DIGITAL MEDIA FROM THE INSIDE OUT: My focus is digital content -- production, distribution, collaboration, innovation, creativity. Some posts have appeared across the web (HuffPo, Tribeca's Future of Film, The Wrap, MIPblog, etc.). To receive these posts regularly via email, sign up for my newsletter here.

Entries in fanthropology (3)


The Walking Dead & The Era of Fan-Powered Media

"The Era of Fan-Powered Media" was a talk I gave last week at the Broadband TV Conference (formerly OTTCon) in L.A. -- a riff I've been developing for a long time, and sharpened over the past year as I've worked, a really interesting platform for participation and collaboration. We were required to use a PPT template and focus on a theme, not a company sales pitch. 

My premise is simple: the actual TV show itself is the hub of interaction, participation and content-creation by fans who now have both the desire and the means to step into the story. The smart showrunners and networks generate many opportunities for fan involvement -- but, whether they do or not, today's fans are going to engage & create in dozens of ways across the Internet. Oftentimes, over the life of a TV property, these fan-engagement engines generate more views than the original content, although this is difficult to measure by traditional means because the fan-centric experiences are so fragmented. Work needs to be done to expand "engagement metrics" beyond a handful of the most obvious social networks.

Theatrics and other platforms that focus on fan-generated content offer some fascinating pointers to how the future might look as "shows" become authentically co-created. I've included some examples towards the end of my presentation, but for more, please see the presentation I gave for StoryCode in September. 

In this presentation, I decided to dive deeply into one property -- AMC's The Walking Dead. What resulted was a parade of examples of both official and unauthorized fan content production across the web in text, graphics, and video. The choice of the AMC hit was, in one sense, low-hanging fruit. It's a mature property with ten years of the underlying IP (comic book) and five seasons on television. It's a sizzlingly hot genre, e.g., zombies. And it is, arguably, the most successful cable show ever, in terms of the growth and maintenance of the audience. 

One would also have to give kudos to TWD's creative and marketing team for their consistent and inventive brand extensions and deep understanding of the social media ecosystem. They keep feeding the hunger of their fans (pun intended) and recognize that mash-ups and remixing and other unauthorized expropriation of their copyrighted materials (video, images, gameplay, etc.) only serve to generate a virtuous spiral of excitement and commitment by other fans. 

These Super Fan are the target for certain kinds of popular culture, not just because they may be the sort of "influencers" that marketers covet, but because they are collectors, curators, makers and sharers. When a Super Fan makes a mark inside her story world of choice, they feel that they are a part of that story. 

Put another way: The TV show of the future includes its fans.

Note: Huge hat-tips to Henry Jenkins, whose understanding of fan culture is unrivalled; and Kris Longfield, who calls herself a "fanthropologist" and proves it in the work she does to leverage fan culture for content and brand innovators. 


Fan Centric Media

I work with, an interactive media company offering a cloud-based co-creation platform for storytellers and brands. The focus of our work recently has been what I like to call "fan-centric" media. Once known by the geeky acronym UGC (user-generated content), fan-centric media is, in a real sense, taking over the world. Of course, all media works because of some kind of mysterious psychic exchange between the artist and the audience, each working according to rules of the story form -- that's why adaptations of books into movies often annoy hard-core fans of the former, and movies into games, well, I digress.

The emergence of true fan-centric media has come about because of the Internet, and especially socialized media platforms like YouTube, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, etc. Again, each of these and many other platforms vary in how they address the issue, but what is new here is the interconnection between content created by fans or average people with professional content. was born to support a story world, a fictional town called Beckinfield, where the residents were all fans of the show. Unlike an open UGC platform like YouTube, Theatrics invites fans to co-create a story by uploading content (video, images, text) in a contained and defined story world with guidance from the show creators and other fans. Over time, as content is uploaded and the story or experience grows, the general audience has many ways to access and experience the content. It's multi-dimensional.

