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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 Simon Staffans (4)

Sunday
Dec072014

2014: Thoughts on Transmedia

For the past couple of years I’ve been asked to contribute to year-end round-ups of the year in media, curated by transmedia producer and blogger Simon Staffans. I’ll post the link to the 2014 edition in a subsequent post, but for now, here’s a version of his questions and my answers. Feedback in the comments thread much appreciated.

What were the best parts of 2014, media-wise, for you? You were, last year, looking forward to seeing how the new generation of transformologists were going to put their mark on the world – have you seen anything that impressed you?

I think it’s time for the “transmedia movement” to declare victory and move on. I’m not seeing much evidence that either audiences or those with budgetary or investment clout have much interest in a thing call “transmedia,” per se. Rather, what we have seen, in part because of the efforts by our movement, a gradual incorporation of characteristics and features we felt were powerful cornerstones of transmedia into almost every major media product, even if only as a marketing extension. Preeminent among these characteristics is what I’ve dubbed “Fan-centric Media,” a recognition that fans are almost a part of the media property, not just its consumer. Building fan-engagement sites and using UGC platforms are de rigueur for anyone trying to find an audience for a media brand or property.

That said, major media brands continue to use social platforms and multi-platform story formats as they do other marketing tools, rather than as elements of a truly transformational story format. There is less appetite (and budget) for innovation and experimentation as the number of fan-centric platforms continue to proliferate beyond Facebook, which is still dominant.

The brands where these trends are most evident are those focused on the so-called “Comic-Con” audience – largely genre titles in film, TV and games. It has become critical for these marketers to generate early fan buzz as part of the broader experience of a story world. 

All of this makes sense when you realize just how extreme the stratification of the film industry has become – we had the announcement of superhero movies for ten years out from Marvel/Disney and DC/Warner, and they aren’t financing much else. At the other end, indie film producers are struggling mightily just to get their primary product finished, distributed, and noticed. The indie film world hasn’t moved in to fill the void to create much transmedia content, with a few exceptions of those companies who have tried to make that a core goal – like Submarine in Amsterdam, though not for every one of their titles.

Last year you talked about practitioners of transmedia starting to want to see a financial return on their efforts. Do you believe it has come to pass?

Overall, there has been a general deflation in the market for multi-platform original product, even as overall spending by agencies and brands goes up for bespoke, but derivative multimedia marketing sites and branded content. I spoke with a colleague who runs a leading transmedia production house with a track record of successful international multi-platform projects and campaigns. His company has come up short in pitching its original intellectual property, even though he make a compelling case that a sequential structure that moves the content from one monetizeable platform to another is a better way to create a profitable franchise than to launch the whole thing at once. Most of his revenue is coming from commissioned work by brands or associated with the release of mainstream titles. In other words, work-for-hire without the upside of ownership in original IP.

I have great admiration for Bernie Su and his team at Pemberley Digital, which has taken a very pragmatic approach to the evolution of what amounts to a very tightly defined format. What began as a great experiment with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, has evolved through Welcome to Sanditon, Emma Approved, and now the Frankenstein update in conjunction with PBS Digital. In all cases, the base-line product is an engaging video series aimed at a clear and definable demographic of young women. A constellation of logical ancillary platforms is deployed for that segment of the fanbase who wants to dive deeper. Bernie is working to monetize as many of those as possible. He also has done a superb job of recruiting sponsors for brand integration, without offending fans. And he has a bounty-based fashion system in place that moves goods and generates another revenue stream. Did I forget the aggregated video via DVD and the books?

What Bernie is doing as a business guy is trying to mimic the successful components of a major studio franchise operation – creating multiple revenue streams that manage to harvest revenues from a very strong fan base, and then to sell that traffic in as many ways as possible. Pretty amazing, given the small size of his team and the MCN he partners with.

The key has been an understanding of fan-management dynamics. His audiences keep building, in large part because the team, especially the writers, speak in the voice of characters across the Internet, and really create a feeling of involvement for the fans. Old media companies have a hard time understanding the different between conversation-based engagement and old-fashioned selling-focused marketing. We found this to be true with The Chatsfield, a very inventive multi-platform story world from Harlequin romance publishers, which I helped launch. There wasn’t much money or human energy available for the actual fan engagement piece after the launch. Digital media is not the place to hope that by building it, they will come. You have to go out to many places and entice them to find your field of dreams.

