90 minute tele-feature broadcast on the Nine Network will be augmented by an extensive 8 week interactive online drama series that will lead into and ultimately conclude the drama surrounding an ensemble of characters who find themselves engulfed by raging bushfires in a futuristic Sydney that has, due to the effects of global warming, completely run out of water.

In the two months leading up to the TV broadcast of SCORCHED the audience are invited into this future world-without-water through (which will be promoted and co-located at ninemsn). Upon entering this online world the audience is introduced to CPN News, a futuristic 24-hour live news station broadcasting stories from 2012. Our CPN news anchors guide the audience through the headline stories of the week focusing attention on how the ongoing drought and water scarcity across Australia has permeated all aspects of life as we know it. CPN’s main reporter Susan Shapiro (Rachel Carpani) is one of the main characters in the tele-feature. Many of Susan’s online interviews are with characters the audience will again meet in the TV broadcast.

CPN encourages the audience to send in stories and videos of what life is like for them in these hard times. These videos and postings are a featured part of the website and provide a novel way for the online community to interact with the future and see their offerings posted on a high-profile website. CPN also points viewers to their featured viewer of the week – Cassie Hoffman, an 18-year-old girl living in Bourke who has become obsessed with diarising her life on her website ‘Cassie Has Dreams’ to compensate for the loneliness of being one of the few remaining teenagers left in her dying town. The audience can interact with Cassie and the other characters via email, watch faux news reports and read numerous stories which set the scene on a national and global level

With potential synergies alongside Jane McGonigal’s Superstruct (“the world has 23 years left” collaborative ARG) happening in similar timeframe, SCORCHED is produced for the Nine Network by Goalpost Pictures Australiaand Essential Media and Entertainment, in association with FirelightProductions. It is financed by the Nine Network, Granada International, the Film Finance Corporation, the New South Wales Film and Television Office and the Australian Film Commission, and was developed through the Australian Film Television & Radio School’s Laboratory of Advanced Media Production (LAMP).


Firelight Productions are the original concept creators behind the multi-platform delivery of Scorched, a major 90-minute feature-length television and online event that will be broadcast via the Internet and on Nine Network Australia.

Scorched, produced by Goalpost Pictures Australia and Essential Media and Entertainment, in association with Firelight Productions, will revolutionise the way Australian’s engage with television drama. A gripping 90 minute tele-feature will be augmented by an extensive 8 week online drama series that will lead into, provide clues for, and ultimately conclude the drama surrounding an ensemble of characters who find themselves engulfed by raging bushfires in a futuristic Sydney that has, due to the effects of global warming, completely run out of water.

Starring Cameron Daddo, Vince Colosimo, Rachel Carpani and Georgie Parker, the Scorched experience will include the most sophisticated and comprehensive cross-platform element yet created for a television event in this country. The interactive online component will launch in mid August, leading up to the tele-feature broadcast later in the year.

Co-directors of Firelight Productions, Ellenor Cox and Marcus Gillezeau, who engineered the cross-platform delivery of Scorched over 2 years, are enthusiastic screen content creators with all-media capabilities who are at the cutting edge of cross-platform content generation in Australia. Their business began in 1997 as a production company specialising in adventure and social political documentaries for international television, but is now focused primarily on all-media projects after the couple identified a considerable niche in the marketplace.

Gillezeau states, “The emergence of new screen technologies created strong demand on content that can deliver across a multitude of platforms. In addition to that, audience interactivity has become paramount to engaging the widest possible audience. Firelight has spent a number of years researching and experimenting in all-media content. Scorched is a breakthrough all-media event that is the culmination of our work to date in this area.”

Scorched is their flagship project, financed by Nine, Granada International, the Film Finance Corp, the New South Wales Film and Television Office and the Australian Film Commission, and developed through the Australian Film Television & Radio School’s Laboratory of Advanced Media Production (LAMP), which is Australia’s premier emerging media research and development production lab.

“When we started to develop the all-media concept for Scorched there was little that had been done before in Australia that combined such an extensive new media proposition with such a significant television offering as a prime time movie on Australia’s leading network.” says Cox. “We looked at overseas projects and were really making it up as we went along. The knowledge we have gained about all-media delivery through developing Scorched now informs all of our future projects and Firelight has become a leader in cross platform content creation.”

