Thursday, January 26, 2012

How to develop television shows for a social and multiplatform world

The other day I spent 23 minutes watching a video from the BBC. It was 23 quite well spent minutes, as the journalist in question – Rory-Cellan Jones – had devoted quite a lot of effort to his subject, that of the future of television. The video features interviews with people from Microsoft, Google, Dijit, even Robert Scoble. The talks are all about how to harness the allure and the pull of television in a social and connected context, and in the end of course how to make money from it all.

What the video shows, is that there are a lot of interesting ventures out there; Google TV, connected TV sets, lots of apps for iPads and iPhones and Android gear and so on. But it also, quite clearly, shows that no one has really ”gotten it” yet. When, for instance, talking about connected tv sets, the challenge is to get the masses to actually connect the sets, to see the benefits of doing so and have the benefits outweigh the discomfort of actually having to go through the hassle of connecting the sets and using them for something else than plain viewing.

Here is where I see that tv program and format developers have quite a challenging task ahead of them. Content is King is the old rallying cry for the creative industries. Context is even more King, is something that has been argued lately, especially if talking about multiplatform, cross media and transmedia. Now, what we need to do, is create compelling content in the right context and infuse it with that sprinkling of magic that will make it near impossible to resist as a connected, social experience.

Peter Cashmore of Mashable wrote a piece for CNN the other week, where he talked about today’s television hits not being ”Must-See” television, but rather ”Must–Tweet” television; i.e. the sort of television show that craves interaction – if not with the show itself, then at least with other people experiencing the same thing right then. This works fairly well with large live shows; the final of Idol, Champions League games in football, the Eurovision Song Contest and so on. The challenge then, is how to create this craving to interact, comment, laugh and scowl (which admittedly sometimes is more interesting than the show itself) for other types of shows? Well, I propose – admittedly from my limited point of view but nevertheless – four points to take into consideration when designing, re-designing and developing television shows for a social and connected world:

1. Create the foundations for success. For many companies the first step will be to pull down the silos between different departments and make people talk to each other and actually make an effort to understand each other and see everything in the same light. For a successful multiplatform tv-based project to work, the program development people must make themselves understood to the tech people and the marketing people, and the tech and marketing people must make their realities stick with the development people. All else is simply counterproductive.
 2. Do a lot of research and build on success (or failure). Andrea Phillips is quite rightly adamant in insisting that one does oneself a disservice by not looking at what has already been produced and distributed. There is absolutely no shame in standing on the shoulders of others; indeed, many of the best innovations, also in the media and television business, are projects inspired by earlier failures or successes. From my own experience I know that almost whatever you try to create, someone has already thought of it. Which is all good and well, as you can use this to make your own project better… 
3. Consider applying transmedia storytelling methods. Not every show should go transmedia, not every show should even be true multiplatform. They can still generate a buzz, still build a hype, but do not need to go all the way. But for the ones that do go multiplatform, applying transmedia storytelling methods will be of use to everyone involved in the development and production and distribution parts of the process. As transmedia is based on developing a thorough background, storyworld, mythology and narrative superstructure, this will help immensly when trying to implement point 1 above – getting everyone to see the same project and understanding the same thing and work together towards a common goal. It will help in the development process of any kind of television show, it will give pointers to where entry points can be implemented to invite an audience to participate, it will assist in developing story archs and characters, it will help when keeping multiplatform content coherent and logically connected between all parts… it’s all good, basically. 
4. Listen and respond. This is one strength that, say, a weekly game show has over a multi-million dollar drama series from HBO. It is possible to listen to what people say and discuss on social media and use that to tweak the show. Also make sure there is staff dedicated to the job – if someone has a great idea for the show on Twitter, respond! Drop a line to say ”hey, can we call you to hear you out on that idea?”. No one knows what gems might be unearthed…

I’d love discussion on this, so comment here or hit me up on Twitter (or in person, if I’m at the same conference as you). More and better multiplatform / transmedia content for the people!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Transmedia Beat

As some of you might have noticed, I published ”One Year in Transmedia” a couple of weeks ago, a curation of this blog combined with a number of interviews with some really intelligent and creative people in the field of transmedia. In one of the answers – ”What instrument do you see yourself playing in the transmedia orchestra?” – Andrea Phillips wrote something that got me thinking. She answered:
[…]I'd say percussion. I'm the inexorable drumbeat that keeps each section on time and coordinated as the symphony plays out. With no beat, the rest of it kind of falls apart, doesn't it? And even in places where there is no drumming, the section is still an invisible presence as the rhythm keeping time in your head. That's me!
This feels very true to me. If you talk about transmedia, one of the most interesting challenges is how to engage the audience in whatever you are trying to offer them, and once engaged, how to keep them engaged. In this, the “beat” that Andrea describes above feels absolutely crucial. Talking about rhythm it all makes even more sense:
Rhythm - Rhythm is made up of sounds and silences. These sound and silences are put together to form patterns of sounds which are repeated to create a rhythm. A rhythm has a steady beat, but it may also have different kinds of beats.
So you have the sounds of your transmedia property – the videos, the web sites, the blogs, the social media output and so on – developed and produced and distributed in order to catch the imagination of your target audience and hook them to your story and your content. Then you have the silences of your property. Some might call them ”sandboxes”, some ”cheese holes”; they’re the parts of your story and your content that simply are not there yet.

If you’ve designed your property and story well and hooked your audience, this is where they engage themselves to contribute, create and communicate. It doesn’t matter if it’s an ARG or a treasure hunt online, if it’s contributing to a book or a graphic novel or if it’s something completely different. These silences are where you give your audience two sticks and a drum, and ask them to keep the beat going. It’s a possibility to be genuinely amazed by the skill and the devotion and the creativity of the ones who engage themselves.

Personally I feel the studies of the art of composing and creating for a number of instruments bear a lot of resemblance, at the very least on a philosophical level, to the work of a transmedia producer, creator and storyteller. Just look at one of the definitions of the specific term ”upbeat”:
An unaccented beat or beats that occur before the first beat of the following measure. In other words, this is an impulse in a measured rhythm that immediately precedes, and hence anticipates, the downbeat. It can be the last beat in a bar where that bar precedes a new bar of music. 3. The upward stroke made by a conductor to indicate the beat that leads into a new measure.
Anyone else feel this is a good definition of one of the transmedia conductor’s important tasks? The task to get everyone’s attention and point to what’s coming next, to make sure the orchestra plays in sync and the audience stays onboard.

I think I’m going to study some more music :).