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
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.
In a world where all the statistics on simultaneous tablet/mobile and TV are indicating a massive increase in the behaviour, why are TV broadcasters and 3rd party providers creating 2nd screen services making very poor experiences for audiences? Can content owners and TV broadcasters make the most of this opportunity or have they lost the battle already? Will Twitter, Facebook, GetGlue or other dedicated 3rd party services run the show and begin own the TV communities that spring up at each episode? What are the best approaches to creating 2nd screen but hasn’t all of this been done before? I try to answer a few of these questions and more raised plus highlight some recent and very old interesting examples.
Disclaimer: any views expressed here are mine and do not represent those of any of my employers, past or present
This article is aimed at producers, experience designers, broadcasters and tech companies making or considering jumping into re-emerged interactive TV now known as 2nd screen. It takes the learnings of broader interactive TV from decades old user behaviour in this space combined with the relatively new additional layer of the social alongside TV behaviour. (it also features some late 2010 introduction extracts also from my upcoming social 2nd screen ebook). There is a lot of information below which hopefully some of it made sense even if you are a user only of 2nd screen services, as it does go behind the scenes. 10 key points covering the back-story, how to improve, process and a bit of where next.
95% of viewing is still via broadcast TV (Oztam multiscreen report) – but where is audiences attention?
At this rate Mobile will become the 1st Screen this year?!
1. This is not new folks.
iTV, ‘eventized programming’ and 2nd screen are as old as the hills, with a heritage going back over 60 years. In fact the oft mentioned Winky Dink and You from 1953 to 1957 actually had kids using a 2nd screen! A piece of plastic they placed over the TV, to draw on, to interact with various ‘impasses’ the characters threw at the kids. Think of the simple equivalent today -an iPad with a cliff hanger still frame from the animation that required kids to draw a solution – “come on there is only 20 seconds left before the wind comes – we need you to draw the windmill! You will be rewarded!”. Then there is this new social thing. Today we have rock solid social ‘network’ applications where audiences talk, shout, pout and scream about the program as it plays out. It is now a global extension of traditional water cooler ‘behaviour’, not a new phenomenon but now real time and worldwide, shared outside our immediate physical community. For franchised TV this is a blessing and curse – plot spoilers and reveals long before it moves into new territories – but I go off track.
The First 2nd Screen Service 1953
Without doing a full history lesson there are many predecessors to 2nd screen. Good interactive TV has never been about the tech but about the ‘behavioural need’ – bad interactive TV is created by non-creatives and limited by vanilla templates or rely on 3rd party interactions shared across a range of broadcasters. But the audiences desire to interact and play-along with TV – whether it is single screen red button style (15 years old), synchronised laptop against TV (12 years old) or mobile devices against TV (6 years old at least) have many lessons that have already been learned. So it is odd that many of today’s broadcasters and technology companies are nervously dipping their toes into the waters again, using ground zero methodologies, “it requires a new way of thinking and it is ‘delusional’ to think we know what will work and what won’t” attitude. Wikipedia has a simple para inside its Interactive TV article which refers to the US 2nd screen model from the late 90s.
Notable Two-Screen Solutions have been offered for specific popular programs by many US broadcast TV networks. Today, two-screen interactive TV is called either 2-screen (for short) or “Synchronized TV” and is widely deployed around the US by national broadcasters with the help of technology offerings from certain companies.
Companies like TwoWayTV and Goldpocket had been developing editorial propositions as 2nd screen for years. So I use the word re-booting 2nd screen because there is nothing new about ‘TV that is interactive’. But many content owners think that references to older single screen iTV or laptop against TV shows are some irrelevant relic from the past, ‘that was then this is now’ attitude, when in fact those earlier services had (and still have) engaged audiences often a factor of thousands bigger than the current, mobile + TV model. Some stats from BBC single screen RedButton iTV shows for example here show how pervasive it had been and still is in the UK – even now Red button numbers are at 12 million users a week:
Interactive TV can generate big numbers if done right
So why are traditional TV producers and service providers who have never done interactive TV before making so many mistakes? Why are broadcasters foolishly developing cul de sac, land grab strategies? What is the better route? Is there any difference between social and 2nd screen TV propositions?
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.
“so please don’t forget to support artists like myself who have never had a fair chance in the record industry” guess who…
I have talked endlessly of the best ways for corporations or brands to engage with communities inside social media and it is always fascinating to watch the first baby steps of ‘old school’ celebs or real talent (mixing metaphors) dip their first toes in. But there is also an uneasy feeling watching those ‘media enhanced’ celebs of yesteryear showing their human (everyday?) side and here are a few I stumbled across in the last week or so. Good ones, regular and keeping the punters interested with little morsels cast over the side, ugly ones (just why bother!) and bad ones (they don’t quite get it do they?).
One of the best ways for talent to engage with an audience is to carry them along through their normal daily ‘glitzy’ activities. We see this happening more obviously on twitter. Following Stephen Fry as he travels the world getting fit, making films or eating at nice restaurants. Or Richard Branson’s appearances at Virgin terminals around the globe and many more (lots on Laurel Papworth’s post Famous Twits 50 Celebrities-on-Twitter. It is even more profound for fans when they talk back and give the sense that they read ‘some’ of the many thousands of responses expectantly flying into the usual vacuum. I do wonder though whether this entry into social web by celebs is more to do with a sense that their ‘celeb’ status is decreasing – as the attention for eyeballs is democratised and top YouTubers, Flickerers, Tweeters and MySpace/FB stars mean there is much less time spent on ‘them’. So it becomes a little of, lets go down to their level? Perhaps.
