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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.

Monday
Nov112013

Amazon Studios Woos Hollywood 

The smart guys at Netflix have torn a page from the HBO Bible with their success at launching watchable original programming, and perhaps more importantly, conveying to mainstream Hollywood talent, that they have a hit factory and an open wallet for the “right” type of projects.

Now it’s Amazon’s turn, with the launch of two new original series and a full-scale hype fest at the TV Academy’s huge Goldenson Theatre last week. Hosted by Seth Shapiro, one of two Governors for the Academy’s Interactive Peer Group (disclosure: I’m a member and serve on the Exec Committee), the evening was light on video and long on positioning for Amazon, with the main focus firmly placed on Roy Price, Director of Amazon Studios. Price, who will forever be introduced as the son of former studio chief Frank Price, has a background in animation with Disney.

You can watch an archived version of the live-streaming feed here.

Price has woven Amazon’s own version of the HBO “not TV” narrative from the beginning, with the announcement of his appointment in 2010. Amazon (in loose partnership with Warner Brothers, which wasn’t mentioned last Thursday) made a big deal of crowd-sourcing scripts and allowing fans to vote all along the development process.

From the outset, many observers dissed the scheme, either because it was an unlikely way to generate network-quality material ... or because this approach could easily be seen as exploiting talent and bypassing the Writers Guild.

Turns out, the whole crowd-sourcing thing was kind of secondary. Price noted that “exactly 8 percent” of the submissions made it to pilot. Most of the projects that earned Amazon investment came in the time-tested way via experienced producers and agents coming in with pitches. (Have my people call your people.)

The result was an initial slate of comedies, dramas, and kidvid – many, but not all from experienced Hollywood hands. Indeed, input and votes from fans played at least a partial role in the narrowing down of the pack and providing data, which Amazon loves. For Amazon’s description of their development process, see this FAQ.

Price clearly wanted to convey to Hollywood that Amazon was an A-List network. Yes, we have this wacky, data-driven DNA and we’re part of a business that sells diapers and so forth, but rest assured, we’re looking for awesome storytellers. Once we’ve found them, we ourselves are awesome to work with. You’ll get freedom, better notes from our suits, and the money isn’t bad. (Wildly paraphrased, yes it is).

Shapiro was a lively, informed and respectful moderator -- No gossip. Nothing transgressive (except maybe a bit of the material that was shown). But once past the Amazon positioning, this event was like any other – a very large group of cast-and-crew vied to describe what they did (and how cool it was to do, basically).

It must be said: Amazon Studios’ first two projects are both male-dominated sitcom series -- ALPHA HOUSE and BETAS, snippets of which were sandwiched into sequential cast-and-crew gabfests featuring only two women on camera and NONE behind the scenes. If Warner Bros was once known as the studio of gritty realism, Amazon is a sausage festival.

Go to Amazon to watch the pilots, view the trailers on YouTube here and here, and watch the first three as they premiere in a modified binge-watching release pattern this week and next.

Alpha House would be a hit anywhere – it’s like an all-male “Veep”, which on paper sounds awful, but-- did I mention?--  it has John Goodman? And Clark Johnson? And other fine actors whom you will recognize, even if you don’t know their names. Two Congressmen and two Senators live in a group house in D.C. Hilarity ensues. Really, it does.

At first, I liked the clips of “Betas” less than “Alpha House” (Seriously: is Amazon going to do a Sue Grafton thing with the Greek alphabet, would you think?). The young (also primarily male) cast play Silicon Valley start-up types, trying to build the next social network, or more accurately, the next Grindr for horny straight people. Another log-line that sounds awful, but I found the humor sharp and the timing excellent when I watched the entire pilot.

One thing puzzles me: these are digital-native series. Why no interactivity? Or multiplatform backstory? Or even a decent website. Weird....

