col·labo·rate (kə lab′ə rāt′)
1. to work together, esp. in some literary, artistic, or scientific undertaking
Almost 13 years ago I recall evangelising to various groups of top BBC exec producers, writers & creatives that the internet is an important new medium. “Lets be clear” I would say “audiences will have unlimited choice not only to watch what they want, when they want but to create content themselves for each other. You will need to change your relationship with them and find ‘time’ for this new relationship, to make any kind of impact in their lives in the future”. Time is the operative word. Is there time to win audiences back? Do you have time to spend collaborating with them and creating meaningful vs flash-in the-pan viral, transmedia content? Is there time before you become mostly irrelevant? I am still saying the same things to today’s generation of producers.
Traditional providers – it’s very simple. You no longer control distribution or dictate what gets consumed. Apart from a few mass produced, live, appointment to view episodics, reality shows & hyped box office the rest is in competition with people-produced, personally relevant media & conversation.
A decade plus on, I am still beating this same drum but with dwindling air time, declining advertising revenues and funding, the eyeballs have gradually shifted somewhere else - ‘they’ (traditional push providers – TV, film, performing arts & even religion [see below]) are starting to listen even if they insist on bringing a lot of old business model baggage with them. But this post is about a perfect storm that is upon us. Ubiquitous multi platform technologies are now available to anyone to tell their stories across a sea of services. Social Media everywhere, anytime, democratised transmedia storytelling, the new product on the online shelves are people, individuals effectively marketing themselves, a brand of one. All of this competing against traditional media TV, Film, Radio & Papers. This post (albeit a bit preachy!) raises a question, that was going to be the title of this post – Collaborate or die?
The reasons to ‘be 360′ are now no brainers for younger content makers but there is still confusion as to the differences between key elements 1) Social Media 2) Digital Multi platform 3) Transmedia Storytelling plus collateral fallout 4) Marketing and why these are combining to create a Perfect Storm
Firstly Social Media. Professionals who say most of the stuff made by the audience is crap, shame on you. The video of the daughter in her first stage show, the budding musician, the goal scored by ‘dad’ which won the tournament or the emotional journal by the son on the death of his friend are a million times more meaningful than most of the formulaic, over-polished content made for general, mass consumption. Personal relevance. Personally relevant not just to the individual but to groups of 10, 100, 1000 the growth of the tribe. There are individuals with captive audiences of 100 000 or more – bigger than many broadcast TV channels. It is their party on their terms. The question for professional content producers and stuck in a rut digital agencies is ‘why haven’t you been invited to their party’? Are you seen as an entity without personality? Who doesn’t listen and respond? Perhaps. More later in the post.
Looking next at transocialmedia (a combination of social and transmedia – single words are never enough!) with an intro by Henry Jenkins, Guru of Transmedia thinking (the director, Comparative Media Studies Program at MIT) clearly describes one part of this revolution.
I did an interview for Encore (printed and online magazine) which raised the usual questions again, more from a traditional storytelling perspective, I copy some of that interview below when asked to give a simple perspective.
“A transmedia project allows people to globalise and become masters of their own destiny”
360 IS THE NEW ANGLE
…Whether they call it multi-platform or cross-platform, the trend is on everybody’s lips, but being a growing sector and most importantly one which is still inventing itself every day many practitioners are still confused about the benefits and execution of 360 storytelling
A starting point, says Hayes, is understanding that no project should assume it has to be everywhere. The decision depends on the specific audience and its platform-use behaviours, to determine the best style of narrative for that particular segment.