Scorched hooks the viewer in with an intriguing conservation message – the reality of global warming makes the idea of a city that has run out of water seem a likely possibility. Gillezeau and Cox wanted to bring to the mainstream audience’s attention the issues of water scarcity and drought in Australia but needed to find a way of making these subjects seem ‘sexy and entertaining’. Hence the concept of Scorched was borne. In the weeks leading up to the Scorched television broadcast, audiences are invited into this future world without water through to meet Cassie Hoffman – an 18-year-old girl living in Bourke who has become obsessed with diarising her life on her website ‘Cassie Has Dreams’ to compensate for the loneliness of being one of the few remaining teenagers left in her dying town.

Gillezeau explains, “Once you enter, you can follow a serialised drama (60 minutes of 2-3 minute webisodes) which unfolds on a daily basis. The prequel drama takes the viewer right up to the very first scene of the telemovie. Web enthusiasts will be able to participate in an interactive conspiracy-style investigation online, which will arm them with bonus material with which to enjoy one of the unfolding storylines in the telemovie when it airs. After the TV broadcast the drama continues with the sequel to the online story and continuing news reports.”

Firelight is currently supervising producer on Storm Surfers, Dangerous Banks – a documentary about big wave pro-surfers that will also have a significant cross platform delivery. Storm Surfers, financed by Red Bull, the New South Wales Film and TV Office, Discovery Networks Asia and Off The Fence (Netherlands) is one of the first documentary projects in Australia to utilise the new producer’s tax offset. It will air on the Discovery Network, prior to which fans and surfers from all over the world will be able to follow their heroes’ journey comprehensively online and, like the pro-surfers themselves, track the storm that will generate the big waves, and ultimately predict when the waves will hit.

Firelight’s mission is to produce innovative programming for all-media, multi-platform delivery, and to remain at the forefront of cross platform screen content creation in Australia and internationally. Upcoming projects include the interactive online drama series Innocent which follows the story of 6 accused young drug traffickers and the reality TV series Kids in Charge where a team of tweens has 10 days to deliver a Rock show spectacle.

Marcus Gillezeau is also the author of the critically acclaimed book ‘Hands On – A practical guide to production and technology in Film, TV and New Media’. The book has been an instant hit at universities and several major conferences across the country.

Since 1997 Firelight have produced more than 20 programs and series including My Home Your War (SBS), Cave in the Snow (SBS), Breaking Bows and Arrows (SBS), The Artist The QC & The Refugee (ABC), Painting with Light in a Dark World (SBS) and Afrika: Cape Town to Cairo (ABC and National Geographic). In 2001 they produced Australia’s first fully convergent, multi-platform documentary project Little Dove Big Voyage for Network 7. Their films have won numerous international and domestic awards and have screened all over the world on television and in film festivals.

For more information, please contact:

Angie Fielder
0403 819 644

Jul 162008

Interesting. I have a screen here at work spiting out various random on the spot blog posts from the Future of Media Summit . Looking at the themes and points coming out forcibly takes me back to the mid to late 90s and even earlier. At today’s conference there is lots of discussion about how media is fragmenting, democratization of distribution, how personalization (your personal media cloud) is really where it’s at, the live web and a plethora of points about how video on the web has erm, generated a new advertising model. Yawn. Now I remember why I avoid ‘Future of…” conferences…

Seems all I have read from the Future Exploration Networks innovative and ground breaking (video link up – really, a video conference link…I did one of those in 96?!) between Sydney and San Francisco are not really exploring the future but each others guess as to what is really happening at the moment – cause no one really has a clue. It is deja vu, a recap of many European/Far East versions of the future from 10-15 years ago. In fact looking at most of my presentations and posts from years ago on this and other blogs cover most of the points, especially about personalised media (oh yes thats the title). For example Ross Dawson’s‚ future of media topics I covered in presentations circa 1999 – a few recents are in my slideshare group which I rarely promote or on this PDF page which has some earlier ones and notably in this fun view of 2009 I did in Perth back in 2000 (compare the two). First here is oft self-promoted Ross Dawson’s vision of what is shaping the Future of Media…

Ross Dawson 2008

Media and entertainment industries growing massively. Seven driving forces shaping media

  1. Increasing media consumption – ‘we want to swim in an ocean of media all the time’
  2. Fragmentation – proliferation of new channels (mobile, video, etc)
  3. Participation – people sharing their stories
  4. Personalisation – of content & advertising, issues with privacy
  5. New revenue models – advertising networks
  6. Generational change – younger people becoming dominant in marketplace
  7. Increasing bandwidth – shifting what is currently being delivered over other channels > iPhone mania

Personal Cloud – content we own and create – From this rains down the ‘precipitation of participation’ – sharing our photos, stories and lives with others – To what extent do we control our Personal Cloud?