This week also marked the premiere of a new Hulu Plus comedy/mystery called “The Wrong Mans” (trailer here), a co-production with the BBC. This one will have legs, trust me – there’s already a great Tumbr (oh, those Brits!), but mostly two really terrific leads, the funny and awkward duo James Corden and Matthew Baynton.

What makes these projects, and those from Netflix, Xbox, and other emerging Internet-based networks unique? I’d have to say, the ambition and directness of the creative process – Emerging players are working hard at curating, selecting, and managing production and promotion with less bureaucracy and more intensity, for one thing.

These new networks understand TV history – whether it was ABC in the 60s and 70s, Fox in the 80s, HBO in the 90s, AMC and FX in the past few years – history shows that it is great shows that a great network makes. And great shows are made by teams of great talents, sometimes guided by the inspired hand of a network team, but usually best left to deliver quality on the merits.

Leave aside the way the fans will find and consume this content – that is a topic for another post. The show’s the thing. Probably always will be. 

Wednesday
Oct022013

The Coming of Wearable Computing Content

It's disconcerting now, going to some tech-centric event where a handful of folks are sporting Google Glass (and fending off the curious), but in a few years, we'll get used to (and wear) a slew of new computing devices coming onto the market -- not only eyewear, but watches and who knows what else. 

What will the killer app be for tech-powered eyewear? To date, most attention has been paid to video, in part because the market is just emerging and developers haven't applied their ingenuity and genius to the new form factor. (There are lots of accounts from those among the select Glass users, my favorite being from novelist Gary Shteyngart in The New Yorker.)

But here's a safe bet: games will be very, very popular, just as they are on mobile devices, laptops, desktops.. hell, people just love games.

Google Glass is in the early stages of defining the user experience and engagement structure of the platform, which includes head movement, voice commands, and earpiece touching. Oh, and lest we forget, the experience is inside the real world, so it's 3-D. 

So what happens in a game when you add all of those variables, especially when most game developers, even on today's sensor-rich iOS and Android devices, do not take advantage of many of the functions that they could use to create unique gaming experiences?

We are about to find out with the announcement of a new games production lab focused on next-generation wearable tech devices like Google Glass. 

Toronto-based Canadian Film Centre (CFC) and Menlo Park CA-based Mind Pirate have teamed up to create the ideaBOOST/Mind Pirate Production Lab. The Lab will recruit North American developers of games and other interactive content during a three-month boot camp, the results of which may be published and brought to market as early as Q1 2014.

Mind Pirate is a start-up focused on multi-platform game development and has created a next-generation game platform, Callisto, to create products for mobile wearable devices, like Google Glass.  Callisto does not release publicly to third parties until 2014, making ideaBOOST/Mind Pirate Production Lab program participants among the first in the world to get their hands on this next-generation technology.

Mind Pirate is headed up by my old pal Shawn Hardin, a serial entrepreneur whom we recruited to serve on the Advisory Board of the CFC's new digital media business accelerator called ideaBOOST. Synergy ensued as he and his team connected and brainstormed with Ana Serrano, CFC Chief Digital Officer and the visionary behind ideaBOOST. You can read their quotes in the press release here.

Mind Pirate and its investors are betting on their platform called Callisto which they believe will be a game-changer as the market's first and only tightly integrated client-side and server side game-focused platform that supports leading mobile devices with a special emphasis on so-called 'wearables'. It enables developers to create content and experiences that merge the virtual and physical worlds by taking advantage of the native capabilities of the underlying hardware while creating a consistent experience across different devices, including iOS and Android.

Interested parties can start submitting applications on October 2, 2013 by visiting ideaboost.ca/mindpirate. The application deadline is October 22, 2013 at 11:59 p.m. PST. The program will begin November 20, 2013 at the CFC headquarters in Toronto.

Disclosure: I am a senior advisor to the CFC and ideaBOOST.

Wednesday
Oct022013

Fan Centric Media

I work with Theatrics.com, 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. 