“For example” says Hayes, “to build trust in a fiction character and to make them appear ‘real’, then one should consider social media elements and getting them embedded in communities
“If you want to create a `fictional-it-just-happened’ large scale event, on-the-scene news videos seeded to influential sites are the most appropriate way”
Another important lesson is that online and mobile should not be seen as ‘thin’ or ‘superficial’ when compared to traditional media, because beyond “silly videos’ on YouTube or celebrity gossip on Twitter they allow content creators to reach out into their audience’s worlds and draw them into their story world. This is done by “respecting the audience and allowing them to contribute”
“The contribution can be as small as a rating or a one in comment, but when that one line is truly founded from their own experience and it is then listened to there is nothing more meaningful to that person
“If you look just beneath, the surface,humanity is slowly learning to tell its stories again. Those who used to push need to be `experts’ at traversing the many platforms that now exist”
Hayes expects most Fringe questions to revolve around money, mainly funding and most importantly, what’s the point in doing the ‘extra’ work if it doesn’t make money? But with audiences spending more time online than at cinemas or watching TV and diminishing revenues from traditional film and television, the ‘extra’ becomes a necessity for content creators.
The main question, he argues, should be how to create a community that is interested enough in the content to be willing to regularly and directly pay its creators for it.
“A transmedia project allows people to globalise and become masters of their own destiny by controlling the whole end-to-end distribution chain” explains Hayes
A tempting proposition indeed; who doesn’t want to be masters of their domain?
The above chat was abridged (more in appendix below) and related to the SPAA Fringe here in Australia where I ran a ‘very’ short workshop, some clinic round tables and did a few interviews. The discussions on the round tables brought it home to me, yet again how far traditional ‘story tellers’ have come, but also how far they have to go in understanding the whys, hows and who for’s of multi platform (at the digital industry end of the spectrum) and transocialmedia story marketing, at the other. Here is a another very simple tip -
Think deeply about your collaborative audience, then, when you understand them, give that community something of value
Many traditional luvvy filmmakers and performance artistes couldn’t give a damn about their audience. It is all too often about their artistic statement, purity of expression and audiences who are lucky to be given such delights. I am always still forcibly reminded of renowned media producer David Puttnam who is famously self quoted as likening traditional producers to (paraphrased) ‘throwing a grenade over the wall of a children’s playground and walking away, not bothering to see the consequence’. OK a dramatic and tasteless analogy, but that type of behaviour today where open opinion, recommender communities and where one 140 character tweet can kill a multi-billion dollar company, is old school and not acceptable. This attitude is also highlighted in recent posts from colleagues Peter Giles and Martin Walsh here respectively “If it doesn’t exist online, it doesn’t exist” and The Future of Filmmaking: Seizing back control of the Six Pillars of Cinema -
Being seen to be watching the effects your stories are having on participant audiences is not about stalking anymore, in many communities it is expected.
Rather paradoxically I practised a little spreadability (If it doesn’t Spread it’s Dead – Henry Jenkins) experiment myself just recently. The ‘social media counts’ app, I had in my mind as something that would be useful to a global community, those wanting to see the scale of emerging social business and creativity. Thanks to hundreds of like-minded people spreading it to millions shows how something of value (not viral), distributes itself. Over 200 sites embedded in the 1st two weeks, 1600 retweets, 5000 views a day to the page etc etc: Here is a small capture of that.
The reason I said this was paradoxical is that the app itself is about numbers, demonstrating the torrent of social activity online & on mobile. It demonstrated the power of personal discovery and distribution in and of itself. If this was a new video show or cool gadget the reach would have been the equivalent of many TV spots. Not about volume necessarily but in engagement and dwell. Keeping your community engaged is firstly about being a trusted part of that community by being seen to add value to it. Secondly and once that is in place you being to understand how each community has its own culture, way of being and doing things. This is where most ‘digital’ agencies fall down. They have a rigid formula, old web 1.0 marketing mentality, one size fits all to push at ‘those online folk’ – most have no time for subtlety.
For creative producers, finding business models in the new media landscape is about iteration, small steps and constant monitoring. Avoid anyone who says they understand this business now, as a new digital storefront. Contract only those who see online as social, they themselves part of relevant communities and admit to constantly trying new ideas and failing forward.