Yes these are and have been shaping the future of media for the past 15 years at least – and then 2) my slightly cheeky predictions…drum roll…Future of Media in 2009 (from 2000’s Small Screen Big Picture)

Gary Hayes 2000

The World in 2009

  • Every individual can become a producer of content which is available to everyone else – if they want it.
  • Now anything is available on demand from anywhere over vast broadband networks.
  • Everything is ‘pulled’, only personally relevant content is ‘pushed’.
  • Everything can be made portable & kept forever
  • The home becomes a personalised entertainment and life system where everything is centralised – games, video, shops, audio, text, email & vmail & banking.
  • CD collections, home movies, personal photographs are stored here too
  • ‘Open Standards’ killed off all proprietary platforms in 2005 and the large ‘trusted’ traditional broadcasters collaborated and produced one navigation system that all companies adopted
  • All ‘content programme brands’ have elements in all of the above
  • The words ‘TV’ ‘radio’ & ‘internet’ disappeared from our vocabulary. Even the word ‘interactive’ went – everything is now interactive
  • The World Wide Web of early 2000 is regarded as a ‘low resolution’ pilot
  • Scheduled ‘live video’ becomes a special group shared event – there is only one broadcast channel in each country – these events generate most online discussion
  • True to all predictions the ‘interactive’ fridge becomes the most popular, connected device in the house

OK as with all “Future of Media” conferences we come to expect lots of waffle, fluffy guesses as to where Social Media or New Gadgets (iPhone, yawn) will really take us. Most talks I did for TV-Anytime and BBC around 2000-2003 covers most of the discussion around future of privacy, targeted ads and personal content systems. But bottom line it really it is about paranoia on the part of traditional media makers able to afford turning to high fee ‘futurist’ consultants who rarely produce anything apart from a ‘compelling’ stage presence and a book or two to sell. OK I am possibly being cruel but if the content industry is going to grow up it should stop looking for shiny jewels from crystal ball gazing, web trawling, big picture, space cadets and look to hands-on strategists who live and breathe this stuff. Most of the former are jumping on any myth/hype they can use to leverage interest in their ‘expertise’ but it is rarely about the future and often about regurgitating the past within the boundaries of this fresh new high bandwidth, on-demand, two way network. I have talked long and hard in the past about the separation between commentators and producers around cross-media and I have also pointed out academia needs to up its game. I don’t bother to win friends, as you can tell.

Unlike several folk at the Future of Media conference I rarely self-promote as being worthy of title of visionary (and any one up pens their own websites with those words in the title should be seriously steered clear of). But to be like them I thought I would throw in a bunch of my own quotes I normally pull out for wall stickers on LAMP courses: (Some others here)

“If you are not passionate about the empowerment potential of your interactive creation or find something new in it yourself at every turn, you should not call yourself an interactive producer” Gary Hayes 2005

“True interactivity should require users to give something of themselves and for the ‘system’ to resonate with that. If all you ask them to put in is selecting a series of vacuous pre-built options, their engagement is minimal and all they will truly get out is a series of vacuous outcomes.” Gary Hayes 2005

“Over a 15 year, medium term broadband future terms such as Film, TV, Radio & the Internet will start to disappear from our next generation’s vocabulary. Audiences will interactively share & access video, audio and games across a sea of devices, partly oblivious of appointment-to-view in the 20th Century.” Gary Hayes – Snr Producer, BBC. 2000

“The ‘My Media Generation’ are experienced multitaskers. They are used to browsing, jumping between devices and physical locations. Services that do not integrate this in to the design will be lost in the noise. One must create story that permeates their world, playing with the fact that they are already enjoying self-induced, parallel experiences.” Gary Hayes 2005

“The future may be cross-media but it is also interactive multi-modal devices at home and on the move that connect to every source and every media type” Gary Hayes 2005

“Just as humans eventually were unable to tame the complexity and scale of the physical universe so it will be with our media universe. The only course of action will be to send personalised intelligent agents, reconnaissance drones, deep into the content cosmos to capture relevance. The personalized future will be a world where rich audio visual and game media orbits around the digital you – occasionally being sucked into your ‘realm’ like stars pulled by forces unknown into black holes” Gary Hayes, Space Cadet 2004

We are all guilty of Weasel Words when we are asked the ‘where is it all heading question’ but there are others who base their careers on them. Typical ones heard in many a consultation session, “Social Media has enormous implications, it will change the business forever” or how about “Video on the web will produce a sea change of advertising models” or “These social virtual browser based web worlds could be very important for your brand” – client: yes we guessed that, but please tell us how it will in detail, what we need to do to change, in detail and by the way, have you ‘lived’ our business.