Next week Theatrics will launch two new shows with some excellent partners. I will post more details when the content is released on Monday, but in the meantime, here is a presentation on the topic of "Fan-centric Media," adapted from a talk I gave at Story Code in mid-September 2013. (Story Code is the New York City transmedia meet-up.) Also presenting was Elaine McMillion with a reall remarkable interactive documentary about an Appalachian town, called HOLLOW. 

Story Code posted a video of the talk on YouTube (Elaine is first. My talk starts around 46:30). Here are my slides:


The Fanthropology of Theatrics

The session was called "Unlock the Power of Fans" at Transmedia Los Angeles’ monthly meetup earlier this week, but I’ll remember it as the Fanthropology of Theatrics, because I learned so much about the way audiences are using the new collaborative storytelling platform that I was there to represent.


I kicked off the discussion with a presentation, embedded here, about how theatrics works, and was then followed by Jay Bushman, co-executive producer of ‘Welcome to Sanditon,’ the sequel to the phenomenally successful web series ‘Lizzie Bennet’s Diaries,’ a modern updating of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice. ‘Sanditon’ used Theatrics to invite fans to create their own characters who could engage with the story over a 14-week run.

The third panelist was Kris Longfield who describes herself as a “fanthropologist.” Such a perfect conflation of terminology! You instantly know what she does: she studies the behavior of online fan communities.

My client Theatrics has built a remarkable platform, but like any software tool, it’s only as good as those who use it – like world-class interactive visionaries Jay Bushman and Margaret Dunlap from Pemberley Digital (the fake company in their stories, which is now the real production company behind these great Austen transmutations.)

Jay reported than more than 200 videos from 130 “characters” inside the Sanditon story world were created in the first week, from which he built a very engaging compilation episode.


With more than 400 videos created by fans, Jay will edit another, and that practice will continue over the run of the series.

Sanditon has managed to keep about healthy slide of the Lizzie Bennet audience, but not all of them are pleased at the team’s introduction of the interactive aspects of the story, as the comments on the non-Theatrics companion sites indicate:

I don't mean this rudely, but: Is there actually a point to this? Like, is there actually a *story* in this story? Or just random user interactive things like this? :-/

And in this corner:

I'll give all you Sanditon plot haters a clue......Your Welcome. Heh, heh. Seriously this_ series is what you MAKE IT. After all we are all just a PART IN THE PLOT. Do you get it yet? Good luck. ;>

Bushman surmises that lots of fans --  notwithstanding their age (young) and their relationship to digital tools (extensive) still want a linear narrative. It’s the 90-10 rule, said Longfield, e.g., only 10% of the audience in most fan communities actually contribute. The rest lurk, read, observe, consume.

She also noted that fan communities thrive within and against the aura of a “canon” – the official version of the story, its settings, characters and rules. Huge commercial properties like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Harry Potter have immense fandoms, sometimes embraced, sometimes opposed by the commercial interests behind the canon. She noted that it may be harder for original properties to generate fan engagement communities in the same way as existing properties.

The Pemberley projects attract a fanbase that is overwhelmingly female and young. Bushman noted that most of the videos uploaded by young women included some form of apology – for their performance, for the quality, for their video skills. Male uploaders did not apologize. Clearly the social context for young women has an impact on how they interact in these kinds of fan communities.

Bushman opened the door to a fascinating ethical and legal issue for the show creator whose work invites user content with the disclosure of a particularly delicate incident that in which a young woman shared – in character – something highly personal that other fans did not like. Does the show runner or other fans have a responsibility to help? To police errant behavior?    

From the audience came one decisive question: “Just who are these people?” – meaning, is there a profile for the type of audience member who migrates into the world of co-creation that tools like Theatrics enables? Her research suggests, she said, some usual suspects like students who have time on their hands, bored housewives, and, counter-intuitively, a lot of lawyers. Tell that to Shakespeare!