For a great insight into old school vs evangelising ‘social media’ school have a look at the amazingly polarised viewpoints/comments on another recent ‘embed’ of my ‘counter’ at the ever so popular, niche Cyberbretheren site Why Social Media and Social Networking for the Church? See for yourself. Is heritage media going the same way of the Church? Those who once controlled the message, distribution and wealth. Tempted to philosophise but time is short
I quote Rev. Paul T McCain deep in discussion with a Web 2.0 ‘disbeliever!’ Have a read of the comments and replace the word church/religion with TV/Film/Opera/ClassicalMusic/Newspapers…
Chris, I find myself in the odd position of entirely agreeing with you, but…also saying that you are missing the point of my post in most dramatic fashion.
To repeat: The point is that the Church needs to be where people are talking and communicating. It’s just that simple. How they do so? Where they do so? Your post illustrates the ever-changing nature of that communication on the Internet. Oh, by the way, the “young” as you describe are most active on Twitter and Texting. Facebook is the favorite and ever growing favorite for 35+ year olds, and blogging? The point is not the technologies. Everything can be used effectively to communicate and reach out. That’s the point.
But reaching out to a community who are spread out, fragmented across a sea of platforms and time zones is hard at the start for those with limited time and resources. The Social Media Campaign (Future of Social Media Entertainment) I did from many moons ago is one part of the equation but I recently created a simple transocialmedia worksheet (amongst many others!) which hopefully helps producers begin tell their stories (marketing or entertainment) beyond the 24 minute episode or 15 second ad.
“The Word is not Enough” to describe the hybrid nature of story telling, marketing, multi-platform, transmedia, social media and so on. To me transmedia as a term, without the social aspect is rather one dimensional. The word ‘transmedia’ itself feels like it describes something pushed, forced triggers to move people ‘across bridged cross-media’ and most of it is pre-canned, scripted and rather ‘broadcast’ – I would even liken most of the point-click web focused so-called edgy alternate reality games, as harkening back to the locked-down content, days of CD-Roms. Stop doing it, you know who you are. Content that doesn’t appear to be evolving (or at least have a social swarm around it) is dead. I now, personally find a non-connected (internet) computer rather ‘broken’. Without the life force of the ‘people network’ in there, it is life-less. As Laurel Papworth has been saying since social networks came into existance
If it’s not being discussed, made embeddable, spreadable, bloggable, then it doesnt exist. Anything online that is locked into a webpage that people must visit becomes invisible. Laurel Papworth
One thing that I always harp on about is Creating Experiences. My wikipedia level 4 cross media item is all about ‘experience’ content being more immersive nowadays. Being an experience producer vs a ‘commodity’ producer puts you in a much better position moving forward. Laurel Papworth has started a series of podcasts looking at Social Media Business (on iTunes here) and one of her first episodes look at the Experiential Economy and points out how the monetary relationships between recorded vs live content has shifted significantly
Now this doesn’t mean all traditional content professionals go out and make theme parks, urban games or endless public appearances but at the very least they need to ‘reach out’ and get over this ‘come to us’ or ‘download my content (for a fee)’ attitude. Being pushy or forcing pay-per-something business models too early will fail miserably. Also trying to dump content (originally designed for mass media) online , or visa versa will fail also.
From AdAge’s “Fox Digital Studios Puts Focus on Branded Entertainment”
But despite early investment from advertisers and the attraction of brand-name actors, no TV network has yet to truly crack the code of how to develop original programming that works as well online as it does on the boob tube. And whenever they put successful web series on TV — NBC’s acquisition of MySpace’s “QuarterLife,” ABC’s redo of MSN’s “In The Motherhood” — they fail within weeks.
For those who bleat on about business models, there are plenty emerging, I am in the process of doing a ‘realistic’ post/paper on simple video on the web models (and beware of rip-off activity – Wired item HT Laurel). Here, for the moment is a little excerpt interview I did on Inside Film
By Adam Coleman and Cynthia Karena
With DVD sales in steady decline and online audiences growing exponentially, independent content producers need to explore alternative, web-based distribution methods. That is the view of Gary Hayes, Director – Laboratory for Advanced Media Production at the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS).