The real experimentation is happening by original content creators on YouTube – they are the new indies, and it’s because of the audience engagement piece, clearly. I admit, it is rare when an artist in this world really speaks to me, but they speak to millions of fans other than me. I’m an old guy in a narrow demographic, but the YouTube and original online video space overall (Vimeo, AOL, Yahoo, Hulu) is the place to watch.

Speaking of multi-channel networks, let’s not forget that this was the year that the entire business model of the MCN overlay atop YouTube was validated by major media. Disney buying Maker is the standout, of course, but there were many others. We are seeing many permutations of effective business models by YouTube creatives who have built an audience on the video sharing platform, and then worked to monetize that fan base with additional efforts outside of YouTube, including a small number with successful migrations to television.

I have been pretty impressed by “Serial,” the podcast spinoff of This American Life. Here is a compelling storytelling in one of the oldest web formats, though podcasting seems to be experiencing a renaissance this year. “Serial” has gotten a lot of buzz, in part because of its origins, but also because it is damned good.

This has been the year of a broadening of successful programming on the over-the-top networks beyond Netflix. Amazon and Hulu are both investing heavily, with some great results. Transparent on Amazon was amazing, and I predict will win major awards. What I’ve found (and written about) that is odd is that the web-distributed video-on-demand content has even less “ancillary” or digital or audience-engagement content than regular TV or films. When you go to Netflix or Amazon, you might as well be buying a DVD, except that it streams. There isn’t much in the way of “extras”, much less links to fan sites or anything else. I find that odd. 

Kickstarter and IndieGogo continue to provide a key revenue mechanism for the original content creator. However, what was once a simple add-on to a team’s central content effort is now a major activity. We all have crowd-funding fatigue, so it’s harder to win without a truly inspired campaign – which often takes as much work as the IP a team is promoting. The real value, we have seen, is the shift in thinking required by creators as they begin to find and communicate with their audience before, during and after the completion of a project.

We haven’t yet seen the much-anticipated explosion of equity crowd-funding in the US anyway because of a stalled rulemaking for the JOBS Act, but surely next year this will come to pass. There are a host of new entities established to leverage this opportunity. But I would expect only the most commercially oriented projects will benefit, since investors will be expecting a return, unlike Kickstarter, through which one simply gives a gift (generally in exchange for a reward of some sort).

What would you predict for 2015? What are the major challenges and the major possibilities?

Some possibilities:

-- Continued mainstreaming of YouTube stars into movies and TV, not to the exclusion of the original platform, but as a way for incumbent distributors to tap the energy of that platform and its incredible creativity (and audiences).

-- Increased budgets overall for “brand marketing,” by which we would include the range of projects commissioned by product and media companies which have an independent life on digital native platforms. There are a lot of brands trying to be the next Red Bull Media.

-- Original content funded on social media platforms, especially Facebook and Tumblr.

Nick DeMartino is a Los Angeles media consultant, specializing in digital distribution and production strategy for start-ups, nonprofits, and corporations. Find him on Twitter @nickdemartino and on his website and blog at http://www.nickdemartino.net

Thursday
Dec192013

One Year in Now Media

Each year my colleague Simon Staffans from Helsinki provides a great service to the transmedia field with the publication of "One Year in Now Media" -- a compendium of his own great blog posts as well as interviews with people in the field, myself included.

Here are Simon's interview questions:

o   How was 2013 for you? You launched Theatrics – how’s it done? Why did you decide to launch that venture? And what projects – other than Theatrics ones J - have you been the most impressed by?

o   Back in the days, along the times of the first wrap-up I did, you said that there had been no transmedia projects to move you to tears yet. Has that happened yet? If not, why not? And do you see signs that it might come to happen? In what direction do you feel the multiplatform / transmedia world is moving?

o   What are your hopes and fears for 2014? What possibilities and challenges do you see on the horizon?