One artist I have mentioned before who is trying to engage across many ‘richer’ social media channels is Imogen Heap. She has kept at it as well with a regular vlog about her new studio fit-out and 4th album. She has at least done 500+ updates on twitter, plus music/travel writing blog, social networks and so on. Here is her latest vlog (which incidentally talks about the ridiculous YouTube/Warners fiasco – them taking down fan videos with her songs on) and more positively about her ‘tweeting’ and charity twestival project.
“On a less fun note…what I actually wanted to say re: youtube videos with my music in, is that it’s been a right nightmare trying to sort out why it’s been happening coz it’s NOTHING to do with me! Total cock up, like I said. My camp is (enjoying) slapping wrists as we speak and trying to sort this mess out. I am not guilty on all counts.. so those of you blaming and bad mouthing me (you know who you are) QUIT IT! I’m one of the good guys, OK?”
It is hard for artists and celebs to bring thousands of adoring fans into their world, so like the L Word Fanisode (I wrote about many moons ago) (where the fans helped write episodes of a high quality soapy) Imogen is bringing her muso fans into the mix, literally by allowing them to add ‘music tracks’ to her raw vocals – a sort of remix but affording much more creativity on the part of the co-creative audience. (BTW re: the quotes above and below – nice to see unfettered personality here vs the measured tones of the older school celebs, who still think they are on Letterman or Parky?). Remember this is for the water charity run via Twestival FM.
“Due to legal crap and crossed wires the song never ended up being in the movie. So… rather than it go to waste.. and just sit around, I thought, for a bit of fun some of you might like to throw some music at it so it lives. A bit like that game where you draw the head on the paper, fold it over and give it to the next person to draw the body. So I’ve drawn the head. You’re turn!”
To explain the mix thing simply. Imogen has provided…
isolated vocal tracks that together sound like CLICK HERE TO LISTEN. Pretty dry, incomplete and using basic tracking software any style of music can be integrated
So a little fun while writing this blog and few minutes later – some apple loop quickies, here is a ‘world music’y’ one CLICK HERE TO LISTEN
I will actually do a proper version which involves playing tracks in! and even add some machinima (like the one I did to Speeding Cars at the bottom – but that’s another hat and another blog 🙂
Looking at other celebs joining in the social media fray it is worth comparing those with a real passion to communicate and share vs those just pushing product or perpetuating an existing image. Below we see the much more famous (perhaps) Annie Lennox doing what Imogen does but without the trappings of Imogen’s ‘work in progress’ narrative arc and Annie strangely comes across as aÂ ‘fish-out-of-water’? – nervous, not quite sure how to talk to a broader audience? I must say just sitting and talking straight at camera, regardless of who you are, exposes your human frailties – and perhaps that is what is going on here. Celebrities who were cast up by old school scarcity of distribution now trying to show to the world they are indeed real? Annie brings the music biz ‘implosion”, jokingly (but many a true word said in jest) front and center, quoting from this YouTube…
“My album the Annie Lennox collection is coming out on the 9th March, so please don’t forget to support artists like myself who have never had a fair chance in the record industry, and as its all imploding now I am really begging you to buy my album and keep me in luxury and comfort. Thankyou”
Even Francis Ford Coppola has joined in recently. Here he is, camera attached to one arm, showing us around his house and talking about his new film Tetro. Not sure of the reasoning behind it beyond the likely scenario of a younger relative saying “it would be cool if you did a vlog dad/uncle/grandad etc – it’s what all the trendy celebs are doing”
David Lynch is creating an episodic series on YouTube which is far more engaging than some of his feature films 🙂 The David Lynch Daily Weather Report sees him giving 30 second enthralling insights into the state of the sky and temperature (celcius and farenheit!) in LA. In this excerpt he takes it even further and tells us that it really is him on Twitter…remarkable stuff.
There are lots more examples no doubt (you will tell me in comments of course!) and I really wonder if we are indeed deep inside the transition now from distribution scarcity = celebrity to distribution plenty = 15 days of fame? As more and more ‘normal’ folk (those with talent who wouldn’t have been given the time of day by traditional A&R, TV or film studios) rise up to the surface – we can expect enlightened talent to meet them coming from the other direction. As media form and channels equalise a twitter star may one day be the equivalent of Shakespeare, known for writing 140 character tweets that make millions laugh and cry – in fact I do that, but for very different reasons 🙂
ADDITION: Hattip to Tanja (missglamourpuss) for the link to this video looking at the case of Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) who beyond just dipping his toes in social media decided to seriously burn all bridges with the Music Biz hand that used to feed him (with the morsels they had left!). The speaker here exploring what he did (not rocket science: Connect with Fans, give them a Reason to Buy – sales 101) is Michael Masnick (Editor/President & CEO, Techdirt Blog/Floor64 and more from Wikipedia below.
“In May 2007, Reznor made a post on the official Nine Inch Nails website condemning Universal Music Group–the parent company of the band’s record label, Interscope Records–for their pricing and distribution plans for Nine Inch Nails’ 2007 album Year Zero. He labeled the company’s retail pricing of Year Zero in Australia as “ABSURD”,concluding that “as a reward for being a ‘true fan’ you get ripped off”. Reznor went on to say that as “the climate grows more and more desperate for record labels, their answer to their mostly self-inflicted wounds seems to be to screw the consumer over even more.” Reznor’s post, specifically his criticism of the recording industry at large, elicited considerable media attention.In September 2007, Reznor continued his attack on Universal Music Group at a concert in Australia, urging fans there to “steal” his music online instead of purchasing it legally. Reznor went on to encourage the crowd to “steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealin’.” Wikipedia
Oh and as promised a quick machinima I did to Imogen‘s ‘quaint’ track, Speeding Cars