But lets make this post interactive, which one are you hands-on strategist or space cadet weasel word waffler?


May 142006

Just got back from leading the third LAMP lab in Perth (there will be more info about the great projects in the lab on the official site over the next few days) and I was also speaking at various multi-platform, digi distribution events – during which I caught up with a couple of NY Times articles on a subject that pervaded all of them – what are the emerging business models or to put it more bluntly “Tell me how to make money with all this new stuff”.

A few experts talk at great length about some of the new roads ‘paved with gold’ being laid, for example at Milia I recently posted about in great detail, models as confused as they were bold and optimistic – the fact that digital music is still only around 5% of the market, iPod music around 22 tracks per device (5 videos per device) with on-going Apple favoritism and iTunes store lock-out, then a rather poor 3G video download history worldwide (around 1% of overall revenues – before the telcos eat into it).

Firstly I believe no one knows what the most lucrative avenues will be, we are just at the tipping point, and certainly no one knows the models that will truly drive the online on-demand industry forward. The fact that audiences are transitioning and shifting to anytime, anywhere consumption is obvious, so ‘perhaps’ we can get them to pay, somehow. We all know audiences are consuming content from short linear clips, traditional programming, films, virtual worlds and more importantly giving the professionals a run for their money by creating content themselves across a multitude of devices. As the NY Times article “Can TV’s and PC’s Live Together Happily Ever After?” points out, until rights and revenue share models are worked out, we will exist in a ‘trial by error’ market, dominated by entrenched broadcast while fiddling with alternatives that slowly eat into the true on-demand competitor, the DVD market.

Just in the last few weeks, for example, Warner Brothers announced it would make hundreds of its hit films and shows available this summer for paid download via the file-sharing site BitTorrent; Fox Entertainment has joined the other major networks on iTunes with downloadable episodes of “24” and “Prison Break”; TiVo announced a deal with the Web video outfit Brightcove that intends to give people with TiVo boxes access to Internet fare on their TV sets; and ABC and CBS have begun streaming replays of some of their most popular shows on their Web sites, offering a new advertising-supported way to tune in.

Even though no one seems to be making much money yet on these ventures and there are still chewy legal and rights issues to sort out, there is palpable excitement — a sense that the TV and movie industries are going to head off the pirates and file-sharing teens by making their products widely available online in legal ways.(snip)

But here is the swirling myth — or is it The Big Lie? — about convergence: It’s not as close as all of that activity suggests. For various reasons, watching TV programs delivered by the Internet on regular TV looks like it will remain tantalizingly out of reach for all but the most enthusiastic gadget junkies for some time.

The point of all these new video-content deals being struck by networks and studios is, of course, to avoid making the mistakes of the music industry, which focused too much on rear-guard actions like lawsuits and not enough on figuring out new ways to give the fans what they wanted.

The music analogy only goes so far, however. The way music is promoted and sold and listened to bears scant resemblance to TV and video products. Ventures like the one announced by Warner and the big networks are not really an alternative way of receiving conventional TV, but rather an alternative to buying or renting DVD’s coupled with an intriguing new market opportunity to reach viewers on their desktop or mobile devices.

The model that is proving the most popular at the moment is the grow the on-demand brand by taking part in the land-grab-give-stuff-away-free and draw audiences to your content (as I blogged about in Media Addiction, the next wave). This is a real issue to those who want money upfront to develop their content, they are still stuck in the old model – finance then produce, don’t do anything until you have the budget. Makes sense, up to a point. In a digital media world where the ratio of advertising revenue to content sales is 8 to 1 where advertisers are looking for audiences and those audiences are moving into the digital domain it is a hard sell to content makers to say, audiences first, advertising funded budgets later. Those who will win of course in this nightmare for some scenario are those with long back catalogues who can afford to grow audiences on content that has been on the shelf gathering dust and can be given away free (ABC, Warner, BBC and others spring to mind and they are moving already) – or those enlightened few who can create compelling interactive, cross-media content that is relatively low budget but captivates, this is where the fleet of foot independents can really make their mark. More on that later. NY Times’s second article “Digital Media brings profits (and tensions) to TV studios” talks about the trickle of revenue from new platforms and how that is being ‘argued’ over, through to the carrot (the fact that DVD’s, on-demand, are really driving the market. It also points out that mobisodes are still very immature…

Though the studio would not release exact figures, each of the series’ 120 episodes has cost just under $2.5 million to make, for a total of about $300 million. Licensing fees from the Fox Network are not believed to have exceeded $1.3 million an episode, for a total of no more than about $156 million. The rights to broadcast the series internationally have probably been sold for $1 million or more an episode, for a total of at least $120 million. All told, that revenue — about $276 million — has not been sufficient to eliminate the deficit and provide a profit. DVD sales, however, have. “The DVD opportunity on this series has enabled us to produce the show that is on the air,” Ms. Walden said.