And my replies:

2013 was a great year for me. My focus has been work with start-ups in the digital media/technology ecosystem. Some examples:

I am Senior Advisor to ideaBOOST, a new accelerator for start-ups in the media/tech field, created and launched by the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto. We completed and launched two cohorts -- more than a dozen companies including game platforms, transmedia properties, mobile apps, story-based e-commerce, and much more. We launched cohort #3 in late November, as well as a unique Production Lab in conjunction with wearable computing pioneer, Mind Pirate, a company that I advise. This Lab will incubate as many as five new products that run on Google Glass, as well as iOS and Android in 1st quarter of 2014. I’ve just gotten my own Google Glass device, and I’m very jazzed about this new form factor for experience delivery.

I'm also mentoring companies in another accelerator called Dogfish, based in New York City, with a focus on content creation startups. This accelerator from within the independent film community, and like ideaBOOST, believes that the principles of the "lean startup movement" can and should be used by content creators in order to develop sustainable business models for the digital era. One of the companies I advised is building a live-action game engine/platform, for example. Very interesting.

I also continued my work with Theatrics.com, a collaborative media platform based in Houston. The company grew out of a unique interactive sci-fi soap opera called "Beckinfield" in which users created and performed as characters in the story. I loved that idea and felt that I could help the company introduce this form of deep fan engagement to the television industry. To that end, Theatrics helped power The Social Sector, a digital native story-driven "mystery" that invited fans into the story world of the characters from USA's hit series PSYCH, which ran for 8 weeks in Q1, and is still live.

In April we expanded the idea by offering the beta version of the Theatrics platform aimed at independent transmedia producers who want to offer fan-based content in a story container. Our first example was "Welcome to Sanditon," the sequel to the Emmy-winning "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries," which modernized Jane Austen. In Sanditon, fans could impact the story through their own character engagements uploaded as video, text or images. Other outstanding examples included The Ghost Club and Aurelia: Edge of Darkness. The latter, a steampunk adventure, struck a chord with Live-Action Role-players (LARPers). The beta test continues -- anyone can create their own interactive show by using the wizard on Theatrics.com. The company is also building other applications in conjunction a range of online publishers and enterprises. 

Theatrics is but one example of the rise of what I'm calling "Fan Powered Media." I gave several talks focusing on the idea of audience as engagement engine with content, including this presentation at the Broadband TV conference that used "The Walking Dead" as an example. Henry Jenkins and others have shown the way in recognizing that deep fan engagement, including content creation by users, is happening in both authorized and unauthorized ways. So a piece of commercial content is no longer just the linear artifact that attracts the fans -- it's really a vast ecosystem of fan engagement as well.

In terms of transmedia work this year, I focus on the independent projects, which are what interest me. I'm sure that companion apps for the latest Hollywood superhero movie were awesome, but this is not my terrain, except when forced to watch by friends or a long and boring plane ride.  

Rather, I applaud the talents and especially the perseverance of my colleagues who have managed to devise and launch ambitious independent projects that hold the greatest chance of moving me like novels, films and great TV.

I was very moved and quite impressed with The Hollow, an interactive documentary about an impoverished county in Appalachia. The creators used the power of documentary storytelling, but layered the navigation of the experience with very beautiful graphics and a killer UI. I don't know any more what is "transmedia" and what isn't. I just know that intensity of feeling is the goal, and this work brought me there more than most. Elaine McMillion and her team found support from Tribeca, Kickstarter and elsewhere to support a long-term media commitment to a specific place where information can make a difference. What makes her effort distinctive is the authenticity of the content and the delight one has in navigating the site.

A similarly beautiful user-experience was achieved in National Geographic Channel's "Killing Kennedy" TV movie's companion website (Kennedy and Oswald) http://www.kennedyandoswald.com/#!/premiere-screen. Our web technologies allow such a rich mix of media types in a user-controlled environment. In this case, the emotions were less intense than a dramatic narrative, nostalgic and bittersweet, sort of like reading an old LIFE Magazine.