“One of the questions Australian filmmakers often say to me is that they’re not prepared to take the risk of placing their content freely on the web and hoping that they will build an audience and that is being advocated at the moment by many people,” he said. “But if you are a new filmmaker, your first priority is to be known, to actually show that you exist, because that is a real issue.”
One potential model is to first give away low resolution versions of a production on the web to generate and grow an audience. “You have to be very social, but you can then potentially start to sell higher quality versions.” Another alternative he says is to employ the services of an aggregation company like New Video and Indie Flicks, who will place a film across 20 or 30 smaller open web systems like iTunes and Hulu.
Hayes says online distribution deals are quite varied, but with iTunes, typically the content producer gets 70 per cent and iTunes 30 per cent. “For example, if the film cost $15 on iTunes store, $5 is kept by Apple and $10 is passed on to the content producer. This is better than a traditional distribution deal – cinemas, TV, DVD – where you get 5 to 10 per cent if you are lucky.” Free overseas streaming sites like Hulu stream programs with advertisements and keep 50 per cent of revenues, he says.
But, warns Hayes, “if you are a single producer, it’s harder to deal with iTunes directly, as they prefer to deal with someone who can aggregate content and deal with seven hundred films at a time rather than a handful,” he says. Aggregation companies that have a direct relationship with iTunes typically take 10 to 15 per cent of the deal, he says.
- Social Media + Transmedia Storytelling = Engaged Loyal Audience
- Multi Platform + Marketing = Reach and Relevance
- Transmedia Storytelling + Social Media + Multi Platform + Marketing = Reaching a Relevant Engaged Loyal Audience – who are willing to pay for easily accessible content that adds value to their lives
To finish there are a few enlightened producers, who still produce media destined for passive audiences, but who are also pushing themselves and their art into newer areas, preparing themselves for the eventually settled, but’altered media landscape’. Kelly Chapman is one. Here she is talking at the same SPAA Fringe a couple of weeks ago about some of these issues and here Lost, Spooks & other major show extensions.
Story & marketing are more and more inextricably intertwined and keeping it simple (stupid – KISS), is not easy when the thing your describing is mutli-dimensional and constantly changing. There has to be a conversation, understand what your community wants then, and only then, give it to them. They will reward you with their loyalty and over time for the value you add, the money to sustain yours and their creativity.
Appendix – Finally, finally this is a longer version of the interview I did for encore which has a lot of deeper points and also some useful definitions. The wonders of traditional print magazines means depth of content is sometimes compromised
Discuss briefly the key 360 formats covered in the workshop (Locative Storytelling, Alternate Reality Games, Episodic Social Media and Mobile and Virtual World Game).
“For the purposes of the seminar and the attached rapid ‘prototyping’ workshop we selected four, easy to understand story areas. Next to all of them we will be talking about the extra layers of social & transmedia too and how to ‘seed’ stories into audiences, across many platforms, who can then participate. But briefly looking at each form.
- Locative storytelling is simply delivering video, audio, text or image in real, physical locations. So for example rather than have just a short film about paranormal activity in Kings Cross you would tell the story in situ on viewers mobile screens, or posters or audio installations. It becomes experiential, you are in the alley where a key character was murdered, or your hearing a local man talking about what it was like during the war in his house and so on. With the emerging field of augmented reality we can now also consider ‘layering’ rich media, over the real scenes in front of us too, but that’s another story!
- Alternate Reality Games or ARGs are fictional narratives played out across ‘many’ platforms. Conspiracy websites, strange TV shows, actors in the street, phone calls, posters and more are all inextricably linked to create a story environment that often leads many ‘players & non players’ thinking – is this a game or is it really happening? There are many examples now that go beyond simple marketing where the players themselves take a lrage part of driving the narrative vs all professionally driven and the form is now reasonably mature.