Over the last year, the Fox studio has also sought to find an audience for “24” and another series, “Prison Break,” through episodes available on cellphones. In the case of “24” — which involved one- or two-minute-long episodes, the first of which did not feature actors from the series — the results have thus far been modest: fewer than one million downloads worldwide, the studio said.

and continues with the fact that DVD’s are amazingly the current saviour of the TV industry in that forecast revenues are the only thing allowing big budget TV shows to get made.

But opportunities to get that material into ancillary markets much sooner — on DVD, as well as, more recently, via the Web and cellphones — have emerged as potential new sources of revenue for the studios that produce that content. But negotiations over how exactly to get a show to the point that it can be downloaded onto someone’s iPod, for example, have created new tensions between studios and networks, including over how to share the additional revenue. Web revenue is small now, but if it ever approaches the scale of some series on DVD, the prize could be substantial.

Consider that the Fox studio has tallied sales of more than $200 million worldwide since the first season of “24” went on sale on DVD in 2002 — more money than the studio had made from the sale of its international broadcast rights and more money than it will likely reap in syndication.

The audiences appetite for content when they want it has been known to studios and TV execs for a good while – but I suspect audiences want to ‘own’ content as well and the current mobile, DRM protected broadband files (that stop you moving it around your universe) is slowing progress down considerably, but that is another story. The article continues to echo my original point that no one knows the most effective models (beyond developing your brand at low cost and a handful of others that we keep close to our chests) and I will leave the last word to ABC and Warners in this regard.

Mark Pedowitz, president of Touchstone Television and executive vice president of the ABC Entertainment Television Group, who negotiated the iTunes deal, said: “Here’s the underlying thing you must understand — it’s all brand new. Everyone is feeling their way through what is the appropriate model. And they’re keeping each deal short.”

Indeed, the half dozen or so digital-content deals involving major networks and studios over the last few months would have been unthinkable as recently as last year.

“The landscape is evolving, literally by the day,” said Bruce K. Rosenblum, president of the Warner Brothers Television Group. “What makes prudent business sense may look very different 12 months or 24 months from now. A lot of intelligent people are trying to make the best case where the eventual landscape will fall out.”

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2006

Never the Twain

 Posted by on November 22, 2005 at 6:43 pm  Cross Media, Divergence, Transformation, TV  No Responses »
Nov 222005

The current post drought is due to life and conferences taking over. I am currently in Perth with limited connectivity (in the worlds most remote city) presenting at Small Screen Big Picture. Then flying off to Melbourne to take part in a X-Media Lab and prepare for LAMP which is being held from 4-9 December in Sydney. I would have liked to have attended what looks like a great conference in Sydney at the moment Interactive Entertainment 2005 but was pre-booked into ‘old school’ conference. All in all a busy time but as I started writing this it dawned on me the distinct range of media conferences one finds at the moment.

1 – Traditional industry trying to squeeze the last bit of juice from the old models
2 – Academic research and creatives identifying and creating the emerging models
3 – Technical groups – standards & corporate trying to second guess 1 and 2 by making new ‘broadcast/band’ tools and devices that last less and less time
4 – Old new media groups talking about the even older new media ‘good ole days’

OK no. 4 is not really a main one but they do exist. Sadly there is little cross-over with all of them. I have heard from emerging media folk who wouldn’t be seen dead at a no. 1 and also industry folk who regard no. 2 as irrelevant. The same industry folk avoid listening to presentations about no. 2 even in their own conferences as it ‘really scares’ them. I have been to NAB’s and IBC’s where the new media elements are banished to some far corner of a hall, while Sony, Panasonic and Apple and others flog editing and camera gear to advertising financed traditional film, press and TV producers. At the other end we get trend analysts at emerging media conferences referring to these folk as dinosaurs, already dead, yet jumping at the chance to appear on TV or in the paper and play the game.

There are a lot of double standards and confusion – the conference circuit reinforces the divide that is appearing all over the industry at the moment. A few more posts following that try to encapsulate the sudden upswing in the crashing of these two worlds – happening in the ‘real’ industry while conference goers happily carry on sneering at each other.

Posted by Gary Hayes ©2005

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