I saw a screening of the theatrical component of the much-awaited transmedia production “The Cosmonaut” which also included webisodes and other digital elements. At the time I reviewed it, the non-film components were just being released, and so I concentrated on the film itself, much of which I liked, though not entirely. I did very much like the premise of taking a historical milieu, in this case the world of Soviet-era cosmonauts, and creating a fictionalized world that unfurls in different media. There was a delicate, haunting quality to this work that was quite fine. 

 “The Institute,” is a 2013 film by Spencer McCall that documents the story of an alternate reality game held in San Francisco a few years ago in which some 10,000 people participated -- a hoax-based story world revolving around a kind of EST-like cult, the mystery of a missing girl, and a lot of real-world activities on the streets. While McCall can't replicate the experiences of those involved, we get a sense of the experience through interviews with many of those involved, including the creators, the participants (including a few who are mentally ill), and occasionally capturing scenes as they unfold. By the end, some viewers might themselves wonder what is “real” and what was manufactured for either the game or the film. I liked this because it reminded me that we don't really have any way to archive these time-limited experiments. Even those that are entirely digital may suddenly vanish with the fortunes of the companies housing the data.

On a slightly different note, I've been very impressed with the curatorial excellence of Google's Creative Sandbox. While much of the work is from agencies and brands, it's very nice to have a neutral location that enhances discovery with a different spin from the always useful FWA site (Favorite Website Awards). And in the transmedia/ARG area, I find Michael Anderson's ARGNet indispensable. 

Year’s end affords an opportunity to reflect on where we are as a community. We saw the demise of the Story World conference and the launch of the Transvergence Summit, two conferences with some overlap and similar challenges -- an attempt to bring under one big tent a hydra-headed monster of a community which can't even seem to settle on a definition of what it does, and probably with good reason.

The nomenclature flame wars, to wit Brian Clark's recent Facebook post and the comments that followed, are tiresome. The essential issue being raised by many early transmedia practitioners has come and gone -- namely, that stories can unfold in many ways across a number of different platforms. Got it. Now what

We've seen multi-platform story experiments large and small from mainstream television and motion picture producers without much evidence that there is sustained interest there, other than to find inventive ways to promote and market the mother ship. Sometimes this stuff is great fun, especially with properties that already have fans.

A new artform? Not so much. Just take the meteoric rise and fall of so-called "second screen" apps, especially for TV, as an example. Marketers have done a lot of different implementations for many, many shows on a slew of emerging platforms, and I suspect will continue to do so, but the real winners at the end of the day are the all-purpose platforms Facebook and Twitter, which are easy for agencies to understand, and have massive scale. And can be measured, sort of. And therefore monetized.

So, I would expect experiments with the form to remain the province of independents who have different measures of success, though some financial return would be much appreciated, I'm sure. These folks want to invent something new, and perhaps along the way deliver a deeper experience to a smaller, but more intensely committed group of fans. Many of these folks will emerge from the transformed film and journalism programs at major universities, which, if you haven't noticed, are bursting at the seams (go figure!). We have a new generation of transmediologists coming up. I look forward to seeing their work. 

Monday
Jan072013

One year in "Now Media"

Simon Staffans is a Helsinki-based television and transmedia producer with a passion for sharing what he learns on his blog, simonstaffans.com,

Last year Simon aggregated the best of his 2011 posts, along with a slew of interviews from thought leaders in the transmedia space, including yours truly.

Well, he’s at it again, with an updated set of thought-provoking posts, together with interviews with some very sharp minds from different areas of the multiplatform storytelling field, including Brian Clark, Christy Dena, Jeff Gomez, Ian Ginn, Andrea Phillips, Robert Pratten, Inga Von Staden, Nuno Bernardo, Michael Monello, Chantal Rickards, Steve Stokes, Yomi Ayeni, Scott Walker, Lance Weiler, and Liz Rosenthal.

You can read the entire thing as a free PDF version online here, and shortly as an eBook version for $2.99. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Here is the interview with me, starting with his questions:

Last year you said the transmedia field reminds you of the indie filmmaking community of the early 90s. Is that still the case? For good or for bad?

You were not convinced that transmedia should be considered a new art form 12 months ago; has anything happened to change your mind?