- Episodic Social Media is still emerging and examples such as Lonely Girl 15 & Scorched used fictional, scripted, characters talking to camera as if a normal person on YouTube. Other examples from Australia included Forget the Rules that allowed viewers to vote and submit ‘story’ elements. The key to success though is not just creating a periodic story full of cliff-hangers, pre-shot and pushed out to an audience – the most successful examples have been ones where hundreds and thousands of viewers can contribute through comments, response videos & most importantly feel that they can ‘talk’ to the protagonists. Most writers and creators still can’t get their heads around that one!
- Mobile & Virtual World Games covers such a wide area that it is almost impossible to describe in a couple of sentences. Linear story creators can extend their ‘worlds’ in many ways. A match made in heaven though is by allowing audiences to become players and ‘live’ in their fictional spaces. The potential to turn inciting dramatic incidents into a game play elements or fantasy worlds into one where fans can explore with others socially, is compelling. Virtual worlds are a very strong ally to film. Both create a dramatic space and with 3D film starting to become popular, expect to see more parallel film/game properties in coming years – not first person shooters based on a cop show but real emotional story game play. Mobile games on the other hand (excuse the metaphor!) used to be superficial twitch games. Now with the Android & iPhone and other smart handhelds we really have console power, mobile and in our hands. Here you have a personal connection to the story space explored on your own device but when you network them suddenly the game can start to use real physical space.
Do all projects require all platforms, or how can a producer determine which ones are appropriate to his/her needs beyond marketing/sales?
“Not at all. This is all about appropriate use and no project should assume it has to be everywhere. In terms of approach LAMP has been talking about audience centric design for the last 5 years! Basically decide on who your audience is, find out what their behaviours are (how they use of platforms, time on each etc) then start to consider the story sequence and which platform is best for the style of the narrative at that point. For example to build trust in a fictional character and to make them appear real, then one should consider social media elements and getting them embedded in communities, on the other hand if you want to create a ‘fictional-it-just-happened’ large scale event then on the scene news videos seeded to influential sites. Sometimes a simple episodic doco drama for example may require a single broadband destination site but allowing others to embed it on their sites to gradually build an audience. This is a big topic!”
How do you actually create a ‘meaningful experience’ across different platforms, when the nature of some of them is sometimes disposable, temporary?
“I always find this an interesting perspective. That good TV and film are the emotional, powerful mediums and everything else is rather thin and superficial. Ask yourself a simple question – think now of one experience that affected you most in life? Most people (in my years of asking hundreds this question) do not say a TV show or film – they talk about real world events, a letter from a loved one, being told they have talent, how they relate to peers, a moving trip to a strange country, life & death around them. People spend their lives in a sea of devices and many forms of communication – TV and film are a small part of that, and more often an escapist part. A meaningful experience is personal but of course can also be how they relate to someone else’s story. Transmedia storytelling allows professional content creators to reach out into audience’s worlds and draw them into their story worlds. They do this by also respecting the audience and allowing them to contribute. This contribution can be as small as a rating or a one line comment which some may see as superficial, but when that one line is truly founded from their own experience and it is then listened too – there is nothing more meaningful to that person. Do not be fooled by chatty twitter or silly videos on YouTube, if you look just beneath the surface, humanity is slowly learning to tell its stories again. Those who used to push need to be ‘expert’ at traversing the many platforms that now exist.”
What are the most common questions in your field, at an event such as Fringe?
“Australia is of course unique in the way it funds content. So the most asked questions tend to be along the lines of – ‘where can we get funding for all this new media stuff’ followed closely by ‘is there any point in doing all this extra work if it doesn’t make money’. Luckily most producers are now getting wind of dwindling TV & film advertising revenues, lesser commissions, audiences spending more time on the ‘web’ than at cinemas or in front of TV and, that if they want to be a content creator tomorrow, they ‘have’ to learn to be a multi-platform producer. So questions then turn onto training, case studies, how to turn a linear project into a transmedia one, how to understand and measure audiences, how to globalise and become masters of their own destiny by controlling the whole end-to-end distribution chain. So last year the majority of questions were about how to growing large groups of ‘consumers’ around their content so there is a sustainable model – a community that loves and is willing to regularly pay you, directly, for great transmedia content.”