Theatrics.com 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:

Friday
Sep062013

Hello, New York: Upcoming Talks

I’ll be in New York City in September (a gift, IMHO) for two talks and booking meetings during available times 9/16-19. Pop by the following, or ping me if you’d like to grab some time.

FAN-POWERED MEDIA: Inviting your audience into the story with Theatrics.com

Theatrics.com is an interactive entertainment startup whose flagship product enables the creation of crowd-sourced online storytelling. The cloud-based system allows show creators to create and manage a story environment in which audience members can create characters, respond to story prompts, engage and share their content. Recent examples include the steampunk adventure Aurelia: Edge of Darkness; USA’s Psych Social Sector and “Wecome to Sanditon,” the sequel to the popular web series “Lizzie Bennet’s Diaries.” 

STORYCODE, September 17, 7pm at Ogilvy Headquarters - 636 11th Avenue (btw 46th and 47th St). Also presenting: Elaine McMillion, with interactive documentary “Hollow.”

See if U can find me....

CONTENT CREATORS’ ROUNDTABLE: MAKING GREAT CONTENT FOR DIGITAL PLATFORMS

It all starts with the content: the TV networks, the online video websites, the buzz on social media. This panel focuses on creating content that works on digital platforms.

Panelists

Rich Cusick, Vice President of Entertainment and Women’s Lifestyles, Yahoo!
Reid Genauer, Chief Marketing Officer, Magisto
Shane Rahmani, VP, Corporate Development, Electus
Nick DeMartino, Head of Business Development, Theatrics.com
ModeratorPaul Kontonis, General Manager, Magnet Media Originals and Chairman, International Academy of Web Television

DMW Future of Television Conference, September 18, 10am - Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jul172013

Join in the SteamPunk interactive adventure AURELIA

One of the most interesting genres of fantasy storytelling is steampunk, generally with characters set in the Victorian era when the world was powered by steam and enlivened by inventiveness in science and costumery.

If you're one of the genre's many fans, you should check out Lisa Walker England's Aurelia: Edge of Darkness, a steampunk-fantasy interactive web drama officially debuting online today on Theatrics.com. Inspired by her illustrated steampunk-fantasy serial Rise of the Tiger, the show invites anyone to create and develop a character to help tell the story of the doomed city of Aurelia.  With a run scheduled for 12 weeks, fans will create characters -- citizens of the city -- using Theatrics’ collaborative video communication platform. Their video and other content posts will drive the ongoing story.

Walker, who works by day as a digital marketer, has assembled a team of illustrators, performers, and supporters from her home base in Milwaukee. Many of her collaborators are afficianados of the live-action role-playing communities in the region, and have already begun to perform in character on the Aurelia site. 

She has also created a blog in order to share the backstage evolution of the project and the community which will help the story unfold, here.

Map of AURELIA, one of many back-story items to discover on the new show site.

Aurelia: Edge of Darkness follows the citizens of a self-sustaining, steam-powered city as they battle a deadly energy crisis.  Each week, fans will receive new calls to action that invite them to react to plot twists and tell the story from their character’s unique point of view.  Fans are also encouraged to post photos of the costumes, sets and props they are developing for their character to Facebook and Twitter with the hashtags #aurelia, #aureliaspoilers or #aureliaprops.

The story of Aurelia: Edge of Darkness begins after the once-utopian plains of Aurelia were transformed into a cold, uninhabitable wasteland, fit only for monsters and the almost dead. The citizens have been forced to flee to a central mountain where they have built a fortress and named it Aurelia after their lost home.  Inside its walls, their civilization has flourished through scientific inventions and the power of steam, but now, Aurelia faces a serious energy shortage. If the city’s boilers fall silent, another paradise will fade into Darkness.  As fans take on the personas of Aurelia’s citizens, they must overcome political intrigue, social unrest, and strange magical happenings to find a new source of power... before the lights go out, forever.  

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