Are there any particular trends you have been able to pick up on during the past year, that reflects on the evolvement of the multiplatform / transmedia world?

How about the distant future? You mentioned earlier that ” zeitgeist seems almost entirely dominated by rapid turnover of functions and fads.” Have you seen any signs that would contradict this?

Finally; have you, during 2012, experienced something in the transmedia field that has touched you in the way a good book or a film could do? A year ago, that was missing from the experience.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Dec302011

• Enough Year-end Predictions to Make Your Head Spin - #NGIF

My last weekly summary of interesting tweets, links and posts of 2011 is chockablock full of predictions and trends -- looks back and forward. Makes a person's head spin. For you, the year's last #NGIF (Nick's Great Information Friday).

QUO VIDEO?

A slew of video visionaries offered dispatches from their crystal balls, including:
  • "Five Predictions For Online Video in 2012" offers a tidy trip down the well-worn path of prognostication -- no aha moments, but well-written and reasoned. 
  • If five aren't enough, here are "50 TV Predictions for 2012" from a website called "TVPredictions" so I guess this is their thing!
  • "Twelve Things That Won't Happen in Online Video in 2012" is a terrific post by WatchMojo founder and professional opinionator Ashkan Karbasfrooshan. To hear him tell it, TV will not die; cord-cutters will not make a ripple; neither Google nor Apple will rule TV… you get the idea. 
  • He also asked "Is Video the New Software?" -- This guy is busy! 

NOW TRENDING

  • Mashable lists five tech trends to watch in 2012, and JWT lists 100 "Things" of all sorts to watch next year in a seemingly endless slideshow. Slog through it though, there are some hidden gems. 
  • Another post that got a lot of heat in the blogosphere was "End of an Era: The Golden Age of Tech Blogging is Over" by tech analyst Jeremiah Owyang. Indeed, 2011 saw acquisitions, mergers, and a lot of public mud-fighting (Arianna vs Arrington). But the END?

APP-IFICATION

  • "Apt Apps" is my own year-end review of favorite software of 2011, in which I note that almost all software is now seen as Apps, thanks certainly to Apple's effective store and branding. 
  • A lot of what I discuss are actually tools that make my digital life easier, which seems a good description of this post: "The  Best Productivity Apps of 2011" from The Next Web.
  • The "app-ification" debate is not settled, of course: Dominiek ter Heide writes intelligently about the debate over the "App Internet" and the "death of the web" on GigaOm.
  • Or, put another way, "Apps are Media," as Erick Schonfeld wrote in a thoughtful TechCrunch post
  • Farhad Manjoo's Slate post "2011 Was a Terrible Year for Tech" decries the trend of complexity 
  • Speaking of complexity, Ars Technica suggests that 2012 will prove to be Microsoft's turning point, as the rest of the world flees the era of the desktop.

FILM

  • Much hand-wringing in the trade press over the year-end box office tallies, which may be lower than any year in a long time. Roger Ebert opines why, proving once again why he is so influential on the web (calls a spade a spade: Hollywood makes too much bad stuff and distributes the good stuff poorly).
  • Louis C.K.'s audacious self-distribution scheme got a lot of people sitting up in the media world  -- only one of the trends that led Michael Wolf to declare that "2012 will be the year of the artist-entrepreneur."
  • Among the endless year-end best-of lists, I especially like the quirky ones like this one: IndieWire's favorite movies by their in-house editors and writers. Why? Because there is NOTHING too obscure or minor that one of these movie geeks won't elevate to their top-ten list. I immediately go to Netflix and add it to my queue, because without question most will never make it to theaters. Interestingly, some of these titles are already available on Netflix streaming. Try it!

ME

In addition to my apps post this week, there were two other blips in the blogsophere out there that I contributed to: 
  • Check out “A Year in Transmedia,” Simon Staffans’s free ebook colllection of posts, incl intvw w/me: download here. It includes an online interview Simon conducted with me, and more than 100 pages of other goodies for the transmedia addicts among you.
  • Tribeca's Future of Film's Top 10 Transmedia Posts (two are mine) was published on Huffington Post this week if you missed it earlier.